Rediscover the Carménère grape: ‘lost’ for 150 years

  • Man of vision: Veramonte Winery and Neyen were both founded by Chilean businessman Agustin Huneeus; he now resides at his Napa Valley estate, Quintessa

    Man of vision: Veramonte Winery and Neyen were both founded by Chilean businessman Agustin Huneeus; he now resides at his Napa Valley estate, Quintessa


Carménère is one of the oldest noble grape varieties and it used to be widely planted in Bordeaux, where it produced dark, red wines.

When the root-louse phylloxera wiped out many European vineyards in the mid-1800s, carménère was not replanted and was considered to have become virtually extinct.

Fast forward to November of 1994 in Chile. Merlot is very popular, but a little too often some of them have that green pepper (actually pyrazines) character that is often associated with unripe grapes.

A visiting French ampelographer by the name of Jean-Marie Boursiquot carefully examines the vines and stuns the Chileans by proclaiming that many of the merlot vines are carménère.

They were obviously bought over from France before phylloxera hit.

By the way, an ampelographer is a botanic vine expert.

Merlot ripens early and carménère late, and the fact that this is known and the vines can be correctly identified, allows for properly ripened grapes. Merlot wines are much improved and now we also have the opportunity to enjoy a rediscovered classic grape.

Carménère is no longer mistaken for merlot and picked early, and now fully ripened grapes produce very fine red wine.

Carménère blended with cabernet sauvignon works well and I would like to tell you about a very high-end one from Apalta (a region within Colchagua Valley) and let the owners explain how it got its name: “Cabernet sauvignon and carménère vines brought straight from France, bonded to Apalta’s unique soils.

“As the vines evolved, establishing a direct communication with the soil, each vintage became more expressive of Apalta’s terroir, and the soil’s energy became even more profound.

“Those who wandered through the vineyards could feel it, though they couldn’t quite explain it and so the locals began to simply call it Neyen, the spirit of Apalta.

“Neyen is more than just a blend of cabernet sauvignon and carménère. It’s a coming together of the new and old worlds; a powerful and vibrant interpretation of the estate.”

Organic farming is the way of life here.

The Neyen 2011 Espiritu de Apalta has complex aromas of strawberry, raspberry, plum and cassis that mingle with hints of pepper and vanilla.

It is a soft and elegant wine, with ripe tannins and low acidity. On the palate the fruit takes the main stage, with prominent flavours of raspberry and plum. The finish is long and persistent. Wines & Spirits magazine gave it a 94/100. $53.75.

If you find yourself in Chile and decide that it would be fun to have a tour and tasting at Neyen, do not be put off by the listed price of $36,000 per person. They use the dollar sign for their peso and there happens to be 666 of them to the dollar!

The common tie between the Veramonte Winery and Neyen is that they were both founded by Chilean businessman Agustin Huneeus; he now resides at his Napa Valley estate called Quintessa.

Primus wines are made at Veramonte and I would like to share with you a review of our Primus 2016 Carménère by Canadian critic Natalie Maclean.

“Primus 2016 is a great value caménère produced by Alto de Casablanca in Apalta, Colchagua Valley. On the palate, this medium full-bodied red is black currant, vanilla, plum pudding, chocolate, eucalyptus, sage and rosemary with spicy pepper finish. Tannins are medium and acidity is refreshing with a long finish.

“This robust Chilean red wine is made from caménère vines planted with a southern exposure along the Tinguiririca River’s old terraces. The winery practises organic agriculture. Pair with smoked meats, game and strong cheeses.” $25.60.

The Primus 2014 Red Blend was our original wine under this label and it is quite a mix. The base is cabernet sauvignon, which provides structure, while merlot delivers red fruit and vitality in mouth.

Carménère adds weight and softness, as well as spices that combine beautifully with petit verdot’s smooth, complex finish.

Finally, cabernet franc presents elegance and persistence. I can imagine that the wines of Bordeaux 150 years ago may have been similar. $24.85.

We list seven wines from the Veramonte winery and their Marchigue Vineyard, that is situated only 45 kilometres from the cold coastal waters, is ideal for our grape of the day.

Veramonte 2017 Carménère has an elegant fusion of plum, blackberry and rosemary notes with hints of pepper which are finely woven into a lingering finish. $17.45.

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail mrobinson@bll.bm or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George’s (York Street, 297-0409). Visit www.wineonline.bm

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Published Sep 28, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated Sep 28, 2018 at 11:12 am)

Rediscover the Carménère grape: ‘lost’ for 150 years

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