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Concha y Toro goes premium

Text and photographs © 2011, Tom Cannavan

The Homestead As I stated in my 2008 report from a visit to their headquarters in the Maipo Valley (right) on the outskirts of Santiago, Concha y Toro is truly the goliath of the Chilean wine industry. 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.

But this tasting organised by Concha y Toro's Scottish distributor Cheviot Wines concentrated not on the high volume brands within the CyT portfolio, but on their premium wines. The company achieves remarkably consistent quality in the tens of millions of bottles of Casillero del Diablo it produces, but at this opposite end of the portfolio the wines, overseen by two of Chile's most experienced and talented winemakers, Marcello Papa and Ignacio Recabarren, the company aims for quite a different expression of Chilean terroir.

The company was founded in the 1880s during the mining 'boom' in Chile, as newly wealthy people travelled to Europe and brought back vines and know-how from their Grand Tour. The story of Chile's early 20th century was of French influence, though the vineyards in the fertile central valley were planted mostly by Chilean engineers and fruit farmers, who had little knowledge of viticulture or the concept of parcelling vineyards according to the subtleties of their geography, climate or soils.

In the 1950s Emile Peynaud arrived from Bordeaux and he influenced Concha y Toro and others into a new way of looking at vineyards, by identifying, dividing and sub-dividing huge blocks so that they could farm more sympathetically. Harvested and vinified separately, the various resulting components were used to achieve more subtle and expressive blends.

Ignacio Now, the company has farms in all of Chile's regions, with a total of 10,000 hectares under vine. There are also various brands, such as the excellent Maycas del Limari from the relatively new, cool and northern Limari valley. Other brands include Terrunyo and Cono Sur and, from their enterprise across the Andes in Argentina, Trivento.

Though today CyT is a major international company, the majority of shares in Concha y Toro are still in family hands. Perhaps that is one of the reasons winemakers, Marcello Papa and Ignacio Recabarren (left), along with Henrique Tirado and Adolfo Hurtado, can be indulged to experiment and make the relatively small volume wines tasted here.

These wines come from the Central Valleys, but often new extensions of these towards the Pacific coast and Andes Mountains, and from more recently developed valleys like the coastal San Antonio. There is not only terrific quality in these top-sliced wines, but real expressions of the various terroirs from which they come.

the wines

Concha y Toro, Gravas del Maipo Syrah 2007, Chile
This is the newest 'fine wine' in the line up, from a stony vineyard in the Maipo Valley. It is 88% Syrah and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon. Lovely nose, lots of lift and green aspects, lots of herbs. There's a touch of game and meaty, savoury aspect too. Delicious, the palate quite lean and sinewy, with plenty of dry extract and cherry skin grip and energy. Lovely, dry and savoury stuff of great purity. 92/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Concha y Toro, Ocio Pinot Noir 2009, Chile
A coastal wine from the Casablanca Valley, with a small percentage from nearby San Antonio. This wine is produced in a dedicated winery with open tanks, and gets the "full Burgundian treatment including foot treading." There's a touch of dried herbs and cherry, the oak adding a gentle charry toast and some earthy, mushroom nuances. Lovely acidity in the mouth, bright cherry fruit and a touch of plummy depth. The oak adds underpinning, subtle structure with spice and good acidity. 90/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Concha y Toro, Carmin del Puemo 2005, Chile
This is mostly Carmenère from Cachapoal, with a small proportion of other Bordeaux varieties. It comes from a single block chosen by Ignacio Recabarren, is picked very late and spends 20 months in new French oak. A little raspberry and damson fragrance and suggestion of juiciness. Some green-tinged, ripe fig fragrance and sandalwood oak. The palate has good energy and a lovely creamy, sweet fruit density touched by fudge and woodsmoke. Long. 91-92/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Concha y Toro, Don Melchor 2007, Chile
From the upper Maipo, this wine was first produced in 1987. The final blend is done in Bordeaux with samples shipped over, working with the same consultants who also blend for four of the five Bordeaux first growths. Quite a green, herbal and olive edge to this that makes it bright and fresh, with savoury, high quality blackcurrant fruit. On the palate it has a spice and liquorice concentration, with lovely medium-bodied finesse. The tannins are grippy but ripe, playing against the sweet fruit and creamy, quite chocolaty oak. 91/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Trivento, Eolo 2006, Argentina
From Lucan de Cuyo in Mendoza and a Malbec vineyard planted in 1912. Lovely lift to the fragrance, from a great vintage, with tiny floral notes to tight damson and blueberry fruit. Some cedary notes. Delightful palate - tight, dense and mouth-filling, but deliciously ripe and creamy. Fabulous fruit concentration and intensity, spices, chocolate and freshening plum skin acidity and grip. 93/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Almaviva 2007
This is Concha y Toro's joint venture with Baron Philippe de Rothschild. Carmenère is a quarter of the classic, Cabernet-dominated Bordeaux blend. Deeper, more velvety and tight than the Don Melchior, the palate has great black fruit concentration and density: a smooth, full bodied wine with very ripe, chocolate-dense tannins. The oak is smoky and dark, and gives a creamy spice to the finish, freshened by nimble acidity. 92-93/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.