Tag Archives: Chile

Guest blog: Casillero del Diablo – The Devil’s Cellar

Concha y Toro is an enormous operation. I’m just looking through their latest accounts, and in the last audited quarter alone – the third quarter of 2010, just three measly months – they exported 5,999,050 cases of wine from Chile. That’s a few shy of 72 million bottles. Their UK subsidiary reported year-on-year sales rising by a vertiginous 52.6%, “due to improving sales of Casillero del Diablo, Isla Negra Reserves, Viña Maipo & Palo Alto, and as a result of securing new promotional activities in the Off Trade sector”. That’s one heck of an improvement. But evidence of these promotional activities is not hard to find. As you can see from the ad above, Casillero del Diablo now sponsor Manchester United, and are involved in next month’s masters tennis (that’s old players who aren’t up to playing on the main tour any more but still fancy the occasional pay-day) at the Royal Albert Hall. They also, a few weeks ago, generously took Gilad, a friend of CF’s, out for dinner with their chief winemaker, Marcelo Papa. And this is what he wrote about it…

What sort of wines would you expect to find in the devil’s cellar? Wine aficionados might expect it to be full of the kind of mass-produced swill that we are used to finding on our supermarket shelves. And, in a way, they’d be right.

Casillero del Diablo (literally, the devil’s cellar) is part of the Concha y Toro Chilean wine dynasty. Established in Chile in 1841 by Don Melchor and named after the rumour he circulated, in a bid to keep strangers away from his reserve, that the devil lived in his basement, it’s now a very familiar name in the UK. If you live in a British city, there is probably a bottle for sale within 500 yards of you right now.

This has been a good period for Chilean wine sellers in the UK. Retailers have been reporting a sharp increase in sales as sentimental buyers showed solidarity with (and raised a glass to) the 33 rescued miners. The drama of their rescue has supposedly put Chile on the world map but, in the wine world, Casillero were very much there already.

Mega brands of Casillero’s ilk (huge houses, producing huge volumes at low prices) are often regarded by wine lovers as the devils of the wine world. Yet Casillero has escaped that curse, enjoying a fine reputation for pleasing wines at very pleasing prices. At dinner with Marcelo Papa, Casillero’s affable head winemaker, Marcelo was quick to remind us that the wines from Casillero’s 8,000 hectares of land have landed an impressive tally of 80 international awards (including 8 gold and 18 silver). “Our owners make wine and don’t make anything else,” Marcelo opined. “That makes a big difference. And we’re particularly discerning about our varietals and suppliers. Not everyone is.” His point is, put simply, that the devil’s in the detail.

Dinner with Marcelo was hosted at the homely Gauthier restaurant in Soho, a charming venue but perhaps not the most fitting for Casillero. My selection of an eatery equivalent to Casillero’s wines would be Nandos – reasonably priced, easy to find and surprisingly tasty – but I was glad Marcelo selected differently.

Casillero’s signature is solid single-variety wines at competitive prices. Their sauvignon blanc is a case in point. The Casablanca Sauvingon Blanc 2009 (rrp £7.49) is a seriously zesty and citrusy number, pleasingly sharp yet refreshing and comparing favourably with similarly styled (but slightly pricier) kiwi sauvignon. It may be in shorter supply next year; February’s earthquake in Chile was a “disaster”, Marcelo sighed, for sauvignon.

Marcelo worked us through his range with vigour. Carmenere, Chile’s signature red grape, made a more than capable companion for mallard and the Reserva Privada Cabernet Syrah 2007 (a departure from Casillero’s usual single variety wines) was an interesting match with a cheesy Feuillete of Fourme D’Ambert, providing rich and deep berry flavours.

Perhaps most interesting of all though was Marcelo’s “battle of the Chardonnays”, when two wines he has crafted from the world’s most popular white grape went head to head. The CDD Casablanca Chardonnay 2009 was fairly fruity with a rich palate and pleasant finish, but it was clearly overshadowed by the evening’s most intriguing offering, the Maycas del Limarí Quebrada Seca 2007 (not a Casillero-labelled wine but from another Concho Y Toro’s winery overseen by Papa). With a remarkable nose – the whiff of heather in a summery meadow coming to mind – the wine oozes minerals with a clean dry finish and a surprising (yet welcome) lack of obvious wood for a wine that spent 14 months aging in French oak barrels. 300,000 cases of the Casablanca Chardonnay were produced but just 500 of the Quebrada Seca.

So, small really is beautiful. But I didn’t seek Marcelo’s comment on that. As chief winemaker for both the giant Casillero and the diminutive Limari, he really is between the devil and the deep blue sea on that one.

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The World Cup (Part One)

Although my children are sleeping like angels, I seem to be getting very little blogging time. My evenings are filled with eating, drinking, washing up, tidying up, watching my wife wash up, and by the time I get upstairs and turn on the computer it’s time to go to bed. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I’m about to write something that I should have written days ago.

The latest Bibendum bloggers’ evening last Thursday (last Thursday!), then. They’ve previously had us round to drink Italian wine, and Australian, and Champagnes. This, however, was the first round of their World Cup. A spurious concept, this, whereby they pick a few competing nations which make decent wine, pick a few of their wines, and then ask us to judge which is best.

Nothing that we decide should be taken at all seriously. Chile, for example, makes a lot of excellent wine, but we got served an unlovely chardonnay and a downright unpleasant Valdivieso cabernet franc with a combined value of under £19 (the Valdivieso, at £11.26, offers spectacularly bad value for money). It wouldn’t have taken much to beat that, but they happened to be up against an Italian chardonnay/pinot grigio – not mind-blowing, but interesting, integrated – and a mini super Tuscan, Ceppaiano “Violetta”, that was really good. Combined value: just under £29. An unfair fight, and Chile were dumped at the quarter-final stage.

Fighting the Ceppaiano for man-of-the-match awards was the Els Pyreneus, Les Hauts de l’Agly, Cotes du Roussillon Villages, which made up for the outrageous length of its name by being totally ace and, at £10, super duper value. As the Wine Gang said, a “stunning wine of impeccable balance”. With that on their side France could hardly lose, and the USA, with a Loredona pinot grigio proving profoundly, deeply average, had no chance despite a quite impressive Marmesa Syrah (the people whose pinot noir I liked at the Bibendum annual tasting).

In other results, South Africa beat Argentina and the game between Australia and Spain was so close by my scores that I can’t work out who won.

As a competition, Bibendum’s vinous World Cup is hopelessly flawed. As an artificial construct intended entirely to get people in a room together with some glasses and some wines, it was a scorcher.

Chilling out

Cono Sur Pinot Noir 2008Apparently we Brits associate summer with pinks. And I guess I’m no different, except the only thing around here that turns pink when the sun comes out is me.

There are some areas of wine which are so large and so unknown, so foreign, that I’m a bit scared of them. Rose is one of those. What I need, I think, is a revelatory moment: to taste one that’s so mind-blowing that I simply have to find out more. So far I’ve only had ones that are unpleasant, or ones that are quite nice. And I want more than quite nice.

So when the sun came out this week, as it did in considerable style (hence my pinkness), I stuck a red in the fridge.

And it was perfect. It’s not a very original recommendation – you can get it anywhere, from about £7 to, if you’re lucky and keep your eyes peeled, just a fraction over £4 (which is what Tesco have been selling it at online for the last couple of weeks, though that’s not where I got it), but it’s a crystal-clear, sparkling ruby jewel of a summer sipper. Plums and cherries, tannins more obvious than they would be at room temperature but still quite gentle. At £4 it’s an incredible bargain. At £6.50 it’s still pretty good value. Yum, basically.