Carmenere: Chilean Red Wine

Carmenère is Chile’s fifth largest production fine grape variety, comprising 10% of red grape vineyard planted area and 7% of total. Originally from France’s Bordeaux, this late-ripening variety performs exceptionally well in Chile’s dry, warm climates, as it requires these conditions to reach full ripeness. Further, since carmenère production has faded in France, Chile is virtually the sole source of wines made from this special grape.

Carmenère is definitely one of our favorites. At its best, it delivers smooth full-bodied wines, packed with huge fruit and savory, spicy notes; flavors include herbs, bell pepper, smoke, coffee, blackcurrants, leather, and tobacco. Acidity levels are low and it is best consumed young. While there are certainly varietally-produced versions, carmenère-based wines often incorporate small amounts of other grape varieties — cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot — to provide structure and acidity.

Map of Chile’s wine regions

Map of Chile’s wine regions

Best regions for carmenere

Look for these regions to find the best expressions of Carmenere.

  • Cachapoal (Peumo sub-area)
  • Colchagua (Apalta sub-area)
  • Maipo (Isla de Maipo sub-area)
  • Maule (Cauquenes and Empedradosub-areas).

Learn about the wines of Chile with Approach Guides wine app for iPhone and iPad. The app profiles all of Chile’s winemaking regions, grape varieties, appellations, and vintages, giving you everything you need to know to choose a wine that meets your preferences.

Wines from Casablanca Valley (Chile)

First planted in the early 1980s, the Casablanca (ka-sa-BLAHN-ka) Valley sits northwest of Santiago along a dry area of Pacific coastline on the western side of the Coastal Range. Only 18 kilometers / 11 miles from the coast, Casablanca is well known as one of Chile’s premier cool-climate regions, as its growing conditions are directly impacted by the sea. Heavy, cool fog enters in the evening and does not burn off until early afternoon, adding to the region’s already cool temperatures.

Although varied, soils are comprised of clay over a decomposed granite base in the flat areas and granite pebbles and sand on the hills. Further, since no major rivers run through Casablanca, the loose quality of the ancient soils allows vines to penetrate and establish deep root systems, which affords the resulting wines greater subtlety.

Casablanca can be informally divided into three sub-areas, all of which experience varying exposure to the sea’s influence:

  • Lower Casablanca sits on the lowest lying land in the far west of the region. The center of Casablanca’s production, it has the greatest exposure to ocean winds and is therefore the coolest. To draw a distinction: the region is less impacted by the sea’s temperature-stabilizing effects than neighboring San Antonio — another exceptional region for cool-climate style wines — so it experiences greater daily swings in temperature (slightly warmer days and slightly cooler nights).
  • Upper Casablanca sits at the highest elevation on the eastern edge of the region. The least impacted by the sea, it gets the greatest amount of sunshine and experiences the widest daily fluctuations in temperature.
  • Central Casablanca has a mix of the conditions experienced in the Upper and Lower sub-areas.
Map of Chile’s wine regions

Map of Chile’s wine regions

White Wines of the Casablanca Valley

Casablanca has built a reputation for attractively-priced whites that are simple, fruity, and crisp, perfect for everyday consumption.

However, more recently, there is a new class of white wines emerging that is serious and very high quality. Further, they continue to hit attractive price points, making them tremendous values.

  • For the absolute best wines in this elite category, go with those based on sauvignon blanc, some of the best in Chile.
  • The bar is also similarly being raised for chardonnay; excellent steely versions prevail.
  • Aside from its two focus varieties, Casablanca is actively exploring a number of new white grape varieties, including riesling, viognier, and gewürztraminer, all of which have the potential to yield interesting results in the cooler temperatures.

Red Wines of the Casablanca Valley

While Casablanca’s cooler climate has led its innovative winemakers to focus on white wines, there are still some high quality reds being made.

  • Syrah is a variety of particular interest, delivering consistent, complex wines, packed with spice and herbs.
  • Cabernet sauvignon also yields respectable results in a cool-climate style.
  • Finally, in a very positive development, pinot noir is beginning to yield good results from select vineyards in cooler Lower Casablanca. Executed in an Old World style, they are the region’s most exciting new wines.

Learn about the wines of Chile with Approach Guides wine app for iPhone and iPad. The app profiles all of Chile’s winemaking regions, grape varieties, appellations, and vintages, giving you everything you need to know to choose a wine that meets your preferences.