Concha y Toro is big – millions of cases big. But the winery is also committed to quality. Its Casa Concha line offers terrific value, while its higher-end wines are impressive.
I sat down with one of the family owners, Isabel Guilisasti, and one of the winemakers, Ignacio Recabarren. Recabarren, 57, is one of Chile's most respected and experienced winemakers, and since his hiring by Concha y Toro in 1995 the wines here – particularly the Terrunyo line he oversees directly – have steadily improved so that they are consistently outstanding.
Chile is a very solid producer of Cabernet Sauvignon, and the bang the country can deliver for $15 is hard to beat. But there’s something missing at the top end. Although a handful of wines set a high standard (including Casa Lapostolle’s Clos Apalta, Viña Montes’ Alpha M, Viña Almaviva and Concha y Toro’s Don Melchor), Chile lacks a little excitement these days. Concha y Toro wants to change that.
“We need more small-production, high-end wines, to bring diversity to Chile,” says Guilisasti.
To that end, Concha y Toro will be releasing a 500-case wine made primarily from Carmenère, a grape that is Chile’s claim to a unique, signature varietal. Recabarren is fashioning the wine, called Carmin de Peumo, using primarily a single block of the winery's oldest Carmenère vines (23 years old) in its large Peumo vineyard. He’s thrown in a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon from Pirque and Puente Alto and a drop of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot as well, but the wine is distinctly Carmenère. It’s ripe but not jammy, with a plush, suave texture backed by nice grip on the finish. It’s an impressive wine, with vivid blue, purple and black fruit flavors. (I'll formally review the wine based on a blind tasting closer to its release.)
Recabarren hits it on the head when he says, “Carmenère allows Chile to make a Bordeaux assemblage in a New World style, with fruit and balance.”
While consumers might bemoan the explosion of small-lot, high-priced wines brought about by the single-vineyard craze, I think this is exactly what’s needed to shake things up in Chile right now. I'd like to see more wines like these produced (price not withstanding) for a greater variety of choice. With Cabernet playing the lead role, supported by grapes like Carmenère and Syrah, Chile has a chance to define itself as something other than just a mass-value wine producer (which it's already good at).
The Carmin de Peumo is set for an October release, and like most wines in small packages, it will not be cheap – around $70 a bottle, which would make it more expensive than its current flagship Don Melchor bottling. Most people will likely take pause at a $70 bottle of Chilean wine, even though the country’s elite reds broke that price barrier a few years ago. But Chile’s wines need a shot in the arm, and by using the country’s own distinct grape and focusing on quality, Concha y Toro is throwing its hat in the ring. Concha y Toro is willing to remake itself a bit in order to push the country's wines further - that's what leaders do. Kudos to them.
What do you think? Is the high-end, small lot wine the way to go for Chile?