What is Carménère? The Lost Grape of Bordeaux.
To be an international star, a grape varietal needs to appeal to the palette of the average wine consumer and capture the hearts and minds of the world with a unique and enchanting story. Because most wine-drinkers are not necessarily well-educated on wine and have limited experience in refining their palette, the biggest factor driving the international success of a grape varietal will likely be the latter point: an enchanting story of loss, and later, triumph. Taste is important, of course. But, the story… The story is paramount. And that’s where we’ll start.
The grape varietal should have a history—preferably connected to the Old World so as to have some degree of nostalgic grip on tradition and a respect for where winemaking originates from. Like the natural yearning in all of us to return “home” for the holidays, the grape should invoke that heart-tugging notion that we are in fact going to the “home” of wine as we know it. One can think of no better ancestry than back to France: the purveyors of Old World winemaking tradition. And within France, the most well-known wine region in the world—so well-known, in fact, that many mistake the region for a grape varietal—Bordeaux would be an apt choice. “The lost grape of Bordeaux,” Carménère, carries that nostalgia for tradition sought after in a grape varietal that will be the next international star. “The lost grape of Bordeaux” itself sounds like the title to a Dan Brown novel or Tom Cruise film. The story is there. A beautiful grape, all but wiped out in Bordeaux due to Phylloxera, begins its journey anew as the beachhead for Chilean wine. That story of loss—in Bordeaux—and triumph—in Chile—lends itself well to capture the hearts and minds of wine-drinkers everywhere. The story is there. Now, it just needs to be told.
Taste is an undeniably important factor in driving the success of a grape varietal. If it tastes bad, no one will drink it. Simple as that. However, lots of varietals taste good. Lots taste great. But without a story, the memory of that great taste is short-lived. Carménère has a flavor profile similar to the already much-loved Cabernet Sauvignon and, less-loved but nearly identical, Merlot. Carménère was, at first, mistaken for Merlot because of how similar it is. With less acid and smoother tannins than its counterparts, Carménère has the flavor profile to become a dominant and beloved grape by wine-drinkers. The dark fruit, green pepper, and spice that often characterizes Chile’s signature grape pairs well with food but can be enjoyed on its own as well. With aromas ranging from herbal to gamey, the Merlot-twin exhibits versatility and dynamism. With a flavor profile already being one that is accepted almost universally amongst wine-drinkers, Carménère passes the “taste test” with flying colors.
With a rich story of loss and triumph and the origins from the world’s greatest wine-region in Bordeaux behind it, Carménère carries with it the intrigue needed to succeed as a grape varietal. Couple that story with a taste profile that’s already a staple of the average wine-drinker, and it’s clear that Carménère is well-poised to become a star on the international scene.