Cono Sur - Big on Value and the Environment

Feb 4, 2010

until the barrels were filled with wine
and let the obscure man learn,
in the ceremony of his business,
to remember the earth and his duties,
to propagate the canticle of the fruit.
 - Pablo Neruda - Ode to Wine

Wine isn't completely recession proof. It's true, consumers continue to purchase wine but when it comes to Quality versus Quantity, Quantity becomes the crowd pleaser in down times (when your dollar has to stretch, why buy one bottle for twenty dollars when you can buy two?).

But considering that the recession might be on the way out, it's still easy to buy the cheaper wines, especially when they offer good value. 

And that's why I continually applaud Chile.

In Peter Richards' exceptional and accessible The Wines of Chile he writes:

"Cono Sur, is for my money one of Chile's best wine producers, exemplary not only in its quality but also value, diversity, and ambition."

Peter Richards is a name you can trust. A young but world-renowned expert in South American wines, he has written and judged competitions for Decanter as well written numerous and informative books for Mitchel Beazley, the wine connoisseur's publisher. 

Cono Sur is part of the Concha Y Toro group (which also includes: Emiliana, Trivento in Argentina and Almaviva, a jount venture with Baron Philippe de Rothschild). 

Set up in 1993, Cono Sur's main focus is to bring something unique to export markets. The image of the bicycle on their wine labels signifies the winery's dedication to the environment. In 1998, it first adopted its integrated pest management practices, followed in 2000 by further attempts to create a sustainable vineyard approach. By 2005, about 60% of  their vineyards were regulated under these new management systems. 

Also, Cono Sur is the first winery  in Chile to use screw caps for export wine, a trend readily followed by other Chilean producers.

Cono Sur sources fruit from as far north north as Elqui to Bío Bío in the South, with about 1,000 hectares of vineyards under ownership. Concha Y Toro also helps with the supply. The main man who brings it all  home  is Adolfo Hurtado.

Hurtado acts as both head winemaker and general manager. He only wants the best for himself and his winery, preferring the pursuit of quality over settling for the safe, mediocre mainstream. Along with his vineyards holdings, he has additional connections with local growers and independent vineyards helping to boost the quality, character and depth of Cono Sur's wines.

"Perhaps Cono Sur's strongest, most dynamic offering is in its whites. Its basic Viognier is a striking statement of intent, great value for money and with excellent varietal character in a balanced moreish package."
- Peter Richards, The Wines of Chile

This is one of my favourite value Viogniers (if not the only - Viognier can be quite pricey in the Rhone and less than exceptional when it is below the twenty dollar mark in California). I've had this Cono Sur Viognier from various vintages and they have yet to disappoint. My latest bottle was snagged by my brother who finished it before I had chance to write a review... thankfully I was able to sneak a few sips in to provide a tasting note.

Cono Sur Viognier Colchagua Valley 2009
A lovely apricot and peach melon melody with additional notes of candy tropical and banana. Excellent with Pasta Primavera dishes and pork. 

 Hurtado: "The lesson we learned from Burgundy was that to make good Pinot Noir in Chile we had to do everything different from how we'd done it until then." Pinot Noir remains a challenge in South America. But so far the challenge has paid off. Some of the best Pinot Noir is sourced from fruit in Leyda on the western coast, Casablanca in the Acongua Region and from Bío Bío in the south. For consumers looking for a tasty alternative to the dill-like Oregon Pinot or the fully-fleshed California Pinots of Carneros, let alone the expensive Pinots we find in Central Otago New Zealand and here in Ontario, Cono Sur is your answer.
Cono Sur Pinot Noir Central Valley 2009
True to its varietal profile, this Pinot offers everything you can expect: sour cherry, earthy notes of raspberry with a nice hint of mulberry. Excellent with turkey and lamb dishes. 

"...Pinot Noir remains Hurtado's primary focus. His basic varietal is a delight - sourced from cool-climate sites around the country including Bío Bío, it is balanced, fresh, and with good varietal character..." - Peter Richards.

One of my favourites offered by Cono Sur's introductory line is the Merlot. Now for those new to Chilean wine, at one point Carmenere (Chile's flagship variety) and Merlot were not truly distinguished until late in the twentieth century. This mean a lot of Carmenere was mistaken for Merlot. See my Cinderella Story of Merlot.     
Merlot is Chile's second most planted variety but has been known to under-perform compared to Cabernet Sauvignon. The grape can be a bit heat-stressed in Chile and there are other issues: dehydration, sensitivity to soil-related problems and flavour and colour fading in the latter part of the season. 

But worry not, grape growers have been working hard to rectify the problem.

Cono Sur Merlot Central Valley 2008
This wine is seductive, to say the least. Supple blackberry, boysenberry and wild berry with a delicious  chocolate-vanilla charm. This wine is a dream on your tongue.

Richards, Peter, The Wines of Chile. Mitchell Beazley, London 2006.


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My focus is mainly on wine culture, history and education. I love the stories behind wine - the people, places and the regional personalities of the wine-countries around the world.

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