Friends Of The Devil (Concha y Toro Premium Recent Releases)

Ostensibly, vinous Chilean powerhouse Concha y Toro is a budget-minded wine lover’s dream. With five major facilities across the county, and twenty million cases produced annually, they have pretty much nailed the tasty-and-clean-and-varietally-correct-juice-for-very-low-prices thing.

But this is me, so of course we’re not going to talk about that, right?

Nope. What we’re going to talk about are a couple of top-tier Cabernet wines from their premium lines, the less than 200K case, winery-within-a-winery concepts focusing on single vineyards, which I tasted at in Maule when I visited Chile on a media tour late last year.

Because, well, yeah, I am that guy who does that sort of thing…

We are going to jump right into these wines, because the majority of the story that needs to be told here lives decidedly within one of them.

Friends Of The Devil (Concha y Toro Premium Recent Releases)

Friends Of The Devil (Concha y Toro Premium Recent Releases)2015 Concha y Toro Gravas Rojas Cabernet Sauvignon (Puente Alto, $50)

This is a new-ish brand for CyT, and a promising one, in which they also are experimenting with Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah. The grapes come from the vineyards that also supply our next wine (Don Melchor… more on that in a minute…), but from the younger vines, planted around 2004. 2015 marks the first Cab-only release under this label, with only 500 cases produced.

I highlight this wine because it’s excellent in and of itself; it also happens to be an excellent primer (dare we say 2nd Wine?) for the mightier Don Melchor. Aromatically, this is complex stuff: clay, spices, minerals, graphite, red and black currants. The palate is both elegantly smooth and vibrantly fresh, with notes of plums, dried herbs, earth, and leather coming late, along with toast and grip. If you want to balk at the $50 price tag for a CyT wine, I’d tell you to calm down; this would fetch $80 if it had Napa Valley written on the label.

Friends Of The Devil (Concha y Toro Premium Recent Releases)

Friends Of The Devil (Concha y Toro Premium Recent Releases)2013 Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon (Puente Alto, $125)

The exposition here is gonna be… well, not short.

In 1883, Don Melchor brought Bordeaux varieties to Chile, and the grapes that produce this wine (which has had only three primary winemakers since it was introduced in 1987) come from Maipo River-area plantings near the Andes, and consists of pre-phylloxera clones on original rootstocks (with the newer plantings being grafted). The vineyards sit at about 650 meters above sea level, enjoy about a 40F diurnal temperature swing, and are planted in a complex mix of clay, sand, and gravel.

An average of seventy percent new French oak is used, and the Pirque cellar – home to the original Casillero del Diablo legend that the Don dreamed up to keep people from stealing his wine – is now where the Don Melchor wines are aged in barrel. Interestingly, that cellar is made of a Spanish egg-whites mortar that has withstood Chile’s frequent seismic activity since the 1850s.

CyT blend about 150 different runs of Cabernet for Don Melchor, which they told me is about as crazy and difficult as it sounds. All told, there are about twenty people who work on Don Melchor, from vineyard management through final packaging.

2013 was, by their measurements, the coldest vintage ever recorded, on average, for Don Melchor (and this vintage marks one of the highest percentages of Cabernet Franc ever included in the blend, as well). The cooler vintage might account for a more subdued fruitiness in the 2013, which in turn might be the reason that the secondary aromas shine so spectacularly on the nose. There’s so much going on here in the herbs and spices alone that it practically justifies the price tag: fresh and dried cloves, thyme, sage, pepper, anise, graphite, cedar… And then clay, earth, chocolate, cigar, leather, and cassis.

The entry is smooth, silky, and seductive, but multiple layers of texture come in waves after the soft introduction: minerality, vivacity, grip, and power. The finish is chalky, with dark chocolate, and despite the wine’s youth and mild reticence, the finish is spectacularly long.

Consider me a friend of the devil in this case.


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Wine Reviews: Argentina & Chile

Chile and Argentina are, of course, different countries with varied winegrowing regions and winemaking histories. But we received just a handful of South American wines this season — hence this catch-all review.

Most of these wines fall into that South American sweet spot: those $10-$20 bottles that deliver reliably tasty (if rather predictable) wines. The Alamos brand of wines from Mendoza’s Catena have long served this purpose for American consumers by offering straightforward, well-made, varietal wines with accessible price points and wide availability. My first Torrontés, Bonarda and my first Argentine Chardonnay were all Alamos wines, so I’m proof that these wines provide a great introduction to the wines of Mendoza.

The major outlier in this report is the Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon from Concha y Toro. The 2011 represents the 25th vintage of this iconic Chilean Cabernet, which has been receiving praise and high scores for more than a decade. Another killer wine in this reportis Trivento’s Eolo Malbec. This top of the line for Trivento (also owned by Concha y Toro), the Eolo is an old-vine, high-elevation (3,000+ feet), single-vineyard Malbec of stunning precision — and it ages beautifully as well.

