TerraNoble: Champions of Carmenere

Chile’s TerraNoble is a boutique wine producer and Carmenere specialist, with a fascinating project called ‘CA’ to make wines from two different terroirs of the Colchagua Valley, one coastal, one mountainous, the wines made to exactly the same ‘recipe’ so that the results can show the different expressions of their sites.

I met up with head winemaker, Marceló García to taste examples of their CA Project wines. Marceló graduated as an agronomist from the Universidad Mayor in Santiago, with a postgraduate degree in Wine Production from the Universidad de Chile, and has worked at Chilean wineries including Concha y Toro, Valdivieso and Santa Carolina. TerraNoble was founded in 1993, based in the Maule Valley, but new owners in 2006 expanded their vineyard holdings to include the Casablanca and Colchagua Valleys. Today the company farms 300 hectares of vineyards, producing 150,000 cases per year.

The name TerraNoble reflects a company ethos of creating ‘terroir wines’, alongside minimum intervention in the winery. The CA project seeks to prove the diversity of Carmenre – the grape only ‘rediscovered’ in 1994, a year after the company was founded. We would taste Carmenere grown towards the Andes Mountains (CA1) and from closer to the Pacific Ocean (CA2). TerraNoble believes each is a very different expression, despite the distance between the vineyards being little more than 40 miles. They describe many of the best producers in Chile as now being ‘terroir hunters’.

The company identified four basic styles, which explain the journey Carmenere has been on. Without saying so, I’m guessing Marceló sees this as a learning curve and a timeline which better producers have followed since the mid 1990s:

1. Pyrazine giving green notes
2. Overripe and opulent
3. Toasted notes from oak
4. Fresh fruit, typicity and acidity

For the flagship Gran reserva, they are picking around three weeks earlier than they once did, partly down to the effect of climate change, but also in an attempt to ensure freshness in the wine. For the same reason they are using untoasted foudres – large 2,000-litre+ barrels – as well as smaller 300-litre barrels, but fewer new, French oak barrels. The percentage made in Foudre is being increased and for the latest vintage has risen from around 15% to 30%.

The Wines

I would taste the flagship wine of TerraNoble, the Gran Reserva Carmenere, the ‘Disidente’, partly made in amphora, and the 2017 vintage of each of the ‘CA’ project wines. CA1 comes from inland Los Lingues at 370 metres where there is “lots of organic material in the soil and a big diurnal shift,” while CA2 comes from coastal Lolol at 100 metres, with granite soils, low organic material, and less diurnal shift. It is a small project, with around 4,000 bottles of each wine.

(2020) The Higuera vineyard in the more southerly region of Maule is the source of this wine. Maturation is 85% in French oak, but no new oak, and 15% in untoasted oak casks where it spends 12 months, plus six months more in bottle before release. Maule vineyard planted in 1994. Beautifully aromatic, real perfume here soaring from the glass, super ripe and creamy berries, spices and a kirsch-like lift, perhaps a little hint of the pyrazine greenness, but only a hint. Flooded with fruit on the palate, ripe, fleshy, chocolate-smooth tanins, and absolutely delicious to drink. There is spice and some grippiness in the finish, in a powerful and luscious wine.
(2020) From the Los Lingues vineyard in Colchagua, 60 kilometres from the Pacific coast, this is 100% Carmenere, 85% of which was aged 14 months in new and second-fill French oak barrels, 15% in large un-toasted oak vats, and a further 12 in bottle before release. It is a glossy, ripe wine aromatically, deep black cherry and blackberry aromas, a refined graphite and cedar in the background. In the mouth the fruit is really intense, there's a hint of raisiny intensity, but more of the cherry flesh and tartness, the stripe of tannin from fruit and barrels, a little toastiness, and pert acidity all giving it a nice sense of freshness in the finish despite the fruit concentration and grippiness.
(2020) Also from Colchagua Valley, but this time from Lolol, 20 kilometres closer to the Ocean than Los Lingues. Winemaking is identical to CA1, combining 85% small French oak and large untoasted foudres. More lifted, a little volatile character (in a very positive way), with a hint of acetone to floral and cherry and a hint of white pepper. Great sweetness in the mouth, a light balsamic touch, but then the very grippy tannins kick in, lots of powdery, dry structural tannins dry the mouth, good acidity too, balancing the sweet fruit and touch of chocolate. The character is quite different, mostly to do with aromatic perfume and that freshness in the finish.
(2020) The winemaking recipe here is exactly the same as for the 2017, with fruit from Los Lingues and matured in 85% small French oak, 15% in large untoasted barrels, for 14 months, but of course from a cooler year. From Los Lingues around 360 metres above sea level. This harvest was three weeks later than 2017, with an extremely cool spring and warm summer. In 2017 it was hot from beginning to end, hence the earlier picking. More savoury, more earthy and a touch more herbaceous, like undergrowth, cool, in profile. The fruit is sweet and ripe on the palate, a pure blackcurrant character, fairly brisk tannins and acids giving grip and juiciness, and it finishes quite tangy with sour cherry freshness.
(2020) A change of pace here, with a blend of 90% Syrah and 10% Tempranillo coming from the Casablanca Valley, just 22 kmilometres from the coast. The Syrah is raised for 14 months in untoasted oak foudres, the Tempranillo in amphorae. That treatment adds a savoury, tapendade and charcuterie character, a touch of ashy quality or leafiness (but not green), and a meatiness blending with red fruit freshness on the palate. It's a wine with lovely sweetness and textural weight in the mouth, and that sense of meatiness and savoury grip with balanced acidity into the finish.

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