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Winner Details

New World: Carmenère

2014: Gold 2 Silver 3 Bronze 5 Commended 6
2013: Gold 2 Silver 4 Bronze 2 Commended N/A
Must-list status: 40%
Overall SWA performance 2014: C+

Carmenère, it seems, is inching its way into our national consciousness. It’s a bit like those comedy films, where someone disguises themselves as a bush, and moves a tiny amount at a time without anyone noticing. One day, metaphorically, we’ll wake up and discover that Carmenère is no longer halfway down the street, but right outside our front door.

At every Sommelier Wine Awards for the past four years we’ve seen its influence growing, and this year it can genuinely be said to have carved out a comfortable place for itself in the competition. Its 16 awards, 10 of them medals, is more than Cab/Shiraz and more, even, than Malbec. And yes, we can only imagine how that statement will go down with Chile’s neighbours to the east…

Interestingly, though, for all the increased medal count, Carmenère isn’t yet (unlike Malbec) a must-list. There’s no groundswell of opinion in favour of turning it into a Varietal Classic, for instance, and most tasters tended to view it as an ‘attractive extra’ on a wine list.

Perhaps the problem is, as consultant Ronan Sayburn MS pointed out, that it’s more of a ‘hail fellow well met’ glugging wine than a restaurant sophisticate. ‘At the lower end, it’s fun, interesting and not too complex. Not really gastronomic, but I don’t think it will ever be that,’ he said.

With flavours ranging from an almost Cab Franc-like bell pepper through to soy sauce spiciness, there was plenty of variety here. In general, the leafier, more aromatic (and usually less oaky) versions were the more popular. But either way, this remains an area where you can pick up reliably good wines for under £10.


Carmenère entries have more than doubled in the past four years.

From the Tasting Teams

‘At its best, we found black pepper and good blackcurrant fruit, typical spices and secondary aromas, with a touch of green.’ Paolo Pivato, Wernher Restaurant, Luton Hoo Hotel Golf & Spa

‘For me I think it works better in blends than as a single varietal. It’s especially good with Merlot and Syrah.’ Jan Konetzki, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay

‘There are customers who recognise and will buy Carmenère, but not many, so the quality needs to be there and then you have to explain the story and style of the wine.’
Robert Mason, Cheese at Leadenhall