So last night I had dinner with two incredible young winemakers from Concha Y Toro’s newer, boutique-oriented brands in Chile.
On my left was Marcelo Papa of Concha Y Toro’s prestigious Marques de Casa Concha brand. He was named Chile’s “Winemaker of the Year” — twice!
On my right was Marcio Ramirez of the Concha Y Toro’s Serie Riberas Gran Reserva brand.
The evening presented the opportunity to meet both winemakers, discuss their different styles when it came to producing wine from the same variety of grapes, and also discover the secret about how Concha Y Toro is able to produce such quality wines at a reasonable price.
Gran Reserva Serie Riberas
First, let’s discuss Reserva Serie Riberas, or “Riverbank Series” – a very interesting brand and concept. The Gran Reserva Serie Riberas brand is composed of five varieties, each one grown in vineyards planted either on the shores or close to several rivers: the Sauvignon Blanc is linked to the Rapel river shore; Carmenere to the Cachapoal river, Cabernet Sauvignon to the Tinguiririca; Syrah to the Loncomilla and Chardonnay to the Itata river.
Gran Reserva wines are characterized their freshness, in turn a reflection of the cool vineyards planted in river basins. The topographic conditions of these basins, crossing Chile from east to west, create corridors of cold air that come in from the Pacific Ocean or descend from the Andes Mountains to cool the fruit.
“A differentiating element of Gran Reserva wines is the wind blowing along the river courses lowering temperatures and cooling the vineyards. The ripening process is slower and this helps retain the berries’ fruity character and freshness right up to the harvest,” Marcio Ramirez tells me.
Though Marcio is a bit shy, he is incredibly passionate about the wines – and very detail oriented. When I mistakenly jotted down a wrong date in my notebook, he was able to correct me …. one can only imagine how he was even able to read my scribble.
Marcio started working with Concha Y Toro in 1997 after receiving a degree in Enology school. He also (enviously!) worked a harvest at Chateau Mouton Rothchild.
In short, the Gran Reserva Serie Riberas is a tribute to Chile’s extraordinary geography and the ongoing dialogue among our soils, climates and waters.
Marques de Casa Concha
Concha Y Toro’s newer, prestige-focused brand is Marques de Casa Concha, with Marcelo Papa at the helm as winemaker.
The theme of Marques de Casa Concha is to produce wines of distinction that center on the distinctive quality, personality, and virtue of each Chilean valley from which they originate.
These are single vineyard, estate bottled wines made in limited production. All grapes are harvested by hand.
After graduating with a diploma in winemaking Marcelo worked at Kendall-Jackson and other American wineries, gaining broad international experience. Under his direction Marques de Casa Concha wines have earned some of the most vaulted accolades in Chilean winemaking, with the 2002 editon of the Chilean Wine Guide hailing the Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon as the “Best Wine of Its Class.”
Both the Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast magazines named it their “top wines of 2002” and the accolades have continued from there.
The highlight of the evening (beyond the charm of sitting between two vivacious, intelligent, and rather good looking winemakers) was the opportunity to taste and compare the grape varietals between the two brands.
The first flight was Sauvignon Blanc. As a Master of Wine Student it was a picture perfect opportunity for me to get to know not only the Chilean style of Sauvignon Blanc (SB), yet also see the differences between the Leyda Valley (Marques de Casa Concha) and the Ucuquer Vineyard in the Colchagua Valley (Gran Reserva Serie Riberas). Both wines are delicious, crisp and mineral. Marques had more ripe white peach and slightly fuller body, while Serie Riberas was crisp and mineral.
Gran Reserva comes from the same Ucuquer Vineyard and had a lot of tropical notes with some toasted hazelnuts. Very elegant. The Marques de Casa comes from the Limari Valley, a very “big” Chardonnay with opulent ripe fig and pear flavors.
Marques de Casa Concha Pinot Noir
The Pinot Noir is crafted from grapes grown in the San Julián Estate, located 30 kilometers from the Pacific Ocean on the southern bank of the Limari River. The climate is semi-arid with a coastal influence while the red clay-loam soil has little organic matter, round stones, some limestone, and good permeability. Marques de Casa Concha Pinot Noir 2011 –the first Limari Valley Pinot Noir in Concha y Toro’s portfolio– is a limited edition wine that has been aged for 14 months in French oak barrels. It features notes of cherries, raspberries and black and red berries. With good structure and elegance, this is a smooth, expansive wine with a marked minerality.
Gran Reserva Carmenere comes from Peumo Vineyard (within the Colchagua Valley) and is made from 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. It is an intense purple-red in color with aromas of blueberries, plums, chocolate and a hint of white pepper. Sweet tannins. The Marques Casa Concha comes from the Peumo Vineyard in the Rapel valley, marked by a strong Mediterranean climate. The nose is of intense dark plums, black currants, and dark chocolates – great structure and remarkable acidity.
Marques de Casa Concha Caberent Sauvignon
Really delicious wine, especially with a selection of cheese. This wine comes from the Puente Alto Vineyard in the Maipo Valley, and is 93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Carmenere, and 1% Petit Verdot. It is dark ruby in color with aromas of cherry, blackberry, and cedar and smoke. Very concentrated fruit and incredibly elegant.
Concha Y Toro has created two winning brands, each the owner of its own specific style and theme. It’s impossible to prefer one wine over the other, as they represents different styles, different winemakers, different philosophies, and set out to achieve different objectives. Surprisingly, the wines are not so far apart in price, with the Marques de Casa Concha typically just above the Gran Reserva.
The evening was an excellent example of how what may be considered a “large winery” (Concha Y Toro) can create boutique wineries within itself to showcase the unique terroir of Chile.