Cabernet Franc

All you need to know about Carménère: A quick guide

Carménère is a red wine variety that is quite often full of bold cherry, plum, pepper, and spice. It originated in France, but little is found there today after being almost wiped out by phylloxera. 98% of Carménère is grown in Chile!

A few more notes on Carménère:

  • It shares a lot of the same tasting notes as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot as it’s related to each in one way or another!
  • The parents of Carménère are Cabernet Franc and Gros Cabernet.
  • It was actually mistaken for Merlot in Chile until 1994; In 1998 it became its own known variety. 

The following guide will illustrate what Carménère tastes like (aroma, flavor, and structure). It will also tell you where it’s from, provide you with common food recommendations, similar varieties, and let you know why you should be drinking more of it!

How would I describe Carménère?

Dark

Carménère wines show both red and black fruit usually but have a lot of plum and black cherry. Bitter chocolate and coffee notes are also common. It can be an incredibly deep wine.

Savory

There’s a nice “meaty” element to Carménère that isn’t always found in the other red wines in the same family.

Green

Carménère is full of pyrazines, a compound that shows flavors of green pepper, chives, jalapenos, etc. These are notes that you will also find in other Bordeaux varieties.   

What does Carménère taste like?

Cabernet Franc Tastes

These are the most familiar tastes and aromas I typically find in a glass of Carménère. It’s also common to find pomegranate, blackberry, black currant, violets, black pepper, coffee, vanilla, and herbs (mint) depending upon where the wine is from, and how it is made.

Remember, wine tastes are somewhat relative. There may be some different tasting notes you consistently find while drinking Carménère.  

What about structure?

Medium Plus Body

Think of that weight as a liquid scale, from water (light body) to heavy cream (full body) in your mouth. It can vary, but Carménère is somewhere between medium to full!

Body of wine

Medium Plus Acid

You can judge acidity based on whether your mouth waters after you take a sip of something. The more you salivate, the higher the acid. Carménère has medium to medium-plus acid.

acid in wine

Medium Plus Alcohol

You can feel alcohol ‘burn’ the back of your throat when you take a sip. Carménère ranges, but is typically med-high in alcohol. 

alcohol in wine

Medium Tannin

Tannin contributes to the dryness of a wine. It comes from the skin of the grapes during the winemaking process. You can tell a wine has high tannin if it dries out your tongue. It imparts almost a bitter flavor. Carménère has pretty smooth tannins.

tannin in wine

Where is Carménère from?

French Wine

Chile

Primarily in: The Central Valley (Maipo and Rapel)

Despite originating in France, you’ll find that Carménère is practically extinct from that area. 95% of Carménère is grown in Chile. 

MAIPO VALLEY: This is the most well-known region within Chile and the area of largest production (most of the big producers are headquartered here). Because it’s the capital city area (Santiago), there’s a good amount of smog around and Carménère can vary in quality. If it’s good, there’s a great mix of dark and red fruit, green elements, and spice. 

RAPEL VALLEY: This is where the most quality Carménère is sourced. It’s a very dry area that is focused mostly on red wines. Good producers source their grapes from Colchagua Valley or Cachapoal Valley, which are subregions within! Most bulk red wine is from Colchagua, but both areas produce delicious Carmenere. The best having plummy dark fruits, spice, chocolate, green pepper, and herbal notes. 

You can also find small amounts of Carménère from France, Italy, USA, and China.

What food should I pair with Carménère?

Goat cheese and wine

BBQ

Why?

The ripe fruit flavors and spice notes make this wine a great pairing for sweet and savory sauces. Often there’s a smokey element to Carménère as well which will really bring out the flavor of most BBQ dishes.

Lamb and wine

Grilled Meats

Why?

This grape has very rustic and smokey elements. A perfect complement to anything grilled. The smoother tannin in Carménère seems to do better with nonfatty meats. Add BBQ sauce for an even better pairing! 

Olives and wine

Mexican

Why?

Mexican cuisine is often full of peppers, especially jalapenos! Carménère shows a LOT of vegetal notes, mainly green pepper. So as long as the dish isn’t TOO spicy, Mexican and Carménère make for a great pairing. Corn is a plus as well. 

Other Pairings: Pasta, Pesto, Peppers, Stews, Pork, Lamb, Salsa, Herbs, Mint

What other similar varieties would I enjoy?

(common confusions)

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Franc has:

  • more ruby color
  • less staining
  • more florals
Tempranillo

Merlot has:

  • less pyrazine (green pepper notes)
  • more oak influence
  • typically less acid
Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon has:

  • more tannin
  • black fruit dominant
  • typically fuller bodied

A Certified Sommelier and Certified Specialist of Wine with a passion for everything wine + beverage!