Monday, June 21, 2010

Report from … Cono Sur Lunch and Tasting – June 1, 2010

I find myself at Far Niente Restaurant, in downtown Toronto, starring at 4 glasses of Cono Sur wine on my way through an 8 wine tasting and lunch.

What’s in a Name …
For years I have thought “Cono Sur” was a play on the word connoisseur, and I’ll bet most of you have too.  But Cono Sur is one of the wineries under the Concha Y Toro umbrella and was owned by the Tocornal family – Vina Tocornal – but Concha Y has a Tocornal vineyard, so to avoid confusion they changed the name in 1997 to Cono Sur, meaning South Cone, which is exactly what South America looks like on the world map. Huh, now you know.

The Wines …
The lunch and tasting was led by chief winemaker Adolfo Hurtado, whose passions lie with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling – not exactly the typical grapes you think of when Chilean wines are mentioned.  When you think Chile you think of those big, full-bodied reds that blow your mind with their intense flavours and bold aromas; you don’t think Chardonnays, Rieslings or Pinot Noirs … do you?  But Adolfo is insistent that these wines can be made, and made very well.  I have previously reviewed a few Cono Sur wines on my What I’m Drinking Tonight blog – including the current releases of the Riesling and the Viognier.  Over lunch I tried 2 Syrahs, 2 Pinot Noirs, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a red blend, the Riesling, a Chardonnay and a Sauvignon Blanc … I found all to be appealing in their own right and their value for quality ratio is almost too good to be true (I guess we’ll have to wait for them to hit shelves to see if those prices stay unbelievable) – here are my top three wine selection of the tasting:

#3 – 2008 Vision Pinot Noir ($16.95) – production for this wine is 15,000 cases and it’s made using the first planting of Pinot Noir in Chile (40+ years old, planted in 1968) – written on the label is the designation that is wine is from old vines and showcases the single vineyard.  The nose has lots of raspberry while the flavours are sweet cherry and raspberry, nice acidity balances that fruit with a little spice on the finish – there’s also a nice mineral component to this wine. (***½)

#2 – I was torn between two whites here, both garnering 4-stars.  The $11.95 Cono Sur 2009 Sauvignon Blanc from the organic vineyard Campo Lindo Estate (meaning: beautiful state) comes from young vines (4 years old).  Nice citrus notes, fresh, crisp and clean with a touch of tropical in the mouth.  But if I have to be perfectly honest with myself (and to you) the 2008 ‘20 Barrels’ Chardonnay ($24.95) beat it out by a hair.  Sourced from a vineyard 7-8 kilometers from the Pacific Ocean, this wine shows some real finesse.  First produced in 2002 with a production of only 20 barrels (500 cases) this wine has grown to 2000 cases but still retains the ’20 Barrels’ name.  Aged 11 months in new French barrels (and fermented in the same) the wine lacks that heavy, new wood seasoning you’d expect – and that’s a good thing.  The reason is the pre-filling process Adolfo goes through with all his new barrels: 14 days filled with a water and salt mixture to soften.  Slight vanilla on the nose with some tropical fruit.  Good mineral notes on the palate with a salty character, one would think it comes from salted barrels, but Adolfo claims it is from the salted-fog that comes in off the Pacific and coats the grapes.  Good fruit character with a nice lengthy finish.

#1 – My top tasted wines were others from the 20 Barrels series: the 2008 Syrah and the 2008 Pinot Noir (there are six single varietal wines in the series).  The 2008 ’20 Barrels’ Syrah ($27.95) is the newest addition to the line-up, made from 5-year-old vines, this wine was never really ever made in 20 barrels, its initial production is 1500 cases.  Lots of dark fruit with real elegance, pretty while still spicy and bold. (****½)  Although it achieved the same 4-and-a-half star rating as the Syrah, the Cono Sur 2008 ’20 Barrels’ Pinot Noir ($27.95) is the wine that most sticks out in my mind.  First produced in 1996, in 20 actual barrels, the wine is now produced in more barrels and has a total production of 4000 cases.  The Pinot comes from the first planting of the grape in Casablanca (1989) and spends 12 months in new French barrels.  Other interesting notes about this wine: the grapes are foot trodden and natural yeasts are used for fermentation, which is why you get such wonderful and interesting smells and flavours.  Smells of floral/violets lead the charge with sweet cherry, raspberry and a little hint of vanilla.  The taste is very focused on the tongue with earthy, spicy notes; along with spiced raspberries and cherries.  To finish it off there’s a lovely long finish that has white pepper nuances. Delicious and memorable. (****½+)

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