BACK TO THE FUTURE
Although the carmenere grape is thought to have originated in the Medoc area and was widely planted in Bordeaux until the pyhylloxera (grapevine louse) epidemic of 1867, it virtually disappeared from the region at that time. Cuttings exported before that to Chile and Italy meant the grape survived.
Carmenere has become Chile's signature grape, producing immensely popular easy-drinking wines. This has led to experiments planting it elsewhere, including Bordeaux.
A pioneer in this field is Chateau Brane-Cantenac (right). 'The idea was born from a meeting with an intern from Chile in 2006 when he was here working,' says operations manager Christophe Capdeville. 'He expressed his surprise at not seeing any carmenere in the Medoc when this grape originated here. We did some research and found out that it is a grape that truly needs a lot of heat and sunshine. Today, with the very hot and dry summers we have been getting, we thought it would be good to give it a new try.'
Carmenere was replanted at the estate in 2007 and harvested in 2011, which means that the new vintage is the first since the 19th century at the chateau to use carmenere in the blend. The experiment was taken seriously. Only half a hectare was replanted, but it was on prime terroir. It was harvested late, at full maturity, and vinified separately from the grand vin.
Tasting determined that it was good enough for a little to be added to the blend - a tiny measure at 0.5 per cent, but enough to make a difference. Capdeville and chateau owner Henri Lurton are pleased with the results, not only because the carmenere contributes to the blend but also because it provides another element of historic continuity with the estate's illustrious past.
'Carmenere does not improve the wine per se,' Capdeville says. 'It just adds zing and personality to it. If one is patient and gives it all the necessary care, this varietal can give wines aromas of exotic fruits rather than the usual fruits, red or black. It also adds a strong impression of sweetness in the mouth and grainy tannins, like corduroy rather than velvet.
'Since this is one of the six historical varietals in Margaux, I thought it was essential to try to reintroduce it, benefiting from global warming.'