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The Rediscovery of Carmenère

The Rediscovery of Carmenère

Carmenère is one of the major grape varietals in Chile today – but it wasn’t always that way. Carmenère has its origins on the Iberian peninsula, centuries ago. As it evolved, it spread to France, where it was one of the major grape varietals in Bordeaux and Bordeaux wines. It was so widely planted in Bordeaux that it was, in fact, an integral part of every Medoc wine, even first growths!

History of Carmenère

In the mid-19th Century, France suffered what is known today as the “Great French Wine Blight.” An aphid (more specifically, grape Phylloxera) was brought from the United States to France sometime in the 1850’s, and began to spread through Bordeaux. It was devastating – nearly all of the grapes planted in Europe were wiped out. This was the proverbial nail in the coffin for the Carmenère grape varietal in France. It was difficult to begin with – vulnerable to bad fruit and mildew, and harvested too soon would yield bitter and tannic wine. After the Great French Wine Blight, most French wineries didn’t even bother with Carmenère again. In Left Bank Bordeaux, for example, they replaced all of the Carmenère with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc – now known as they major grape varietals in that region.


Carmenère has thrived in Chile. As it turns out, it’s much more suited to the warmer climate. But until 1994, nearly all of the Carmenère grapes in Chile were through to be, and classified as, Merlot. It wasn’t until then that someone discovered that what they had been bottling as a variation of Merlot was, in fact, Carmenère! Since then, Chilean vintners have been working on the best way to produce Carmenère wine for the rest of the world to enjoy!