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Tasting notes from Chile

text and photographs © 2010 Tom Cannavan

These notes accompany our in-depth feature on Chile, North to South.


Concha y Toro is the goliath of the wine industry in Chile, and indeed, all of South America. They are responsible for around one in two of every bottles of Chilean wine sold in the UK, and are the seventh largest wine company in the world based on volume of sales.

Don Melchior Concha y Toro founded the company at Pirque in the Maipo Valley in 1883, the original cellars, gardens and homestead (right) still forming part of the massive winery operation at Pirque, just 20 miles from the centre of Santiago, and an extremely popular destination for the region's tourists.

The slightly kitsch experience of visiting the original Casillero del Diablo cellar (the Devil's cellar), complete with eerie lighting and ghost-train ambiance, can be forgiven, because this is a slice of real Chilean history, the cellar built from bricks bound with an elastic, egg-white-based mixture that has withstood many earthquakes in its 120+ years.

From its first wine shipment to Holland in 1923 the company has led the Chilean export drive. Today 16 million cases are exported worldwide. The UK is the largest export country with almost 30% of volume - more than all of continental Europe combined - whilst the USA accounts for around 18% of volume.

In that time this company - still family-owned - has continued on an ambitious programme that has established strong brands filling different price points, and indeed has taken them into other winemaking countries. The Cono Sur brand was established in 1993, The Almaviva icon wine in 1997 and then a separate operation called Maycas del Limari in 2007. In 1996 the company travelled across the Andes to establish Trivento in Argentina, taking their total vineyard holdings to 7,600 hectares in Chile and 1000 more in Argentina. That also makes them the fourth biggest company in the world in terms of vineyard area planted.

   Senior winemaker Ignacio Recabarren (left) led me through a comprehensive tasting that encompassed their main UK ranges. As Chile's biggest wine company, Ignacio also stresses their environmental conscience: "We have our own sustainable development department," he tells me, "looking at all aspects of environmental impact." The department develops measures that will reduce energy consumption. "It is a very big company, with 46 vineyards, three bottling plants and 2000 employees, so it is not easy to change things quickly," confesses Ignacio. "But we will reduce our use of glass by 8,000 tons by 2011 through using lighter bottles, and are studying the feasibility of hydro-electric and solar panels to run our business."

Though I visited the Maipo winery, as befits a company of CyT's size, they have vineyards in every valley of Chile, so this tasting covers many different appellations.

white wines

Concha y Toro UK distributes these wines in the UK. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Palo Alto Reserva White 2009
Maule. Modest apple and lemony fruit, with just a touch of herbaceousness, but not terribly expressive. Nice palate, with sweet, easy fruit and a nice burst of Sauvignon bite and vivacity. 86/100. £6.49. This range in Sainsbury's.

Casillero de Diablo Sparkling Brut Reserva Chardonnay 2008
Limari. Fresh lemony nose, with a little oatmeally, bready quality and a hint of something peachier. The palate burst with fruit, really quite a sweet character and ends pleasingly easy to drink though quite simple. 86/100.

Casillero de Diablo Reserva Privada Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Limari. A touch of pear skin phenolic character here, with some nettly qualities and a certain minerality. The palate has a very crisp, clear, lime and lemon palate, with a bright, focused grapefruity acidity. Very zesty with that hint of minerality from the coastal Limari. 88/100. £5.99/£6.49 across this range.

Casillero de Diablo Pinot Grigio 2009
Limari. Gentle, peachy, ripe rosy apple character with a gentle herbal character. The palate has lots of zest and bite, with an orange and lemony bite and clarity. 87/100.

Casillero de Diablo Limari Chardonnay 2009
A very gentle creaminess on the nose, but really this is all about bright, focused and clear apple and lightly herbal fruit. Very tangy citrus palate - lots of zing and bite, with a piercing fruit quality. Not a thin wine, but a lean and focused one. 87/100.

Casillero de Diablo Casablanca Chardonnay 2009
More nutty, toasty character, with some vanilla and a ripe apple and nutty Cox's Pippin fruit. The palate has much more richness and an inherent sweetness, with the sweet, soft oak fattening the finish, and the acidity perhaps a little more angular. 86/100.

Casillero de Diablo Viognier 2009
From Casablanca. Aged in big barrels. Aromatically very expressive, with masses of apricot and ripe pear fruit, and a floral character. The palate is balanced and very fruity, with lots of juicy, quite fat nectarine fruit, but the acidity is good and keeps it sharp. 87/100. Majestic, Oddbins

Concha y Toro Trio Sauvignon Blanc 2009
From Casablanca, with touches of other valleys including Limari. Big, herbaceous, green bean blast on the nose. Cool apple and citrus fruit, and a touch of mineral quality. The fruit is very bold and sweet, quite tropical and exotic, but the herbaceous blast and the tangy, dry acidity make it very bracing and delicious. 89/100. £7.49

