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Ascending the ladder of branding

Today we look at the characteristics of - and differences between - widely available pinot noir from the Cono Sur stable.

Shedloads of books and guidance have been written by wiser guys than me about the branding of products.

I am ill placed to add to them but was motivated to explore a wine related aspect of the concept.

Nowadays, almost anything being sold in supermarkets seems to involve three levels of brands.

The standard version of a product is flanked by a premium level above it and a “budget” option below it.

Premium ranges can easily be identified by their lavish use of superlatives (Extra Special, Best, Finest, Irresistible and others).

However, I wondered, does any such branding hierarchy exist for wine – outside, of course, supermarket own label options?

And if it does, how well does the wine in the bottle line up with its place in that pecking order?

Let’s take a closer look

A good place to start is the range of pinot noir produced by the Cono Sur part of Chile’s massive Concha Y Toro operation – whose organic pinot noir vineyards appear in the picture at the top of this page.

They are not only big players but also innovative ones with impressive sustainable production principles and special expertise with pinot noir.

Famously, in one organic vineyard they use the pictured geese to control the insect population – with the side benefit of (how do I put this delicately?) providing additional organic fertilizer.

But returning to what’s in the bottles

First up, then is the everyday version which retails at a modest price although the label is a bit vague about the precise geographic source within Chile of the grapes it uses.

Nothing wrong, however, with fruit from multiple sources; it is an increasingly common practice in the pursuit of balance and inter-year consistency.

In 2018 Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Noir (£6 – instead of £7.50 until 26 April – at Morrisons and 13.5% abv), the result is a light and straightforward red wine based around ripe red currant and red cherry fruit with good acidity, minimal tannin, and background flavours of allspice, coffee and orange peel.

It is a good, sound introduction to pinot noir’s characteristics without reaching the pinnacle of intricacy that classic (and significantly more expensive) examples attain.

But let’s go up one step

Ascending to the next level, we find a version from the San Antonio Valley (just south of Casablanca and next to the Pacific) which has a wetter and cooler climate than other parts of Chile – and is thus well suited to both sauvignon blanc and pinot noir.

Darker and more overtly aromatic 2017 Cono Sur Reserva Especial Pinot Noir (£7 – instead of £10 until 26 April – at Morrisons and 14%) is a year older than the “Bicicleta” and has begun to acquire those savoury, earthy (almost beetroot style) touches that pinot does well.   

Those elements neatly supplement the wine’s loganberry and black cherry fruit and the suggestions of chocolate, mint and cinnamon that accompany it.

And rise to the summit

Finally, we come to the version named after a process dating from 1996 when the twenty best barrels from that harvest were selected and bottled separately for the first time.

This, then, is a limited edition pinot noir from the Casablanca Valley – where Chile’s first “ocean influenced” wines were developed – with the pronounced acidity that coastal breezes and long growing seasons tend to promote.     

In the dark and dense 2017 Cono Sur 20 Barrels Pinot Noir (£12 – instead of £14 until 26 April – at Morrisons and 14.5%) that acidity is counterbalanced by a firm (but not intrusive) twist of tannin, long black cherry and plum fruit with hints of mocha, clove and that earthy savouriness already mentioned which provides further complexity.   

This follows the broad trend of the range – as you ascend it so the selection of its components becomes more acute and the locations from which they are drawn become more specific.  

So what are the broad conclusions?

I am sure some readers are now waiting for me to reveal how one level or another is just as good as one above it and does not warrant anyone paying the extra money involved.

Unsurprisingly perhaps – given that we are dealing with judgements by well-established professionals, I am going to disappoint!

The layers seem about the right distance apart and the prices are also a fair reflection of the quality in the bottle.

Indeed, all three have “wallet-friendly” prices (even when not on promotion) that compare favourably with similar quality pinot noir from other parts of the world.

