Concha y Toro is Chile’s largest winery as well as its largest exporter, so it’s not surprising that we find lots of their wine in our LCBO stores in Ontario. For example, their Marques de Casa Concha brand is a perennial mainstay in the Vintages lineup, but we also see many of their other brands, including their ultra premium Don Melchior Cabernet Sauvignon, Casillero del Diablo, Frontera, Terrunyo, Gran Reserva Serie Riberas and Trio. They work in many of the major regions of Chile, and grow all the international varieties we see coming from Chile, including several of the less-well-known varieties that played an important role in Chile’s history — Pais and Carignan.
So I was pleased to be able to sit down with some fellow wine writers and visit with head winemaker Marcelo Papa, to talk a little about the winery and recent developments. We also previewed four of the wines that will be arriving in Ontario in the coming six months, and had the opportunity to taste two other treats.
Marcelo was eloquent about his goal of creating more elegant wines that better reflect a sense of place. He and the company have been working towards this goal at many different levels, through changes in the winemaking process, ongoing evolution of vineyard management, and of course by being a leader in the wide-sweeping changes across the industry in Chile, identifying new growing areas and better matching of varieties with place. He used the 2014 Marques de Casa Concha Chardonnay to illustrate many of these points.
In the late 1980s and 1990s, this Chardonnay was sourced from the Maipo Valley in the foothills of the Andes. This was before the cooler coastal regions were much developed, and to be sure, the foothills were cooler than the central part of the valley. But generally the grapes were very ripe, with lots of tropical fruit flavours and aromas, and tended to produce wines with higher alcohol and less acidity. Of course this wasn’t far off from what the market wanted at that time, and the use of significant new oak in the aging process generated a popular and well-received wine.
One major change was to relocate their Chardonnay vineyards to the coastal region in the 2000s. This Chardonnay comes from the Limari valley, just 20 km or so from the Pacific coast. With no coastal mountains between the vineyard and the ocean, it is very exposed to maritime influences. Fog rolls in every morning during the summer, with direct sunlight only in the afternoons, while temperatures seldom rise above 25C with night time lows of 12C. Add in the clay and limestone soils, the cooling ocean breezes and you have an ideal environment for cooler-climate Chardonnay.
As well, the winemaking has been adapted. Most importantly, the proportion of new oak has fallen to 20%, the barrel toast has been lowered, and 25% of the barrels have been increased in size from 228 litre barriques to 600 litre demi-muids. Those changes are all obvious in the wine: very dry, citrus and pomaceous fruit rather than tropical, much more moderate oak flavours, and a clear presence of saline minerality on the finish. Overall, the wine is well structured and balanced, and I think it’s fair to say that it reflects its origin quite well.
Vineyard location, climate, vineyard management and winemaking infused the discussions of all the wines that are listed below.
2014 Marques de Casa Concha Chardonnay, D.O. Limarí, Limari Valley, $19.95 (Vintages # 342857, to be released in spring 2017)
- 13.5% alcohol, pH 3.22, Total Acidity 7.12 g/L
- Quebrada Seca Vineyard, alluvial silt-clay, base of calcium carbonate
- Whole cluster press, 100% barrel fermented, just 5% malolactic conversion, 11 months in barrel with occasional battonage, 20% new oak, 75% 228 litre barrels and 25% 600 litre demi-muids
- Fresh apple, lemon and pear aromas, with subtle vanilla and mineral notes. Bone-dry, with crisp acidity and balanced alcohol, the oak is a little more obvious on the palate but still relatively constrained; it adds a nutty flavour too. The finish is dry and saline — elegant and refined.
2015 Marques de Casa Concha Limited Edition Pais-Cinsault, Origin: Secano Interior – Cauquenes Maule Valley $24.95 (not currently available)
- 85% Pais, 15% Cinsault; 12% alcohol
- the Pais from Cauquenes, Maule Valley, the Cinsault from Trehuaco, Itata Valley
- Initial carbonic maceration, followed by traditional fermentation of free-run and first-press juice, aging in stainless steel for 11 months on lees.
- Translucent ruby-purple hue. Vibrant and fresh raspberry, blackberry and blueberry fruit aromas. The wine is dry, with slightly elevated acidity, modest alcohol, and light tannins. Very pleasant, and a lovely wine with lighter foods.
2014 Marques de Casa Concha Carmenere, D.O. Peumo, Cachapoal Valley, $19.95 (Vintages # 169862, to be released in spring 2017)
- 88% Carmenere, 12% Cabernet Sauvignan; 14.2% alcohol, pH 3.48, Total Acidity 5.7 g/L
- traditional fermentation in closed tanks, aged 16 months in French oak
- Deep ruby-red in colour. The compact, dense nose suggests blackberry, black currant and plum fruit, with a hint of green herbs and dark chocolate. The wine is dry, with firm acidity, elevated alcohol, and softening tannins; the fruit is dark and dense, the herbal note evolves from green to dry herbs, while a menthol note emerges. Good structure and depth, fully ripe.
2015 Casillera del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, $17.95 (Vintages # 481002, to be released March 2, 2017)
- aged 14 months in French oak barrels, 15% new.
- Deep ruby-red in hue. The nose shows a little red fruit with the black: red cherries, a hint of blueberries, then blackberries, black currants and plums. The wine is dry, with elevated acidity and alcohol, and softening but slightly grainy tannins. On the palate, the fruit is ripe with some richness, but retains good freshness, underlaid by a nuance of chocolate and vanilla. A good, approachable, value-packed Cabernet with fine structure.
2015 Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon, D.O. Puente Alto, Maipo Valley, $21.95 (Vintages # 337238, arriving as a Vintages essential in December 2016 — the 2014 is currently in stock)
- 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 1% Merlot, 1% Syrah; 14.2% alcohol, pH 3.54, Total Acidity 5.10 g/L
- destemmed whole berries fermented in closed stainless steel tanks, aged 16 months in French oak, 75% 225 litre barrels, 1/3 new, and 25% in 5,000-liter foudres
- The wine is deep ruby-red with purple depths. The fruit aromas suggest ripe black fruit: blackberries, black currants and blue plums. The wine is dry, with elevated acidity and alcohol, and fine-grained tannins. The fruit is juicy and ripe on the palate, with a light menthol note on the mid-palate, and ending with hints of dark chocolate. Nicely structured, ripe but still showing good varietal characteristics.
I was just on my way out of the meeting when Marcelo offered me a taste of a special treat, a 100% Carignan labeled as Vigno. In 2013 Concha y Toro joined the Vignadores de Carignan, a consortium of 12 founding members, whose goal is to promote the potential excellence of dry-farmed, old vines Carignan from the Maule Valley.
Marcelo said that Carignan was originally introduced into Maule in the 1940s, in an attempt to add colour and structure to wines from local varieties such as Pais. For many years it was viewed just as a blending variety, but with the foundation of the Vigno project, local winemakers are attempting to bring the excellence of these vines into full view.
I was intrigued; the wine is made with little or no oak, with lively acidity and persistent tannins, and lots of bright cherry and blackberry fruit. Very attractive indeed! I didn’t have the opportunity to take a full tasting note or to ask any follow-up questions, but I have heard of the Vigno project and was very happy to be able to taste my first sample. I don’t know whether or not it is made in large enough quantities to export, but I will certainly be on the lookout for it, and you should too.