Monday, November 23, 2009

New World wine country: Chile and the Carmenere Gape

Chile is a New World Wine country but actually has, as other New World wine countries, a long tradition of wine growing and making. Of course, when the Spanish conquistadors and missionaries came, in the 16th century, they were used to drinking wine and brought vines from Spain, which they planted in the colonized region. 200 hundred years later, when the French came to Latin America, they brought their vines. One of them was the Carmenere grape, which at some point was very popular in Bordeaux.

Until becoming an New World wine country in the international wine market, Chilean wine makers were mainly producing for the local market, as in neighboring Argentine. But today, Chile and Argentine have become a major player in the international market. Wine drinkers in New York and London are associating Argentinean wine with the Malbec grape, which is also popular in the Cahors region of France. For Uruguay, the Tannat grape has taken over that role, which is planted in France mainly in the Basque country region, in the South West. In Chile, the Carmenere grape has become a kind of a national grape, although it accounts only for a small portion of local wine production.

Historically, Carmenere has been difficult to grow in cold, humid climates, and, although this is one of the most ancient varieties in Bordeaux, plantings have practically disappeared in Bordeaux, let alone any other part in France. Carmenere requires a lot of heat to ripen fully. That’s why it fell out of favor in Bordeaux. But it was imported to South America in the 1850s, along with other Bordeaux varieties. The largest established vineyards of this variety are now in Chile.

Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, the wine couple from the WSJ, have devoted last weekend’s wine article on Carmenere from Chile. Read it here.

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