"This is not Merlot, it's Carménère." These industry-changing words were uttered by Jean-Michel Boursiquot on November 24, 1994 while investigating a vineyard in the Maipo Valley in Chile. It took another four years until the Ministry of Agriculture released the official gazette, dated August 17, 1998, when Carménère was officially recognised by the Chilean Government and could now be placed on the label of a wine bottle.
Mistaken for Merlot
Prior to 1994, Carménère was thought to be a Chilean clone of Merlot. The Carménère vines were brought to Chile shortly after Chile's independence from Spain in the early 1800s. At that time winemakers wanted nothing to do with Spain and therefore experimented with varietals from Bordeaux, France. This is the reason Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are so popular in Chile. The early cuttings of Carménère were mixed up with cuttings of Merlot and they were grown in the same plots in the same vineyards.
Since the discovery in 1994, winemakers have been handling the varietals differently and the Carménère grape has become a success for most growers. Lapostolle Clos Apalta, Montes' Purple Angel, Concha y Toro's Carmin de Peumo, and the Vina Errazuriz Kai are all examples of prestige Carmenere wines, all competing for status as Chile's first iconic Carménère.
Back to the Future
The success of the Carménère in Chile, has seen some European wine regions, especially in Italy, now allowing the varietal to be used in blends. Back in its ancestral home in Bordeaux, Carmenere vines are still grown in a small number of estates and some are experimenting with adding Carménère back to their Bordeaux blends.
Chilean Ambassador to Jamaica His Excellency Eduardo Bonilla Menchaca wanted to show off the range of Carménère offerings here. So with the help of Kerri-Anne Reckord of Devine Wine Services, the key wine importers were invited to pour their Carménère wines at a wine-tasting event held recently at the Ambassador's residence. On hand to show their Carménère range and other Chilean wines were Betco Premier Limited, Caribbean Producers Jamaica, Grace Foods, Select Brands Jamaica and Wray & Nephew Limited.
Chile is moving up in the wine world. No longer only the place for your low-priced alternative, but Chile's commitment to improving the quality of their wines has seen them top the lists of the world's wine rankings. Do try a bottle of Carménère today.
Christopher Reckord — Businessman, Entrepreneur & Wine Enthusiast. Send your questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on twitter: @Reckord