Concha y Toro Terrunyo Sauvignon Blanc 2009
From the El Triangulo vineyard, Casablanca with a mix of French and Davis clones, kept on fine lees for nine months and a little wild yeast portion of the ferment. Lots of minerality here giving a smokiness and flintiness. It is very ripe, with quite exotic notes and cabbage ripeness, and a complex wild herb character. The palate has great intensity, the fruit really piercing on the palate, but the wine has a full, rich texture and pushes through with intense sweetness and a big, racy, mineral-infused finish. 91/100. £9.99

Concha y Toro Trio Chardonnay/Pinot Grigio/Pinot Blanc 2009
Tank sample. Casablanca for all fruit, apart from a portion of the Chardonnay from Limari. Quite an oatmeally nose, with an orange and bold, fat lemony fruit, and some grassy notes beneath. The palate has a bold fruitiness and quite full texture, the mouth filled with very sweet, fat fruit, but it has a clarity and searing citrusy acidity that really freshens the finish. 88/100.

Concha y Toro Amelia Chardonnay 2007
From the El Triangulo vineyard, Casablanca. Aged for a year in only older oak, from a selection of small coopers. Fine, honey and honeysuckle nose, with very ripe fruit and an unctuous, almost buttery quality to the fruit. The palate has lots of ripe melon and pear, a hint of pineapple tropicality and a very pithy, fresh finish with some lime-peel bite. 91/100. £19.99

red wines

Palo Alto Reserva Rosé 2009
Maule. 90% Shiraz, 10% merlot. Boldly fruity with soft strawberry fruit. Quite creamy and easy, the fruit on the palate having a nice weight and balance, being easy to drink but fresh and appetising. 85/100.

Palo Alto Reserva Red 2009
Maule. 60% CS, 25% Carmenère, 15% Syrah. Nice, big, powerfully earthy black fruit nose, with a touch of rustic, herbal character. The palate has a certain raciness, the fruit earthy and berried, with good balance. Simple, easy drinking stuff with a bit of oaky depth and structure. 86/100.

Casillero de Diablo Pinot Noir 2009
From Casablanca. 30%in open fermenters, very little pumping over. Graphite and earth, and a crunchy, lightly leafy fruit, with cherry and raspberry. The fruit on the palate comes through nicely, with a touch of creaminess and chocolate, but the fruit staying bold and the acidity freshening the picture. It could perhaps use a little more flesh, but is a good mouthful of honest Pinot. 86/100.

Casillero de Diablo Reserva Privada Cabernet Sauvignon / Syrah 2007
Maipo fruit. Big, ripe and minty, with a solid cassis fruit and just a touch of sweet earth. The fruit on the palate has a rich earthiness too, a touch of fudge-like depth and plenty of black fruit. There's a gamy, bloody edge to the fruit and nicely gripping tannins, with a boldness and richness. £8.99.

Concha y Toro Trio Merlot/Carmenère/Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
From Rapel. Very sweet, dark, juicy and fat berry fruit. There's a touch of leather and some tiny gamy notes. The palate has a plushness of black fruit, but the drying, peppery and earthy spice of the Carmenère fills in, with a fairly lean but juicy cherry finish. 89/100.

Marques de Casa Concha Merlot 2007
From the Peumo Vineyard, Rapel. Very sweet fruit here, a bold, juicy red cherry and ripe plum fruit with lots of creaminess: there are some dark, espresso and chocolaty nuance here too, but it is fresh. The palate maintains an edge, the fruit very sweet and juicy, with a lot of spice and some more of those chocolate hints. Sweet and attractively full and ripe. 88/100. £9.99

Concha y Toro Terrunyo Carmenère 2006
From the Peumo Vineyard, Rapel. Eleventh vintage from this block in Peumo. A touch of Cabernet Franc in this. Dense and glossy quality to this, with a muscular, tightly-wound character. There is a bittersweet dark chocolate edge. On the palate the fruit is super-sweet, filling the mouth with lots of sweetness, but is maintains an edge of clean, tight, racy tannin and good acidity. Fine Carmenère with real structure. 90/100.

Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
From the Puente Alto Vineyard, Maipo. Quite complex cedary notes here, with a certain pencil-shaving finesse and quite exotic, incense-like spice. Big, dry, quite complex palate. There's a dustiness to this, but at the same time a terrific fruit sweetness with lots of blackcurrant concentration. Lovely hint of something liquoricy, but very juicy and deliciously vibrant, fresh finish with lovely fruit. 91/100.

Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
From the Puente Alto Vineyard, Maipo. From very poor, stony soils on a granite base. 25 hl/ha yield, aged 16 months in French oak. Subtle, composed, tight and svelte nose, with a tightly-wound, creamily muscular character. The palate has very sweet fruit, the same blackcurranty concentration of the Marques de Casa, but adding an extra notch of dark plum and chocolate, and the cedary elegance of the tannins and good acidity making this long and focused. This does have the lean, sinewy quality of the vintage, but it has great fruit, great natural concentration and ageing potential. 92/100. Around £27.99

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