Carmenere, the grape
Research has shown that Carménère may be distantly related to Merlot and the similarities in appearance have linked the two vines for centuries. Despite the similarities, there are some noticeable differences that aid the ampelographer in identifying the two vines. When young, Carménère leaves have a reddish hue underneath, while the leaves of Merlot are white. Merlot ripens two to three weeks earlier than Carménère.
Carmenere in Chile
It is well known that many vines in Europe were affected by the Phylloxera plague in the late 19th century (c1863), forcing vineyards to either graft of hybridize their vines to save them. This plague led to the total destruction of Carménère vines which were thought to be extinct.
By contrast, Chile was not affected by the Phylloexera plague due to several reasons. First and foremost is the distance of the country of Chile from Europe. The country is isolated geographically, with desert to the North, the Pacific Ocean to the West, the Andes to the East, and Antarctica to the South. Because of all of this, Carménère grapes that were imported into Chile before the plague outbreak survived, although they were confused with Merlot. In fact, its distinctive differences meant the grape was called a "Merlot selection" or "Merlot Peumal," which was a geographic reference to a valley south of Santiago where lots of Carménère was grown before its true identity was established.
In 1994 the French ampelographer Jean Michel Boursiquot discovered the mistake and now Carménère is considered a Chilean grape, although there are some in Italy, China, and parts of Europe.
Carménère presents outstanding intense tones of sweet beetroot and ripe strawberries, and interesting scents are caused by the contact with the barrel. Toasted aromas of leather and vanilla are released without losing its fruitiness, great body and persistence.
In the mouth it has a pleasant earthly flavor, contrasting with vaguely metallic touches. Tasters describe flavors of coffee, various fruits, and spices such as cinnamon, green pepper, and chocolate.
1. "Vinos Chilenos para el Siglo XXI" Editorial Antartica 2001 Santiago, Chile