Concha y Toro is bringing down the alcohol level of its Casillero del Diablo Cabernet in a bid to make one of the world’s best selling wines more “drinkable”.
Concha y Toro chief winemaker Marcelo Papa said he wanted “to keep the maturity of flavours but try to move back in terms of alcohol,” during a discussion about style changes to Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon with the drinks business last month in Chile.
When asked why he wanted to reduce the abv, he said it was for “one simple reason: drinkability”.
While acknowledging that higher alcohol levels boost a wine’s “sweetness and fatness”, he also said that an abv over 14% makes it “less drinkable”.
“If it’s 15% then it is a tougher wine to drink if compared with wine at 12.5%, which people could enjoy more,” he said.
Considering Concha y Toro’s Cabernet style over his career, he pointed out that 15 years ago the wines had less alcohol but “greener flavours”.
In more recent times, he recorded a push towards greater fruit maturity and consequently higher abvs, although he noted that these had never bypassed 14% for the Casillero del Diablo reds.
In terms of the actual levels, he recorded a 1.5% abv change over the past 20 years from around 12.5% to nearer 14% this decade, although he stressed that Casillero Cabernet was currently around 13.5% abv, with an aim to go still lower.
“One of our main ideas is to get ripe fruit and ripe wines with less alcohol naturally, and we have moved Casillero from 13.8-13.9% to 13.4-13.6%, and we are hoping to reduce that a bit more while retaining the ripeness of fruit.”
Marcelo Papa is attempting to make Casillero Cabernet more “drinkable”.
Achieving naturally lower levels has been achieved by picking the grapes earlier, although dropping the abv further will require altered vineyard management to reduce the grapes’ exposure to the sun, while ensuring enough light infiltration to fully ripen the berries.
Papa told db, “If could get Casillero Cabernet with 13% with maturity today then I would be very happy.”
He also said that he has reduced the new oak influence in the wine.
“We were looking for very oaky styles but we have passed through those days and today we are moving back, and looking for more balance, with an oak presence, but better integration,” he said.
By way of example he showed db two experimental Cabernets from the same vineyard block in Maipo. The first one had an abv around 14% and was aged in barriques giving “a more classic, fat, oaky style of Cabernet”, he said.
The grapes for the second wine were picked two weeks earlier and the wine was aged in 50 hectolitre casks, creating a Cabernet with “a different balance in terms of sweetness, alcohol and oak.”
Papa described the second wine as “a good direction for the future” but said that currently Casillero was making Cabernets in a style that was “somewhere between the two”.