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What does a winemaker do when he doesn't like his own wine?

Marcelo Papa, winemaker for Concha Y Toro, Chile

What a difference a year makes. It’s a statement of the obvious where wine is concerned, but this is a tale of two consecutive vintages where variation is not down to sunshine levels, rainfall, hail, diurnal temperature range, or any of the other myriad weather variables that affect or dictate the quality and quantity of grapes in any season. The difference between the 2012 and the 2013 Marqués de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile’s Maipo Valley is a story of viticultural and winemaking decisions based on the style of wine desired.

I won’t keep you in suspense: the 2012 is a dark, brawny, powerful wine with crème de cassis fruit, chocolaty richness and smoky, vanilla-edged oak – not quite a sumo wrestler of a wine but certainly one built on prop-forward proportions. It’s well-made, impressive in its way, but, to be honest, blockbusters like this are not my kind of wine. Funnily enough it’s not the style of wine that its long-term winemaker, Marcelo Papa, would choose to drink either. So Papa, who has been with Concha Y Toro, the producer, since 1998 (though he doesn’t look old enough), has had a rethink and, after experimenting in the vineyard and winery for a few years, applied new techniques in 2013.

Again, no suspense. Let me give you the result before I tell you how it was achieved. With the 2013, we’re still talking about an ample, powerful wine, but it has greater definition than the 2012; the fruit is livelier and brighter with a refreshing lift of currant leaf and Mediterranean herbs; the oak takes a step back instead of trying to share the limelight; the finish is crisper and longer; the alcohol is 14.2%, compared with 14.6% in 2012.

The two key changes were earlier picking dates and a reduction in the use of new oak. Half the 2013 fruit was harvested in March and the rest in the second half of April. Previously, it was all picked at the later time. Oak maturation was changed to 20% new French oak barrels, 60% second-use barrels and 20% in large (5000-litre) casks. In 2012 and before, Papa used 35% new French oak barrels and 65% second fill. That's quite a difference.

There were other tweaks too. The 98% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Syrah blend of 2012 became 93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc, 2% Syrah and 1% Petit Verdot in 2013. And the source of the fruit changed slightly too: the 15% that didn't come from Puente Alto in 2013 came from Pirque, whereas in 2012 Marchigue was the source for 14%. But none of this, I’m sure, is set in stone and that, of course, is the mark of a good winemaker.

Marqués de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 is £9 on offer at Sainsbury's until December 8th, then back to £12.

This post first appeared on on 21st November 2015.

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