Concha y Toro Explorador Wine Reviews: Saving in 2011

A lot of people make New Year’s Resolutions they can’t possibly keep, like “I’m going to stop drinking good wine, and save my money for a 96 inch LCD-LED, HD 3D TV.” Well, to mix metaphors, now you can have your cake and drink it, too, while watching that new TV. All you have to do is find good quality wine that costs almost nothing.

Concha y Toro rides to the rescue. Anyone in the know is already familiar with Concha y Toro, Chile’s single largest producer and exporter and the producer of wines covering every conceivable price point.

Last year in Santiago we sat down with Concha y Toro’s chief winemaker, Marcelo Papa, to taste through almost the full range of wines. We reported the results of that tasting in Report # 21 The Chilean Wine Revolution. However, we failed to taste and report on Concha y Toro’s line of entry level wines, Xplorador. With this article we attempt to remedy the error.

Xplorador wines have suggested retail prices under $10 a bottle, which translates into something less at your local neighborhood big box, super discount store. How, you ask, can a respectable winery like Concha y Toro make such inexpensive wines? There are lots of reasons, of course, but one is that the fruit for most of these wines is sourced from Chile’s Central Valley where yields can be high. Then, under the direction of expert winemaker Tito Urzia, that fruit is fermented and aged in large stainless steel tanks, not expensive, small French oak barriques.

Don’t kid yourself. This process isn’t going to produce Chateau Margaux or even Marquis de la Casa Concha. But you can get perfectly good, drinkable wines. We just tasted through the Xplorador portofolio, and what dd we find? To start with, all the wines are very drinkable, not surprising given the reputations of Marcelo Papa and Tito Urzia. But some wines were better, much better, than others. The Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere and Malbec are our favorites.

All the wines share a common house style—a real focus on fruit. Nothing complicated, not particularly nuanced, just pure, plain good fruit. This makes them easy drinking, either as an aperitif or with a meal. Their sweet fruity character should be especially appealing to young people who are perhaps moving out of the sweet soda pop stage into something a tad more complicated. These aren’t your mother’s [grandmother’s?] white zinfandel. Our notes follow:

Xplorador 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Central Valley Chile
A fruit forward style Cabernet Sauvignon showing mostly red plum and berry fruit on the nose with just a hint of brambles and earth. The palate is soft, and full of fresh fruit. As one might expect from a wine at this price point, it’s a straight- forward, uncomplicated beverage, but it’s also surprisingly tasty, balanced and easy to drink. Aged 70% in stainless steel and 30% in used American oak. Score one for the consumer! Great value.

Xplorador 2009 Merlot Central Valley
This is a wine that definitely needs to be drunk with food. It has nice red plum fruit on the nose and palate, but it also has a green herbal note that is quite prominent when drinking the wine by itself but can nicely complement the right kind of food (think brussel sprouts, asparagus, and other vegetarian fare).

Xplorador 2010 Malbec Mendoza
This is another very tasty wine in the Xplorado lineup. It shows cherry and raspberry aromas and vibrant fruit on the palate. It’s quite delicious, albeit lighter than the typical Malbec coming out of Argentina. The tannins are ripe and suave. This is a pretty wine in the best sense of the word. A real bargain.

Xplorador 2009 Chardonnay Central Valley
A lightly fragrant wine showing notes of pear and summer melon on the nose. The palate is balanced and clean with orchard fruit flavors, and an off-dry finish. It ends up tasting a tad sweet, which will be appealing to a lot of people. Be sure to serve this wine very cold.

Xplorador 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Central Valley
Has a pleasant nose with aromas of citrus and fresh peas. It’s fresh with brisk acidity on the attack, and light on the mid-palate. It’s preferable to many Pinot Grigios one finds at Italian sidewalk cafes. Has decent length on the finish and a fair amount of residual sugar.

Xplorador 2009 Carmenere Central Valley
The Carmenere shows aromas of red plum, bell pepper, and white pepper spice. It’s soft and flavorful on the attack with a nice long cherry fruit finish and a surprisingly flavorful palate. The bell pepper on the nose doesn’t carry through to the palate. It’s surprisingly good, flavorful and pure. Aged in 60 percent stainless steel and 40 percent used American and French oak. The pure red fruit flavors more than compensate for a slightly weak mid-palate. Superb value!

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