Thursday 25 October 2018

Papa Knows Best

Producer: Marques de Casa Concha

As the largest wine producer in Chile, Concha y Toro has a vast number of brands in its portfolio, each aimed at a different segment of the market. Marques de Casa Concha is part of their fine wine collection, below Don Melchor in terms of pricing but slightly above Casillero del Diablo. Chile is known for making dependable, affordable wines, and Marques de Casa Concha fits that mould perfectly. Most of their wines are sold for around SGD50 in Singapore, which if you compare against wines from Bordeaux and California are very competitively priced. But do they fare as well taste-wise?

First some background on Marques de Casa Concha. The line was named after a noble title inherited by the founder of Concha y Toro, Don Melchor de Santiago. It was launched in 1976, starting with red blends from the Maipo region before moving into single variety bottlings after observing what Robert Mondavi was doing in California. Head winemaker Marcelo Papa has been in charge of the brand since 1999. Under his care, picking dates for the grapes have been pushed earlier and he has also aged part of the wines in 5000-liter foudres (large wooden vats) instead of entirely in new oak barrels. The result of this has been a fresher, more elegant style of wine without sacrificing any of the aromatics. Marcelo has also suggested that Chile start promoting the wine regions instead of grape variety, which is quite a big move for a country with a relatively short history of winemaking. I asked him if that means that there should be a list of approved grape varieties each region. “I think so yes,” he replied “[For example], Bio Bio is a cool climate region. If you plant Cabernet, it will be tough because it will ripen at the end of April and you will get heavy rains in the middle [of ripening]. For every variety we will need to see how they adapt in certain areas.”

Given that the Marques de Casa Concha range is composed of mostly varietal wines, I asked Marcelo if he had any favourite grape varieties to work with. “I like working with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet. I think Chardonnay and particularly Pinot Noir are varieties that very easily express their place. They are very delicate – it’s all about the soil and water. With Cabernet you have more elements, such as the barrels and other varieties to blend in.” Stylistically the wines are quite diverse, representing the breadth of Chilean terroir. The País/Cinsault blend for example was made using carbonic maceration, a technique commonly used in Beaujolais which results in light and fruity wines, while the standout Etiqueta Negra (a Bordeaux blend) showed impressive depth and structure. In between was the Syrah, a grape variety Marcelo lauds for its adaptability to different locations, but here provides an example of the Maipo style – neither French nor Australian but showing some elements of both. Most impressive for me was the Chardonnay from Bío-Bío. Marques de Casa Concha already produces a well-known Chardonnay from the Limary Valley, located 1000km north of Bío-Bío, and comparatively Marcelo says that the latter shows a bit more opulence in terms of fruit character, which is a result of the cool climate combined with good sun exposure.

The wines showed a clear direction with clean, confident winemaking. This is not surprising as Marcelo is a veteran in the industry and knows what he wants his wines to taste like. Chilean wines can often lose their identity in the pursuit of generic varietal flavour, but the wines of Marques de Casa Concha are also able to showcase Chilean terroir.

Tasting notes:

Marques de Casa Concha Sauvignon Blanc 2015 – Sauvignon Blanc tends to fade quickly, but this example was still very fresh and lively, a trait Marcelo attributes to the gentle extraction used for the grapes. A taut wine with notes of grapefruit and lime, this served as an excellent aperitif and would go well with raw seafood.

Marques de Casa Concha Bío-Bío Chardonnay 2016 – Vineyards planted on volcanic red clay 194 metres above sea level. Very pure and concentrated with an extended finish. Tight as a wire, giving great pleasure from the first sip to the last.

Marques de Casa Concha País Cinsault 2016 – Unoaked, made using carbonic maceration from dry-farmed bush vines. Tannins have certainly been handled well. A soft, easy-going style with the delicacy of a Beaujolais and a sappy, red fruit character. A wine meant to be drunk young.

Marques de Casa Concha Syrah 2016 – Vineyards located at high altitude at the foothills of the Andes mountains. Dry and cool climate with large day/night temperature difference – important for flavour development and acid retention. Very soft and smooth with some leather and spice notes. Rounded palate with definitive fruit presence and a sweet finish.

Marques de Casa Concha Etiqueta Negra 2016 – Marcelo says that this wine harkens back to the original Marques style in the early 1970s. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot from the famed Puento Alto subregion, which contains well-drained alluvial soils. A darkly coloured, intense wine with ripe tannins and black fruit. A bright line of acidity keeps the wine fresh and complements its full-bodied character.

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