Almost thought extinct, the grape we now call Carmenere was once called Biturica and was the darling grape of ancient Romans who planted the vine all over Europe. It took hold in a city they named Biturica, after the grape which is now called Bordeaux. It is no surprise then that Carmenere is now one of the six allowed Bordeaux varieties. in the late 1800’s the wine grapes of Europe were mostly wiped out by a bug brought over from the New World and Carmenere was not replanted. It was then thought extinct for 150 years until it was discovered that the Spaniards had propagated the vine along with the Catholic missions to be used as sacramental wine in South America.

Some plantings survived in Chile but were unrecognized as they survived largely among the Merlot vines, which for decades gave Chilean Merlot based wines a unique flavor. DNA testing recently revealed that, in fact, there was actually Carmenere vines growing along with the Merlot. Chile now produces a few bottlings of straight Carmenere and a limited number make their way into this country. Chilean Carmenere bottlings vary greatly in quality but the best are big, bold and muscular. Most lack finesse.

Carmenere is even more rare in the United States and the most interesting place to grow it is Washington State where the grape yields medium body, elegant wines that are spicy, exotic, and enticing with wild berries, cherries, and a distinct note of cracked black peppercorn. When grown in Walla Walla, it provides the ultimate expression of the grape with a unique sophistication and grace that delights the senses with a flourish of spice and fruit. The wines from Walla Walla are more feminine and sexy than their Chilean counterparts.

If your curiosity is aroused, then you will be happy to learn that Nodland Cellars, produces a few cases of Carmenere from the famed Seven Hills Vineyard in Walla Walla. This wine is only produced in special years and only in limited quantities. The 2007 “Avant-garde” Carmenere is a delicious rendering of the wine, aged in a mix of French and Hungarian oak for two years in order to bring out a cardamon and cinnamon spice to complement the rich fruit and peppercorn notes that make it so special and unique. For more information on the Avant-garde, 100% Carmenere red wine, contact the winery at (509) 927-7770.