The following wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2014 Alamos Chardonnay - Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $13
Light gold color. Aromas of yellow apples, sliced pears, nougat and honeycomb. Creamy on the palate, bright acid, light in intensity and quite clean, but plenty of yellow apples, apricot, honey, some nougat. A bit simple, but done well, and quite good for the price. Aged in French and American oak for six months. (85 points IJB)

2014 Alamos Cabernet Sauvignon - Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $13
Light purple color. Smoky aromas, like charcoal and scorched earth on top of red currants and black cherries, hints of loam and coffee as well. Medium-bodied, softly dusty tannins, medium acid, the fruit is juicy and smooth but not too deep (black cherries, juicy plums) Hints of coffee, vanilla, smoky earth, mint and cola. Fun, simple, a drink-me-now style, but well-made and a good introduction to Mendoza Cabernet. (85 points IJB)

2013 Familia Zuccardi Cabernet Sauvignon Serie A - Argentina, Mendoza, Valle de Uco
SRP: $15
Deep ruby color. Aromas of Tart red currants, raspberries, plums, loam, some cedar and eucalyptus notes. Full-bodied, really velvety tannins, moderate fresh acid. Red plums, currants and some black cherries thrown in. The fruit is smooth, rich but shows some tangy edges. Rounded out by coffee, cedar, loam and a hint of bell pepper. Smooth, tasty, approachable, solid value for sure. (87 points IJB)

2013 Bodega Santa Julia Reserva Mountain Blend – Malbec/Cabernet Franc - Argentina, Mendoza, Valle de Uco
SRP: $13
Vibrant purple color. Smells of jammy blackberries and raspberries along with cola, cherry wood, and some earth and violet petal notes. Medium-to-full-bodied with a moderate tannic structure and some tang from the acid. Tart blackberries, plum skins and raspberry jam, the fruit is forward and juicy but tangy too. Notes of cola, violets, pepper, sweet herbs, coffee, even some elements of graphite and pepper. Juicy fruit and plenty ripe, but the non-fruit complexity is solid and there’s enough freshness to make this food-friendly. Impressive structure at this price point. The value of this wine is exceptional. 70% Malbec and 30% Cabernet Franc aged 10 months in French oak. (88 points IJB)

2012 Trivento Malbec Eolo - Argentina, Mendoza, Lujan de Cuyo
SRP: $79
Deep purple color. So rich and deep on the nose, I get saucy plums, currant jam, blackberry, and lots of non-fruit elements: a blend of sweet (vanilla, violets, fig cookie) with the earthy (granite, loam, charcoal). Needs time to open, but lots to unpack aromatically. Rich and concentrated on the palate, the tannins show serious grip and structure, medium acid helps a bit but this is a bold wine with a chewy, slightly gritty texture. The black cherry, dark plum and blackberry fruit is rich, chewy but shows signs of freshness as well. Complex cedar, vanilla, black tea and anise cookie mix with deep notes of graphite, pencil shavings and rocky minerals. Serious structure here, a bit intense to fully appreciate at this young age (I’d love to taste it in five to eight years) but this is a beautiful Malbec for sure. (91 points IJB)

2013 Criterion Collection Carménère Reserva - Chile, Rapel Valley, Colchagua Valley
SRP: $16
Rich purple color. Smells of juicy black cherries and currant jam along with a hefty dose of tobacco, bell pepper, spiced coffee and fallen leaves. Juicy and fleshy on the palate with some light to moderate tannic grip, medium acid keeps it moving forward. Juicy black cherries and tart currants, the fruit is velvety and smooth but matched by a web of black pepper, green coffee, wet moss and earth. Approachable, fruity but loving the mix of non-fruit elements. Drink in the next few years. (87 points IJB)

2011 Concha y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon Don Melchor - Chile, Maipo Valley, Puente Alto
SRP: $125
Vibrant purple color. Rich but compact aromatics, it takes time to coax out the nuances. But still tons to contemplate: chewy black cherries, red and black currants, blackberries. Lots of non-fruit complexity: woodsy, earthy, loamy aspects, creamy oak, rich coffee, graphite and iron. Full-bodied with a ton of grip to the tannins but some moderate acid underneath seals the deal and makes this a wonderfully balanced and stunningly ageworthy wine. Compact blackberry, black currants, black cherries – rich fruit but tight and needs time. Tons of other savory, earthy and sweet aspects: loam, chewing tobacco, espresso, mint, vanilla, cedar, graphite, dark chocolate. Complex but wound up, the structure will allow 10-15 years of complex aging, at least. Alcohol (14.5%) is integrated well and, despite its brawniness, I feel confident using the word balance. Aged 15 months in 70% new French oak. (94 points IJB)

<85 points
2013 Criterion Collection Malbec Reserva - Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $14
Deep purple color. Aromas of tart red and black currants, some tart plums, cola and mocha. On the palate, this shows a tart approach, with bright acid, light tannins and crunchy red and black fruit (currants, blackberries). Notes of roasted coffee, toasted oak (a bit too much perhaps), and vanilla, hint of peppery spice on the finish. Simple, pleasant.

2014 Alamos Red Blend - Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $13
Vibrant purple color. Smells of juicy plums mixed with smoky blackberries, some tobacco, charred herbs and sweet cola. Medium bodied, slight acid, soft tannins. Chewy blackberries and plums mix with notes of cola, vanilla and tobacco. Fun stuff to drink now, it does well for the price. 65% Malbec, 16% Bonarda, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Syrah.