Cono Sur Wine Tasting

A Chilean wine tasting? No your eyes do not deceive you, nor have I abandoned Italy in favour of the land that Phylloxera forgot to visit on its holidays.

Bicycle[1]

I tossed and turned about attending this tasting because, in the last year at least, the focus of The Vine Inspiration has narrowed considerably, and intentionally, to mainly reside on Italy, sherry and Champagne. A lot of wine has passed under the bridge since I attended my last Chilean tasting and, if I’m being totally honest, very little of it was Chilean.

My experience of the Cono Sur wines has always been positive though. I really like the entry-level bicicleta Pinot Noir and have enjoyed the 20 barrels selections in the past, but on a wider Chilean theme very few wines seem to really excite my Italophile palate.  I went to this tasting in the hope of challenging that notion in my own mind, a task that was set up for success by virtue of the fact that the wines were selected from the premium end of the Cono Sur range – if these couldn’t excite me I think Chile and I might’ve just had to part amicably and chalk our relationship down to “it’s not you…it’s me”.

Cono Sur Geese

Adolfo Hurtado (Cono Sur’s General Manager and Chief Winemaker) is slick – he not only presents Cono Sur in a very favourable light but is a great ambassador for Chilean wine and organic viticulture in general. I can never think of Adolfo or Cono Sur without thinking about their methods of controlling the ‘burrito’ insect, which, if left unimpeded, could destroy a vineyard. The vines are coated with a mixture of stinky garlic and sticky glue which either traps the ‘burrito’ with its adhesive, or repels it toward the grass with its pungent aroma. Once on the grass, the hunter has become the hunted, so to speak, and it’s every ‘burrito’ for itself. The hunters? – A gaggle of the resident geese who patrol the vineyard in pursuit of their next insect feast.

If the overall quality of the wines presented at this tasting was anything to go by, the geese do a good job. The highlight for me was the mini vertical of the Ocio Pinot Noir (RRP €62), Cono Sur’s top Pinot bottling. The vines are grown on sandy soil with a bit of clay, and the wine spends 14 months in barrel and one month in stainless steel prior to bottling. We tasted the 2009, 2010 and 2011 vintages, years whose climatic conditions Adolfo framed as warner than average, cooler than average, and…well…average respectively. This actually surprised me because, on initial tasting, I certainly wouldn’t have pegged the 2009 as being from the warmest vintage of the three. I actually thought it was restrained and fresh. Delving in a little further, the sweet fruit richness and ripe tannins did eventually emerge, but I still didn’t think that the whole package even flirted with being jammy – a characteristic I sometimes find with warm vintage Pinots. In fact in all three vintages, a savoury spiciness kept any potential ‘jamminess’ at bay. The 2010 was generally more expressive with an enticing depth of flavour and very good length. The smoky and spicy 2011 Ocio was dominated by oak at this stage of its evolution, and although it has perhaps the best potential of the three wines tasted, its structure was a just a little disparate – it’s young and needs another year or three at least.

Adolfo Hurtado

Adolfo Hurtado

So, did I find excitement? Yes, most certainly with the Ocio. I wouldn’t hesitate to open a bottle alongside my turkey on Christmas Day. These are high quality, elegant and well made wines but are getting up there in price. Those who might balk at paying this kind of money for a Chilean wine might need to re-calibrate their frame of reference point over the coming years – Chilean wine is looking to make a real impact at this level, and I’m sure Adolfo and Cono Sur will be leading the charge.

Cono Sur wines are imported in Ireland by Findlater Wine & Spirit Group. The Ocio Pinot Noir is stocked in Redmond’s of Ranelagh and other independent wine shops.

Disclosure: A light lunch was provided at this tasting.

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