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Carmenere, The Unforgettable Grape of Chile

Posted on  | September 1, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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In Bordeaux, Carmenere has a long history as a second class citizen. Though the grape traces its origins to the famed French region (and is still grown there), it’s always been regarded as an inferior     variety—a blending grape at best—and has only recently begun to make its case for greatness in its adopted homeland, Chile.

Transplanted to Chilean soils from Bordeaux before the phylloxera plague devastated vines throughout Europe, Carmenere wasn’t even correctly identified in Chile until the 1990s, mistaken for decades as Merlot. Once Chilean vintners understood Carmenere—where to plant it and when to harvest—it began to thrive.

Closely related to Cabernet Franc, Carmenere thrives in warmer, drier climates and ripens late—long after Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon when the leaves on the vines have colored to brilliant shades of crimson. Chilean vineyards, wedged between the coast and the Andes Mountains, provide the ideal combination of warm days followed by cool nights which enables ideal flavor development for Carmenere, and it excels especially in the Cachapoal and Colchagua subregions of the Rapel Valley.

Often underripe and herbaceous in its native Bordeaux, Carmenere in Chile yields fully ripe wines with greater richness and more structure than Merlot yet less opulent fruitiness than Malbec. Low in tannin with lush blackberry fruit flavors and savory undertones,  it’s no wonder Carmenere is winning fans throughout the U.S. As one of the top three red varieties in the Chilean category, it is quickly establishing itself as Chile’s iconic red grape. In addition to its easy-to-love taste profile, Carmenere offers incredible value. Growth is particularly strong in the $8 to $9.99 category (up 16.6% as of this spring);  making Carmenere an ideal replacement for those bored of the “Malbec craze”.   

With  over 50% of the Chilean Carmenere market share by volume (Nielsen), Banfi Vintners is the undeniable category leader, helping bring the once-underappreciated grape to prominence around the world. Concho y Toro dominates, serving as the Chilean ambassador of Carmenere with high quality wines that span the price spectrum.

As with any grape that doesn’t possess universal consumer awareness, driving volume is all about increasing awareness and generating trial. Starting September, as the weather cools and licensees begin to ramp up red wine offerings, Banfi’s Excelsior Wine Company will work to create an impactful presence in retail outlets and restaurants with their entry-level, mid-tier and estate Carmenere offerings. Off-premise licensees can utilize case cards, posters and window signs to advertise specials and in-store tastings; restaurants can boost sales with table tents, menu inserts and posters to highlight seasonal offerings and promote sampling and wine flight opportunities.  

Creative Consumer Offers

Concho y Toro has unveiled a “Collector’s 6-Pack” which gives wine drinkers the opportunity to taste three premier Carmeneres from three different Concho y Toro Winemakers (contact your Excelsior sales representative for pricing details).

Retailers can encourage trial with Carmenere coupons enabling customers to redeem $28 off twelve 750mL/1.5L bottles.

Sales associates and waitstaff can display Carmenere pride with bright red T-Shirts promoting the “I Love Carmenere” website. QR codes on POS will drive consumers to  www.ilovecarmenere.com for wine profiles, recipes and more information.

Excelsior’s Carmenere line-up

America’s Favorite South American wine is showing off an upscale new label just in time for fall features – sure to turn heads in both the 750mL and 1.5L sections. SRP: $5 (750mL)/ $10 (1.5L)

An adventurous, youthful red for wine drinkers looking to “xplore” new tastes within a budget. SRP: $8

The #1 Carmenere in the U.S. growing over 18%, this is plush, full-bodied and fruity.  SRP: $12

With a 90-point score from Robert Parker for its debut vintage, this concentrated Carmenere is  destined to be a consumer favorite.  SRP: $17

Awarded “Best Chilean Carmenere” by Wine & Spirits Magazine, this powerhouse red has great structure and acidity, filled out with voluptuous black fruit flavors. Wine & Spirits     91 pts. SRP: $22

Single vineyard, single block, low-production – this is the benchmark for Carmenere.  
Wine Enthusiast 91 pts. SRP: $38

The highest ranking Carmenere in history – this is the crowning jewel of Concha y Toro’s collection. Wine & Spirits 94 pts. SRP: $150


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