Cono Sur? Connoisseur? It’s just a Chile sip away
So it’s summer again, wobbly start and all. So let’s make a Big Statement about summer sipping: all you really need is Cono Sur.
This Chilean producer’s portfolio of seven wines (six varietals and one red blend) is everything you’d look for: great taste, considerable variety, easy access for palates of every stripe and level of sophistication, and—most important, always—outstanding value. Most of the wines sit at $11, two cross the great divide by a few cents and hit 15 and a half.
Since these wines arrived in B.C., shortly after the big Chilean wave, they’ve established a solid following, frequently evidenced by those empty shelves yawning at you in the liquor stores.
A good tactic: if you find the one (or two, or three) you really, really like, get your neighbourhood store manager to bring you in a box (or two, or three) so you have a secure supply; there’s still a lot of barbecuing and spritzering ahead.
And the perennial warning: the prices will keep going up, so if one fits your fancy, grab as much as you can because the next time you’re shopping it will likely cost more. Cono Sur is probably the best full portfolio of wines available in B.C. right now.
A word about the name. It’s not some twist on connoisseur—although true connoisseurs (the ones who drink the contents of the bottle, not the label) flock to this brand in record numbers. Rather, it refers to the topographical feature of Chile’s bottom end, being a geographical nickname for the cone-shaped southern tip of South America. And it rhymes with Bono—as in Sonny, not U2.
It can’t be said often enough that this is an amazing-value portfolio that has gone nowhere but up, pricewise and volumewise, since the beginning. The line now sports smart, clean graphics; features an illustration of a bicycle; and points to a “green” manifesto (in fact, one of the reds is fully organic, and one of the whites is well on its way). All seven are vintage-dated 2007.
Let’s start with Cono Sur Viognier ($10.99), the one for all-around sun-deck sipping and anything light, fresh, and white in the food department. Viognier continues to boom, with dozens of versions now available here.
This one may be the best you can buy when you factor in taste, price, versatility, screw-cap convenience, and all-around appeal. It’s bright and bracing, slightly floral and very full, with lots of alpine flowers and plenty of fruit, but none of that bath-additive smell some throw off.
For simply grilled fish, bouillabaisse or cioppino, sushi, lightly spiced vaguely Asian mix-ups, frittatas, and potato and smoked salmon salad with lots of fresh dill. An outstanding, world-class wine that runs rings around many at three times the price.
Cono Sur Gewí¼rztraminer ($10.99) is just the one for the famous ABC—Alsatian, Brazilian, Chilean—punch (discussed here a few times in the past, and made with lemon, orange and cucumber peel, cachaí§a, soda, mint leaves, sugar, Gewí¼rztraminer, and lots of ice), because of its herby freshness.
It’s got none of that floral-sachet thing we get from many of the Californians, nor is it quite so austere as the Alsatians, love them though I do. Just a hint of something floral, plenty of full-palate fruit, and, while the label refers to “intensely perfumed” aspects, there’s not a hint of patchouli here.
Really good for Asian cuisine—stir-fries, chrysanthemum rice, even tea eggs—and fruit desserts; you’ll like it with strawberry and rhubarb pie, even crí¨me anglaise or ice cream.
Now try this one (I’ve grouped them according to weight as well as taste): Cono Sur in Transition to Organic Chardonnay ($14.49), first tasted here in the July 17–24 issue, and the notes still hold: quite tart, very crisp, hardly any oak, lemony and even a little grassy, odd but very refreshing—serve it as cold as you can stand it.
Lots of green fruit, peppers, and papaya with huge flavour bursts all along the palate. About the name: the wine is produced from grapes grown in vineyards that are in the process of changing over to organic agricultural practices.
On to the reds, starting with Cono Sur Pinot Noir ($10.99). Right off the top, an object lesson in what Pinot Noir should taste like: it’s redolent of all those cherry/strawberry bursts, soft and full and mellow with no sharp edges and no skimpy fruit, just clean, offering bright and lively aspects from the tip of the tongue to a long, smooth finish.
White meats love it—Fraser Valley partridge with Savoy cabbage and caraway; pasta puttanesca would too. And ditto the thing above about running rings around other (mostly French, or Oregonian) versions for the price.
Cono Sur Cabernet Sauvignon ($10.99) is a robust, but in the end a surprisingly mellow, Cabernet that could make you forget a lot of the Californians you’ve been disappointed in of late. The label’s assessment that it’s “packed with forest fruit aromas” is spot on.
This is a wine that will stand guard while you tear pieces off a sourdough baguette and make a dinner of cheeses and pickled onions and fresh tomatoes, and maybe broad beans with Asiago, olive oil, and prosciutto.
Add a little of Chile’s favourite, relatively new grape, and you get Cono Sur Organic Cabernet Sauvignon/Carméní¨re ($14.49). This is a very rich, abundantly soft, sweet-fruity red wine that will delight you with beef rouladen or cotechino sausage with lentils, or a vegetable chili, even cherries jubilee.
Last on the list is the full-blown, beefy-rich Cono Sur Merlot ($10.99), with its deep, dark fruit and slight bittersweet chocolate edge. They call for plums, and we found some of that—also stewed blackcurrants or other berries. While it’s rich and round as a good Merlot ought to be, it’s in no way flabby, as so many Merlots tend to be.
This is the one for the big roasted meats and the big, old cheeses—Manchego, Mimolette, Dolcelatte Gorgonzola, or a ripe pear with crumbled amaretti.
If you buy one of each of these wines, you’ve barely spent $85 and you have a terrific wine-tasting, food-matching adventure ahead of you. There are worse ways to spend a summer weekend than exploring the Southern Cone.