An interview with Marcelo Papa, “Chile shouldn’t play the game of making blockbuster wines”

Sep 25, 14 An interview with Marcelo Papa, “Chile shouldn’t play the game of making blockbuster wines”

Marcelo Papa, chief winemaker for Chilean brand, Concha y Toro, is a man on a mission to take Chilean wine back to it’s origins. Last night over a wine tasting and dinner, Marcelo told me, and a select group of wine writers, where he thinks the direction that Chilean wine should take into the future. What he told us was both surprising and exciting, not to mention, bound to be a bit controversial.

According to Marcelo, Chilean wines have been pushing the maturity of the grapes too far and he thinks it was a mistake to go for over ripe grapes.  During the tasting, Marcelo said, “Just because you can produce grapes that are overripe, doesn’t mean you have to…” These over ripe grapes produce wines that are big and rich but don’t have any sense of place or origin. He thinks that Chilean winemakers should opt out of the game to make ‘blockbuster’ wines and instead focus on highlighting the true characteristics of the grapes. He feels that Chile has been following a fashion for rich and over ripe wines with high alcohol and no true identity. These wines were ‘international’ in style, they could be from anywhere. This realization came to him one day when he realized that although he is a Chilean winemaker, the wines he was drinking at home were not. He had to ask himself, “Why am  I not drinking Chilean wine? Why do I prefer European wines to drink at home?”

cabernet sauvignon

cabernet sauvignon

And that got him to thinking about Chilean wine making in general and how wine was made in Chile in the past, when he did drink it and enjoyed it. Marcelo decided to put his money where is mouth is and is now taking Concha y Toro winemaking in a new direction. So what is he doing? Firstly, he’s picking the grapes earlier. Marcelo said that in the 1970’s they used to pick early to get the best acidity and true fruit characteristics of the grapes. He wants to go back to picking early and has started with the Marques de Casa Concha wines. He started the program in 2011 with chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. He’s now picking some of his grapes almost a month earlier then other producers. The result? Wines with minerality, freshness and clean, bright fruit flavours. We tasted the 2014 Chardonnay from Limari and there was no tropical fruit to be found, just plenty of freshness and pure fruit.

Marques de Casa Concha

Marques de Casa Concha

He’s also moving to large 5,000 litre Italian casks to age the wine. During the tasting, we tasted the exact same cabernet sauvignon (2013) that had been picked early, with one lot aged in classic French barriques and the other lot in untoasted Italian casks. The result was definitely eye opening. The barrique aged wine was full bodied with dark fruit flavours. The wine aged in the large casks was fresher and very aromatic with a streak of minerality running through it and great structure. We all generally agreed that the cask aged wine was much more complex and full of fresh fruit flavours. We also tasted a blend of the two wines. An interesting blend, combining the richness of the barrique aged wine with the freshness and aromatic qualities of the barrique aged wine. An added bonus to picking early is also lower alcohol. Some of the wines are now clocking in at 13.7% instead of 14.7% That’s a big drop considering the only change was in the date of picking.

Marcelo believes that the big Italian casks are the way forward for him. He is currently on his way to Piemonte to see in depth how they use the casks there and has ordered 30 casks to be delivered next year to Concha y Toro. He did emphasis that he’s not giving up on barriques but that they may play a smaller role in the future of his winemaking.

A very interesting tasting and I think Marcelo is very brave winemaker. How many successful brands would let their winemaker change the taste profile of a successful wine range? Not many, but kudos to Concha y Toro for giving Marcelo the freedom to follow his vision. I hope that consumers like the new style of Marques de Casa Concha. This range is a  limited edition so there’s no danger that if you like those big, rich Concha y Toro wines, you’ll won’t be able to get your hands on them as well.

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