Bicicleta has the youthful vivacity that characterises fledgling vintages yet still delivers the soft fruit flavours and gentle spiciness that typify young pinot – albeit in the lightly textured setting that seems common with Chilean pinot noir.

Perfect for an informal lunch that nevertheless calls for the versatile food matching abilities of pinot noir.   

However, 20 Barrels is a smooth, intense special occasion wine for most folk with real complexity that contains a gentle touch of tannin but still allows its black cherry and plum fruit to shine through to sit alongside earthy mocha and clove components.

This is a clear stepping-stone to the superstars that top level Burgundy provide.  

The Reserva comfortably sits between those two, exhibiting darker fruit than the Bicicleta and more earthiness but with less depth and intricacy than 20 Barrels.

Think about this for a family Sunday lunch for example especially if there is duck or something slightly spicy on the menu.

So, do make a special effort to try any of these widely available wines at an early opportunity.

Back on Monday guys with a look at promotions and a couple of well-priced wines that I think you will enjoy.

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12 Responses

  1. Very informative article, thanks. I haven’t explored Pinot Noir for a while. Looking at the firm’s fact sheets on their website, I notice that the residual sugar decreases markedly as the quality/price goes up. I guess that is consistent with me often finding inexpensive Pinot Noirs a bit “jammy”. However I recently saw an article somewhere that stated that the most popular red wine, I think in Majestic, was an Apassimento style wine whose high residual sugar suggested to the author that a bit of sweetness in a red wine is appreciated by many.
    I have also seen an organic version of the Bicicleta which, on checking, has a much reduced residual sugar.
    It’s a shame my prized Morrison’s delivery slot is on 5th May, after the offer has finished!

  2. Hi Brian, Enjoyed the write up and having tasted all three of the bottles you mention, I can vouch for all of them, to be honest the premier 20 Barrels is in my opinion, even at £14 is not a lot of money for the quality on show and I have had it for Christmas dinner (as well as other occasions) many times.
    I think another comparison is with Concha Y Toro’s range, Trivento from their entry level Malbec Reserve to Private reserve and ending with the excellent Golden Reserve ranging from around £8 – £16

  3. Nice article, and personally i can’t think of many better things to spend £25 on this weekend than trying all 3! Just hope morrisons has them in stock later.

  4. Good to hear from you Richard and thanks for that very helpful additional information; it rounds things out nicely. I fancy that you are right about extra sweetness being increasingly attractive – the success of the Apothic red and, indeed, prosecco seems to confirm that thinking. I have also heard chef’s being enthusiastic about it because a notch or two of residual sugar complements certain dishes rather well. Do keep adding comments to the site as it helps boost the concept of MidWeek Wines as a community ….. Best …… Brian

  5. Thanks Dave – I am glad we share positive feelings about all three of those wines. That trio of Trivento wines is an excellent idea so I may well take that up later in the year- as you say all of them are impressive options. Keep healthy my friend.

  6. Hi John …. I am convinced that is exactly the right role for Bicicleta – the first rung of the pinot ladder that encourages drinkers to try other versions. As you suggest, New Zealand examples can also be brilliant but they tend to be a bit more expensive – justifiably so I should add.

  7. Thanks for your kind words Matt, much appreciated. Once current restrictions are lifted, I would love to see folk getting together with a few friends and trying all three – as you suggest. Sampling them side by side is what I did and it really does underline the differences between their individual characteristics.

  8. Yes indeed. As the grape’s natural sugars are transformed by the yeast to produce alcohol so, broadly speaking, the residual sugar level reduces and the alcohol increases.

  9. Thanks for the interesting article. Cono Sur’s “top dog” Pinot Noir is actually a wine called Ocio; not available in many supermarkets, it sells for around £40 or £50. Or it did – I can’t find any sites selling it (I was lucky enough to find a bottle at a car boot sale for £10 in a presentation case!!)


  10. Thanks for the kind words and for extending the discussion by introducing Ocio. I believe that Penistone are listing it around the £35 mark and this link should take you to their site

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