Carménère is a red wine grape varietal originally planted in the Medoc region of Bordeaux in France, where it was used for blending purposes to produce deep red wines.
A member of the Cabernet family of grapes, the name 'Carménère' originates from the French word for crimson (carmin) which refers to the brilliant crimson colour of the autumn foliage prior to leaf-fall. Along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet-Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot, Carménère is considered part of the original six red grapes of Bordeaux.
It is rare to find Carménère wines in France today, the phylloxera plague in 1867 nearly destroyed all the vines, for many years the grape was presumed extinct. When Bordeaux was being replanted, Carménère was extremely hard to find and more difficult to grow.

 

The region's damp, cold spring weather gave rise to 'coulure', plus with other ripening issues, Carménère was progressively abandoned. Carménère has been thriving in Chile; grape-growers unintentionally preserved the varietal during a period of 140* years. As Carménère cuttings were imported from Bordeaux - France in the 1850's prior to the phylloxera epidemic, where they were accidentally confused with Merlot. Chile currently has the world's largest area of planted Carménère vines, with more than 10,000 hectares *(as of 2012)
In 1994, Professor Jean-Michel Boursiquot using DNA analysis confirmed that these vines were the Bordeaux Carménère varietal and not Merlot. The Chilean Department of Agriculture officially recognized Carménère as a distinct grape varietal in 1998. Today, Carménère grows chiefly in the Colchagua Valley, Rapel Valley and Maipo Province.
Due to Chile's unique geography grape-growers produce healthy crops of Carménère. And the resulting wines have a deep red colour and aromas of red fruits, wild berries and dried spices. The tannins are softer than those in Cabernet Sauvignon. Although mostly used as a blending grape, wineries do make a pure varietal Carménère (e.g. Montes) which, when made from grapes at optimal ripeness, impart dried spices like cinnamon and earthy aromas, and on the palate dark chocolate, tobacco and leather. Typical expressions are best enjoyed in their youth - though several can age well.