Bordeaux Carménère – a resuscitated grape variety

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Carménère is a sort of mystery variety in Bordeaux. It is a member of the Cabernet family and at one time was widely planted in the Médoc, then all but disappeared after the phylloxera crisis.  The name comes from the French word “carmin”, meaning “crimson”. You can find various spellings, with accents going every which way or removed altogether, but it is indeed Carménère.

In 1994, there were just 10 hectares of Carménère in all of France. But that changed with the trend to stand out by making more complicated blends in Bordeaux, incorporating Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Gris, etc. That having been said, total plantings are still very small and varietal Carménère wines in Bordeaux are still like hen’s teeth.

Interestingly, the variety is widely grown in Chile, propagated from 19th century cuttings brought from France. There are now 9,000 hecares under vine there.

I bought my cuvée Carménère, AOC Bordeaux Supérieur from Château Recougne at the extraordinary boutique at the Maison de la Quality (Planète Bordeaux), home of the Syndicat des Bordeaux et Bordeaux Supérieur in Beychac-et-Cailhau.

The château belongs to the Milhade family, who also own Château Lyonnat in Lussac Saint-Emilion and Château Boutisse in Saint-Emilion. The name Recougne comes from “terra recognita”, meaning “terres reconnues”, which can be loosely translated by “land recognized (as being good)”.
Recougne is a huge estate (90 hectares) in Galgon, near Fronsac and just 5 km from Pomerol. Their Carménère represents only a tiny part of total production.

2012 is not the greatest vintage in Bordeaux, and I did not know what to expect from this Carménère. But I was pleasantly surprised. The thing that sets the wine most apart from other Bordeaux is its bouquet, with spicy and peppery overtones. The wine was also well-balanced and very drinkable, with dark fruit and liquorice nuances. This is an inexpensive fun wine, not only rare, but worthwhile and a great one to serve blind…