Tracing the Evolution of Modern Carménère Wine with Chile's Terra Noble

Terra Noble vineyardsTerra Noble

The evolutionary winemaking journey of what we might call modern Carménère red wines from Chile has taken a course that seems somewhat circuitous in retrospect. But while that journey might have been meandering, it ultimately has ended up in a place that's excellent for wine lovers. And it looks something like this, form the perspective of Chilean wine producers:

  1. Treating it like Merlot instead of like Carménère, because they actually thought it was Merlot for many, many years
  2. Accepting fate and trying to live with the fact that Carménère's tannins were just going to be tough, green and harsh, and trying to force everyone else to like it somehow
  3. Over-ripening the heck out of the grapes out of abject fear of its pyrazine-driven green notes, thus leading to bloated, pruney wines that were tiring to drink
  4. Deciding to try to hide its greener aromatic notes by over-oaking the heck out of it (and trying to force everyone to like that version instead)
  5. Making terroir-driven, more balanced wines made by giving the grapes extra care in the vineyard (finally!).

Terra Noble, in the Maule Valley’s San Clemente area, has been at the Carménère game since `93, so they were at the very beginning (or, at least, the end of the beginning) of that twisting evolutionary tale. With Marcelo Garcia at the winemaking helm, they’re now pretty much fully invested in the latter phase, trying to showcase Carménère for what it naturally brings in Maule, no matter what the haters think.

Their efforts make excellent statements about the current state of modern Carménère coming out of Chile: expressive reds that aren’t overblown, will almost certainly please a crowd, and are still affordable enough that they will please your bank account.
Terra Noble vineyard mapTerra Noble

2018 Terra Noble Gran Reserva Carménère (Colchagua Valley)

Terra Noble’s flagship Carm is a spicy, smokey, fruity affair from grapes planted back in `94. From pepper and herb notes to black fruits and juicy vibrancy, this is the kind of Carménère that even Carménère haters can get behind. Plenty of structure sits behind the palate’s tart plum flavors, along with meatiness, power, and a dash of cloves. The long, dynamic finish is a nice bonus at its affordable price point.

2017 Terra Noble CA 1 Andes Carménère (Colchagua Valley)

From a hot year even at 1200 feet of elevation in Los Lingues near the Andean foothills comes this deep, dark, spicy, seductive version of a Carménère. Black plums, bell pepper, sweet tobacco, licorice, herbs, all leading to a great mouthfeel that’s smooth, vibrant, muscular, and chewy. Equal parts power and poise… ok, maybe 60/40, actually…
Terra Noble CA1 CarmenereTerra Noble

2017 Terra Noble CA 2 ‘Costa’ Carménère (Colchagua Valley)

As the name implies, the vineyard source for this Carm is close (40km) to the ocean, planted on granitic soils from a coastal mountain range that sees a good amount of morning breezes as a result. It’s a serious red, with pronounced – but well-integrated – tannins, black fruits, plentiful herbal notes, and a ton of smoked meat action. The deal-sealer is the freshness, though, which weaves its way throughout every aspect of the palate. A statement-maker, basically.

2018 Terra Noble Gran Reserva Carignan (Maule Valley)

A bonus wine, not from Carménère but from Chile’s ound-for-pound best-performing red grape: Carignan. It’s a minor crime that more of this variety isn’t planted throughout the country (particularly on granite and quartz soils, as is the case with the vines that source this red). Seeing 50% concrete and 5% whole cluster gives this Carignan rendition a fresh, tart profile of red fruit flavors and tobacco spiciness, with a chewy, tasty mouthfeel and a fairly long finish. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better introduction to Chilean Carignan for the money.


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a.k.a. Joe Roberts. Dad, wine-writer-guy, wine critic, wine competition judge, author, bassist, free-thinker, & occasional hiney-shaker. Opening up highly-pressurized cans of whoop-a** on the wine industry since 2007. Joe is a Certified Specialist of Wine, and the author of Wine Taster’s Guide: Drink and Learn with 30 Wine Tastings.

Downingtown, PA

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