In the Bordeaux region in France there are 6 varieties that are allowed for red wine making: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Malbec, and Carmenere. Today, Malbec and Carmenere are rarely used to make wine in the region.
During the 1880’s, a phylloxera infestation destroyed almost all of the Carmenere grapes in the Bordeaux region. After phylloxera, Carmenere was not replanted in Bordeaux and even today few grapes of this variety can be found in the region.
Luckily for wine lovers, prior to the infestation, affluent Chileans transplanted Carmenere grapes in Chile. For over 100 years, the Carmenere grape was mistaken for Merlot. It wasn’t until the early 1990’s that a scientific study identified that the grape was not Merlot, but the Carmenere grape that was presumed lost after the epidemic. Today, carmenere is produced predominantly in Chile, however it is also grown in Italy, California, and Oregon.
Carmenere is known for its deep red, almost purple color. It is a medium bodied wine full with the taste of fruit, smoke, and spices. It has been compared to cabernet savignon and of course merlot, but camenere’s taste is all its own. I picked up a bottle of carmenere about 3 years ago from my local wine store’s “staff recommended under $10 selection”. Although, generally a bargain, it is not a wine easily found outside the more boutique wine stores or online.
I love carmenere because it is full flavored with an oaky, almost smokey taste and when its done right, there is nothing like the taste. The flavor is similar to what you would find in merlot but more refined; plus the added benefit of not getting the “she is a beginner” look had you ordered a glass of merlot at a wine bar.
I recommend Simone Carmenere, 2009, which sells for around $7 a bottle.
http://www.cellartracker.com/wine.asp?iWine=1110608 more boutique wine stores or online.