The evolutionary winemaking journey of what we might call modern Carménère red wines in Chile looks something like this:
Treating it like Merlot because they actually thought it was Merlot ->
Living with the fact that its tannins were just going to be green and harsh, tough nuggies ->
Over-ripening the bejeezus out of the grapes out of abject fear of its pyrazine-driven green notes, leading to bloated, pruney wines ->
Hiding its green notes by over-oaking the hell out of it ->
Making terroir-driven, more balanced wines made by giving the grapes extra TLC in the vineyard.
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, haters-be-damned.
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’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 Carm that even Carm 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 this price point.
From a hot year even at 1200 feet of elevation in Los Lingues near the Andean foothills comes this deep, dark, spicy, seductive number 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…
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.
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.