Carménère: Chile’s Signature Red

Carménère is a red grape variety with a captivating history and unique profile. Once widely cultivated in Bordeaux, France, Carménère has found a new home in the vineyards of Chile, emerging as the country’s signature red grape, where it produces wines of distinctive character and charm.

A Brief History

Carménère originates from the Bordeaux region of France, where it was used primarily as a blending grape. It was nearly wiped out during the phylloxera outbreak in the 19th century and was thought to be extinct until the mid-1990s. In a surprising twist, Carménère was rediscovered in Chile, where it had been mistakenly identified as Merlot for over a century. Today, Chile has become the world’s most significant producer of Carménère, where it has gained global recognition for its unique and expressive wines.


Carménère is a late-ripening grape that thrives in warm climates. It tends to produce wines of medium body with soft tannins and high acidity. In the vineyard, Carménère shows a distinct resistance to pests and diseases, a trait that has further aided its revival and success in Chile.

Flavour Profile

Carménère is celebrated for its complex flavours, blending fruit, spice, and herbaceous notes. Wines typically exhibit ripe red fruit flavors like cherry and raspberry, along with green pepper, mint, and subtle earthy undertones. As the wines age, they can develop more savory and spicy notes, including dark chocolate, coffee, and tobacco.

Different Styles of Wine

Carménère can be made in a variety of styles. Younger Carménère wines are often fruit-forward and vibrant, showcasing its natural acidity and red fruit flavors. More mature examples, particularly those aged in oak, reveal a fuller body and more complex flavor profile, with pronounced spice, earthy notes, and softer tannins.

Wine Making and Maturation Options

Winemaking techniques for Carménère typically involve temperature-controlled fermentation to preserve the grape’s fruity characteristics. To add complexity and soften the wine’s natural acidity, winemakers often age Carménère in oak barrels. This can introduce additional flavors of vanilla, toast, and smoke, creating a more rounded and harmonious wine.

Important Regions

While Carménère originated in Bordeaux, it is Chile that has truly become the grape’s spiritual home, particularly in the regions of Colchagua Valley, Maipo Valley, and Cachapoal Valley. Here, the warm climate and long growing season allow Carménère to reach optimal ripeness, expressing its unique characteristics fully.

Food Pairing Suggestions

Carménère’s balance of ripe fruit, herbal notes, and acidity make it a versatile pairing for various dishes. It complements grilled meats, stews, and dishes with earthy or spicy elements particularly well. Think grilled lamb, roasted bell peppers, mushroom risotto, or an empanada with a hint of spice.

Carménère, once lost and now splendidly found, stands as a testament to the surprises and resilience of the winemaking world, a truly Chilean expression of history, terroir, and vibrant flavors.

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Written by

Bernard Marr has a deep passion for wine. He has written hundreds of articles on wine, including features for Forbes, covering wine-making and industry trends. Away from the world of wine, Bernard is a world-renown business and technology futurist. He is the award winning author of over 20 best-selling books and has a combined audience of nearly 4 million people across his social media channels and newsletters.

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