From £14.95, €16.11, HK$165 (no sales tax!), 1,500 roubles, 229.90 Norwegian kroner, $34.99
I have been observing Cono Sur since its birth in 1993 when I first visited Chile and Cono Sur was formed as effectively the innovative little workshop subsidiary of the mighty Concha y Toro, Chile's biggest wine company.
Under the leadership of the energetic Adolfo Hurtado (pictured, looking almost as young as he did then) it produced the first palatable bargain Pinot Noir I had ever come across. Under his aegis, Cono Sur, named after the 'southern cone' that is much of South America, experimented with Chile's most-planted varieties, and such Chilean rarities as Viognier, Riesling and Gewurztraminer in various cool corners of the country. This producer has long been extremely ecologically aware, and was a pioneer of screwcaps for its aromatic whites – although this wine is cork-stoppered.
The 20 Barrels range was launched as a special selection of 20 barrels of 1996 Pinot Noir, quickly followed by the first vintage of 20 Barrels Cabernet Sauvignon the following year. Now the 20 Barrels range runs to six varieties and I'm sure you could easily guess which they are. I have no idea whether production really is limited to 20 barrels nowadays. I doubt it since the British Wine Society's unusually knowledgeable Chilean wine buyer Toby Morrhall comments about Cono Sur, 'there are very few companies in the world able to produce wine of such exceptional quality in these quantities'.
I have not always had my socks knocked off by this wine but I thought Cono Sur, 20 Barrels Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Maipo exceptionally good. The colour is already a particularly healthy crimson and then the whole wine is suffused with both density and ambition without being at all heavy (just 13.5%), although admittedly 2011 was a particularly cool year. It seems much more refined than some earlier versions and as though the winemaker was desperate to express terroir in this wine. This is all to the good since the wine was grown on two of the best addresses of Maipo, Chile's infertile, stony answer to the Médoc just outside Santiago. It's a blend of grapes mainly from Pirque and with some from Puente Alto picked on my birthday, 22 April, and spiced with a tiny amount of other grapes, all given 17 months in oak. The 2011 vintage yielded particularly small Maipo Cabernet berries, and a dry end to the season meant that full phenolic maturity was achieved. The result is a really succulent wine with aromatic lift and a promising future ahead of it. I liked the pace, the persistence, and the suggestion of a dusting of stones on the finish. For this amount of focus and excitement, I thought The Wine Society's price of £14.95 was excellent value. I'd put this wine up against any Bordeaux 2011 at a similar price I can think of – and wonder whether the Wine Society buyers have conducted a similar exercise. I'd say that, unlike a similarly-priced Bordeaux 2011, this will still be going strong throughout the decade.
My only quibble with The Wine Society's sales pitch for this wine is its range of food-pairing suggestions, the first of which is turkey and fennel crumble, which I fear I just cannot imagine in any circumstances, let alone as a willing partner to such an assertive wine. Cono Sur's own suggestions are 'all kinds of red meats, pâté, lamb and game. It's also a good wine to serve next to spicy sauces and strong condiments, Boeuf Bourguignon being the ultimate example. When pairing with cheeses, select dry and/or strong-flavoured versions along the lines of Brie, Gorgonzola, Camembert or Cheddar.' Not sure about the first three cheeses but the rest sounds much more the ticket than that crumble.
Cono Sur's export director has been working as hard as the winemaking team for the wine is available not just in the UK and US but also from the Finnish and Norwegian monopolies (I'm sure it goes down a treat in chilly Scandinavia), from Watson's in Hong Kong, in Russia, and from several retailers in Germany.