Although Carmenere was born in Bordeaux and grown there for hundreds of years, it is for all intensive purposes extinct in the region. It is however, thriving in Chile.
The Chilean wine industry has met with both local and international success making varietal Carmenere wines as well as Carmenere blends using Cabernet Sauvignon as a blending agent.
This is a grape which sprung on the international scene when the Chilean wine industry started exporting easy drinking bottles starting at around $5. Although they no longer survive in quite that price point alone, there are still great value bottles sitting under $10 and plenty of truly world class wines being made at higher price points.
It’s an interesting story about how consumers, especially here in America buy wine that makes Chilean wine possible. Unlike say, Napa Valley or Sonoma, unless you’re among the most ardent wine consumers, you might not even realize that the grapes making up what’s in your glass are different. Sure, there’s some Cabernet Sauvignon, but the average consumer does not even realize that Carmenere is a grape and is different than their own domestic choices.
That’s ok, because really what Chile is selling is a style of wine, not a type. Carmenere produces a deep, dense, jammy and often fairly acidic version of wine that sits well being made in South America. In France, it’s trademark earthiness, often can overpower the entirety of the rest of the wine, but in Chile and other parts of South America, there is enough sunlight and a long enough growing season to allow it to reach ripeness and have the fruit necessary to show up no matter who is drinking it.
Overall Carmenere is a different grape to be sure, there are a few example, but not many, of grapes used only for blending in one part of the world, that have caught on enough to become something of a national obsession elsewhere. Carmenere is one of those select few.