June 7, 2011
In recent years, one variety has become emblematic of Chilean wine. The soil and climate of the country’s central wine growing region have welcomed it as if it were a native, producing a violet-colored wine with black plum, ripe redcurrant aromas and smooth and friendly tannins. We’re talking about Carmenere.
This variety, originally from Bordeaux, France, was widely grown in the early nineteenth century in the Medoc and Graves regions. In 1860, French vineyards were affected by a disastrous attack of phylloxera, a tiny insect that affects the vines’ roots and leaves and absorbs their sap.
Only a few countries were saved from this plague, namely Chile, Cyprus and parts of Portugal. Afterwards, French vineyards survived and learned to live with this pest by using American rootstocks on which the necessary varieties were grafted. Carmenere did not achieve good results and was left aside, slowly disappearing from the French and world wine maps. At this point, the Merlot variety became popular, winning prestige and outstanding distinctions in Bordeaux.
Chilean vineyards enjoy a unique advantage in comparison with the rest of the world. Four geographic barriers isolate them from pests and diseases: the Atacama Desert in the north, the Andes Mountains in the east, the Patagonian ice fields and glaciers in the south, and the Coastal Mountains and the Pacific Ocean in the west.
Carmenere grapes and other Bordeaux varieties were introduced in Chile in the mid-nineteenth century. Chile began to replace old Spanish vines with newer noble Gallic varieties. An especially popular variety was Merlot, known as Chilean or Late Merlot, as its grapes ripened only in autumn.
During the 1980s everyone believed Merlot had adapted to Chilean soil, but in 1994 the French ampelographer Jean-Michel Boursiquot discovered that the Chilean Merlot was in fact none other than Carmenere.
Finally, with sophisticated DNA analysis, Boursiquot’s important revelation was confirmed. This news had a great impact on the wine world and marked the starting point of Carmenere’s development. Today Carmenere has become Chile’s most emblematic wine variety.
Further proof of the success this variety has achieved is found in Casillero del Diablo Carmenere, originally from the fertile Rapel Valley. This wine has established itself among the brand’s top five varieties, winning prestigious awards in the most renowned international competitions.