California and Australia paved the way for general consumer acceptance of New World wines as suitable alternatives to the dominance of Old World, Western European wines on our dinner tables.
The wines were well enough made, accessible in terms of both drinking pleasure and understanding what was in the bottle, and affordable, too. It wasn’t long before both places were producing premium quality wines along with their everyday sort of wines.
Just like the best wines of Europe, these premium wines, such as Grange and Opus One, were made with attention to all the details: soil, location, clone, wine-making technique, barrel aging and much more.
Chile was the next New World region to make an impression on the international stage. It followed the successful model pioneered by California and Australia, selling good wines at prices that attracted consumers. It has been slower, however, to add the production of premium wines to its reputation. In the minds of many consumers it remains a source of inexpensive nice wines, but they turn elsewhere for premium purchases.
Chile’s premium wine reputation is improving, and Concha y Toro is one of the leaders of that change. The company is the largest wine producer in Latin America, selling more than 30 million cases annually. It has partnered with companies such as Chateau Mouton Rothschild to create Almaviva, and has been investing heavily in acquiring and developing vineyards.
I recently met with Martin Duran from Concha y Toro, who plays a role in the promotion of their premium wines. Following soon after my meeting with a passionate wine-maker from South Africa, I was once again impressed by a passionate professional, this time a sommelier.
While Concha y Toro has many labels and products in the everyday consumer market, Martin explained the efforts made to produce premium wines that show what he believes are the unique qualities of Chilean wine. That unique character starts with vines grown on their own vitis vinifera rootstock (as opposed to vines grafted to other rootstock to counter the phylloxera pest, which is not found in Chile). For further elaboration, we sampled three wines.
The Marques de Casa Concha line is based on older vines that show the classical characteristics of the traditional grape varieties of Chile. The Carmenere 2009 (NLC $23.49) comes from vines that are more than 25 years old and is hand-picked from selected blocks yielding 8,000 litres per hectare.
The wine spent
18 months in French oak, 35 per cent new, before release. This was a big, mouth-filling wine, with abundant plummy fruit aroma, but smooth tannins. Score: 15.5/Very Good.
The Terrunyo label comes from the Catalan word which is the equivalent of the French “terroir.” The grapes are selected from small blocks from the best vineyards with very low yields of only 4,500 L per hectare. The Sauvignon Blanc 2011 was a combination of three different clones contributing tropical and citrus characteristics. The aromatics favour New Zealand, but there is more body and juicy citrus in the mouth. Score: 16.5/Very Good.
Don Melchor is the top line of Concha y Toro and is named for the founder of the company. The wine is produced from 25- to 100-year-old cabernet sauvignon vines located on the middle two of four terraces above the Maipo River. Samples are taken from 120 plots within these vineyards to determine the final blend each year and achieve just the right mix of tannins, fruit and secondary flavours.
The wine is aged 15 months in 70 per cent new French oak and spends a year in bottle before release. The 2007 (NLC $81.99) was huge and meaty with ripe red and black fruit aromas, but nonetheless smooth and silky in the mouth. Score: 18/Excellent.
If you are in the market for a premium wine at some point, don’t neglect the Chilean aisle!
Steve Delaney is a member of the Opimian Society. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org