A century and a half ago, the Carmenére grape was one of the most common Bordeaux grapes in France. And then a disease essentially wiped it out. So how did it recently reemerge in Chile?
In response to this post exploring the history of the Great French Wine blight, a discussion began about one of the more curious stories to emerge from it: The disappearance of the Carmenére grape and then its rather unexpected reappearance a continent away.
I've been told that the dominant pre-blight grape in most of the French growing region was the Carmenére, now only found in Chile. It is delicious, really rather affordable, and worth seeking out.
AFAIK, that was the case only in Bordeaux, it was the 6th red grape commonly used. The blight wiped that grape out there almost completely. Continuing that story, the Malbec there was almost all killed due to a hard spring frost in 1956, and never really replanted. (The other four red Bordeaux grapes are Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot.)
According to Slate's resident wine expert Mike Steinberger , the Carmenere grape was re-discovered almost by accident in Chile. By serendipity, as it were. I don't like it (its nose after the bottle is opened smells weird to me) but apart from that, Chilean wines are a force to be reckoned with. Nice rich wines that make the miracle of being more affordable than our own while being as good.
I am only an amateur wine-drinker, in that sometimes I drink wine, but I have noticed that I'm more fond of Chilean wines than anything else, Carmenere in particular. Now I have some idea of why that might be. Very interesting article.
Though the Carmenére's migration to Chile wasn't a deliberate move to save the grape, it was certainly a lucky one for anyone who wants to taste the grape without tracking down an early 1800s bottle of French wine.
Top image: Carmenére grapes / Simon-sake