What’s in a Blend? Terret Noir

Photo of Terret Noir by Vbecart, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Terret Noir by Vbecart, via Wikimedia Commons

The Terret variety is actually three grapes in one. Just as is the case with Pinot and Grenache, there are three color mutations (Noir, Gris, and Blanc) that are genetically identical and all go by the name “Terret.” The Terret varieties are sometimes called by the name Bourret, Tarret, Terret Chernyl, Terret du Pays, or Terret Bourret (say that three times fast).

Terret is believed to have originated in the Languedoc’s Hérault département (which now, administratively at least, belongs to the Occitanie Region of France). The grape has been referred in writing since as early as 1619, so its been around a while.

All three Terrets used to be quite widely planted throughout Southwest France, and for a while (beginning in the 1950s), Terret Gris was the most widely planted variety in the Languedoc. However, while some was used in the wines of the region, more of it was used in the production of vermouth and eau-de-vie. It’s popularity was also somewhat short-lived; from a high of just over 20,000 acres (8,100 ha) planted throughout France, there are now only around 250 acres (101 ha) of Terret Gris in France.

These days, Terret Blanc leads the trio in terms of acreage, with just over 3,500 acres (1,415 ha) in France (most of it sticking close to home in the Hérault département).  Terret Noir fares just a tad better than Terret Gris, with just over 460 acres (185 ha) in France these days.

It was Terret Noir that first drew my attention to the trio, as I am just beginning to research a seminar on the grapes from the list of 13 or 18 (depends-on-how-you-count-them) allowed in the famous wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  Terret Noir (but not its Blanc or Gris incarnations) is on the list. It does, however, appear near the bottom of list of allowed wines if they are listed alphabetically, and it is most likely near the bottom of the list in terms of actual usage as well.

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In addition to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Terret Noir is allowed—in teeny-tiny proportions—in a number of AOCs scattered throughout the Rhône Valley and Languedoc. When stated, its allowance is typically limited to 10%. Likewise, you might find the name Terret Noir stuck in a long-list of stand-ins that are allowed to form a combined maximum of 20 or 25% of a particular wine. Nevertheless, one may find Terret Noir in a glass of Cassis Rouge, Rasteau (both the vin doux naturel and the unfortified red), Minervois, Beaumes-de-Venise, Terrasses du Larzac, Gingondas, Vinsobres, Côtes du Rhône and—perhaps most famously—Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

All three members of the Terret trio are quite vigorous, prone to mutation (duh) and known for high acidity. As Terret Noir is almost always used as a minor part of a blend, it is very difficult to find information on the specific organoleptic characteristics that it might bring to a wine. However, as I have said many a time when asked about an outlandish wine-related scheme (such as would you ever dry the grapes, destem them, re-stem them, re-hydrate them and then attempt carbonic maceration), I can only say “well, there is probably somebody in California that has tried it.”

As it turns out, there is somebody in California growing Terret Noir! This one lone winery—Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles—has about one-half of an acre of Terret Noir and has, for two years now,  produced a varietally-labeled Terret Noir. This project is very much in line with Tablas Creek’s close connection to Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Rhône Valley culture. Tablas Creek was the first estate in California to plant the grape. They have just released their second vintage—a 2014 Terret Noir.

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The winery (as stated on their website) intends to eventually use their Terret Noir grapes in their Rhône-style blends, but for now their varietal wine has much to teach us about the character of the grape.  We know that the grape is thin-skinned, and therefore it is no surprise that the varietal wine is pale in color, with a slight garnet hue. To quote the tasting notes provided by the winery, the wine has a “spicy, lifted nose of dried herbs and wild strawberries.”  The notes go on to say that it has persistence on the palate, with flavors of “crunchy red fruit like pomegranates and red currants, complex notes of black tea and dried roses.”

It sounds like Terret Noir would blend quite nicely in with the Grenaches, Syrahs, and Mourvèdres (as well as the over-a-dozen other grapes) of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

References/for further information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

 

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

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