Carménère is Chile’s signature red grape. This grape variety gives fruity, juicy red wines with a distinct herbaceous touch. The aromas of fruit and herbs make Carménère an excellent food wine. In this wine guide you will find the best food pairings for this increasingly popular Chilean red grape.
Last updated January 24th 2023
Pairing Carménère with food is fun. This red grape variety gives food-friendly wines with fruity, meaty and herbaceous aromas. The combination of different types of aromas makes it a good wine pairing to a wide range of dishes, including grilled vegetables, BBQ, pasta and cheese. Carménère is especially pleasant to drink together with foods that have been marinated in herbs and/or black pepper. Carménère has many similarities to the popular grape Merlot, so if you are a fan of Merlot you will certainly like this Chilean grape variety.
Carménère is often called Chile’s signature red grape, but it is originally from Médoc in France. It is considered one of the six original grapes of Bordeaux and is related to Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. However, Carménère is barley planted in France anymore. Phylloxera in the 19th basically killed all the Carménère plantation in France. Luckily, this grape variety found its new life in Chile.
Since 1850, the grape has been grown in Chile. First, the Chilean farmers thought they were growing Merlot, but the long ripening time of the grapes confused them. Only when a DNA analysis was conducted in 1994 it was revealed that Carménère was being grown in the Chilean vineyards, not Merlot. Luckily, the grape variety is very well suited for the Chilean climate with cool nights and warm days. Thanks to Chilean winemakers, Carménère was rescued from extinction.
Today Carménère is grown in many different areas of Chile. Some of the best regions for this grape variety are Maipo Valley, Cachapoal Valley and Colchagua Valley. It is also grown in smaller quantities in Italy, the US, France, Argentina and in China. Due to its ability to produce high-quality and food-friendly wines, Carménère is becoming increasingly popular among consumers outside Chile. If you like the profile of Merlot, make sure to try Carménère!
Carménère is a medium-bodied dry red wine with medium acidity. Its tannins are not too harsh, making it easy to drink with, or without food. This wine is rich, fruity and herbaceous, with distinct aromas of dark fruit like plum and red cherries, as well as black pepper, green bell pepper and meat. It is sometimes described as smoky or earthy. Its vegetal aromas can vary from dried herbs, basil and mint, to green paprika and jalapeno. The aromatic combination of fruit and herbs makes Carménère pleasant to drink, especially with food!
In order to get the grape's typical fruit aromas, it is essential that they ripen fully before harvest. If the grapes are harvested too early, the wine will taste bitter. Carménère is often, but not always, aged in oak casks, which gives aromas of dark chocolate, tobacco, coffee and earth.
Are there any differences between Carménère and Merlot? Yes, but not many! Carménère is very similar to Merlot. In fact, it is so similar that only a DNA analysis could tell the grape varieties apart. Both Carménère and Merlot give medium-bodied red wines with medium-high acidity and relatively soft tannins. Aromas of plum, earth and tobacco are common in both wines. Both Merlot and Carménère have a deep red color.
Most of the times, it is tricky to tell Carménère and Merlot apart. However, Carménère tends to have more vegetal aromas, with clear notes of bell pepper and herbs. Also Merlot tends to have mostly dark fruit while Carménère sometimes also has red fruit flavors. When it comes to growing the grapes, Carménère is flowering earlier but ripens later than Merlot.
Tips! Check our guide about Merlot Food Pairing to learn more about the grape.
Carménère is an excellent wine with to drink with food. The combination of herbs, black pepper and sweet fruit makes it possible to pair with a wide range of dishes. Due to its vegetal profile, Carménère pairs really well with meat or vegetables marinated in herbs like basil, thyme, sage and rosemary. Rich, flavorful stews also pair exceptionally well with this grape variety.
As always, when you are pairing food and wine you need to take into consideration both the characteristics of the food and the wine. When pairing Carménère with food, pay attention to the following:
Carménère is best served at 14-17°C (57-63°F), which is slightly cooler than room temperature.
Carménère and meat pair very well together. This wine pairs especially well with meat marinated in herbs because the flavors in the food will match the aromas in the wine. Try it with roasted lamb with provençal herbs or a similar dish. Carmènére sometimes has mint aromas that will match well with flavorful dishes, like lamb. Try it with lamb kebab with mint sauce.
Soft tannins and relatively low acidity make Carménère an excellent pairing to leaner meats such as veal. Due to the low acidity, this wine might not be the best pairing to a juicy, fatty steak. Instead, try Carménère with one of the following meat dishes:
Carménère is an excellent pairing to grilled foods. BBQ food has its own special characteristics - the smoky, grilled aromas in the food match well with wines with similar flavor profile. Carménère often has aromas of smoke, meat, earth and tobacco which pair lovely with grilled food. Also, the fruity profile of the wine will balance the smokey flavors of the grilled food, which creates a lovely flavor sensation.
Carménère matches with all types of grilled foods, not only meat. In fact, it is probably one of the best pairings with grilled vegetables. Try it with grilled peppers!
Tips! The fruity aromas in the wine also make Carménère a perfect pairing with BBQ sauces.
Are you a vegetarian looking for a good red wine to eat with your veggies? Try a Carménère! Thanks to the vegetal profile of the wine, it pairs very well with a wide range of vegetables, especially peppers and asparagus. The green vegetal aromas of the wine will pair well with foods that also contain them. Try with grilled or roasted vegetables.
Good vegetarian dishes with Carménère:
Tips! To learn more about the best wine for vegetarian dishes, we recommend our wine guide for vegetarian food.
Carménère is obviously a good choice to many Chilean dishes, and it also pairs well with different dishes from South America. Try it with the following:
Pasta and red wine often go well together. If you want to eat pasta together with your bottle of Carménère we recommend rich pasta dishes, especially with tomato sauce. Try it with one of the following pastas:
Which cheese goes best with Carménère? Flavorful cheese like Pepper Jack will pair well. Also hard cheeses like Cheddar, Pecorino, Manchego, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Grana Padano are good cheese pairings for this grape variety. The wine's fruity aromas and its medium-body profile make it a cheese-friendly wine.
Carménère has soft tannins and not very high acidity, which makes it an excellent pairing to leaner meats. Poultry, especially roast turkey and chicken, pair well with Carménère. The pairing will be even better if the food is seasoned with fresh or dried herbs.
Carménère is often described as a smoky and earthy wine. Mushrooms are also described as earthy. Grilled or fried mushrooms will also get a smoky flavor. Try to match a glass of Carménère with a toast of grilled or fried mushrooms. We can't promise you anything, but the likelihood that you will like it is high!
Hopefully you learned a little bit about the Chilean grape Carménère and want pair it with food.
Enjoy you food and wine!