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Carmenere - Your New Best Friend

One of my favorite TV shows used to be Lost (yes, before it got all convoluted with filler episodes and irrelevant story lines). Besides the fact it was all filmed on Oahu, Hawaii, I'm intrigued by the idea of people marooned on an island, with their fates completely unknown to anyone else, trying to survive and build something together. That situation would force someone to do some soul-searching, working to figure out who you really are.

So between 1850 and 1994, I imagine the Carmenere grape did pretty much the same, as it had a lot of time on it's hands as the "lost" grape of Bordeaux. By the time it was done, "found" again across the Atlantic ocean and Andes mountain range in Chile, it seems Carmenere had truly discovered itself and wanted to be known to the world.

You don't know the story? Here's a quick synopsis of probably the coolest varietal story around:

As you know, there are 5 grapes of Bordeaux: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. But actually there are 6... add Carmenere to the list.

Carmenere used to be part of all great Bordeaux wines, but was also a difficult grape to work with. It was vulnerable to coulure and mildew.

Phylloxera was the final straw because Carmenere was even more prone to the attack of Phylloxera than other grape varieties.

Following the Phylloxera epidemic, Bordeaux wine growers didn't bother to replant the Carmenere.

Sometime around 1850, cuttings that were thought to be Merlot were brought over by xxx and planted in Chile.

Carmenere thrives in the warmer climates of Chile, with its extended growing season. In fact, today the largest plantings of Carmenere are found in the Chile's Colchagua Valley.

Matching Carmenere with wine and food pairings is easy. Carmenere naturally matches well with smoked, grilled or roasted meats, chicken, pork, lamb, beef and veal. Due to its character, it also holds up with and matches perfectly with some spicy dishes and strong, hard cheeses.

Carmenere was born in Bordeaux, and thought to be extinct after outbreaks of oidium and then the Phylloxera epidemic in the 1800s, which wiped out a good portion of the wine grape vineyards of Europe. Though widely thought to be able to help produce high quality wines, Carmenere was pretty much abandoned in France in favor of varieties that were less susceptible to disease, ripened more consistently and produced better yields.

But, Carmenere was not dead – plantings were transported, from France to South America, along with vineyard workers looking for more gainful employment at the time (just prior to the Phylloxera outbreak).

So now we have a legendary Bordeaux grape long considered extinct, thriving in the New Wine World and growing on its own, ungrafted rootstock.

Outside of Chile, Carmenere can now be found planted in such diverse places as France, California, China, Italy, New Zealand, and Washington state. Casanel here in Virginia also has a Carmenere too, thought it's extremely difficult to get your hands on some.

So my favorite question to make myself sound really wine smart at any party is, "Can you name all the grapes of Bordeaux?" Wine people will furrow their brow to make sure they don't forget any... "Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and, um... Malbec!," is how it usually goes. This is your chance to act smug and superior, walk them through a little history lesson, then ask if they'd like a splash of the lost grape of Bordeaux?

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