The Devil’s Wine Cellar


The three wines this week come from the highly-respected Chilean company of Concha y Toro founded in 1883 by the splendidly-named Don Melchor de Santiago Concha y Toro.  If you don’t speak Spanish, Concha y Toro literally means “shell and bull”. On second thoughts, it means “shell and bull” whether you speak Spanish or not. Anyway, Don Melchor was a local businessman and politician, and he started his vineyards using grapes brought all the way from Bordeaux. He was helped in this venture by his wife, who rejoiced in the equally impressive if slightly odd name of Emiliana Subercaseaux. They were eminently successful because today the company employs nearly three thousand people and owns countless acres of vineyards in Chile’s best wine-growing areas.

Casillero del Diablo means “The devil’s wine cellar” which you may know already or should have guessed if you’ve been paying attention. It’s one of their best-selling ranges and it’s exported to over a hundred countries around the world. They are jolly good wines too, with quite a bit of interest and character. The curious name has a story behind it, which might possibly be true. On the other hand, it might be just a clever piece of marketing, but I’ll tell you anyway. During the late nineteenth century, it appears that Don Melchor became increasingly miffed because some of the best wines were being spirited away from his cellars during the night by person or persons unknown. In retaliation, he started to spread the rumour that the devil lived in the wine cellars. Personally, I’d have thought that a decent padlock would have done the trick. Anyway, his plan seemed to work because it evidently deterred the superstitious locals from filching any more wine.

Casillero del Diablo Sparkling Brut Chardonnay (white) Chile (Bt. 799 @ Big C, Tesco-Lotus and others)

Made from grapes grown in Chile’s northern Limarí Valley, this pale yellow sparkler has a fine race of bubbles and a highly scented aroma of sharp green apples, citrus fruits and hints of lime and herbs. Exactly which herbs I am not entirely sure, but I’d put money on oregano. The Limarí Valley is a desert-like region with only four inches of rain per year, but the vines are cooled by the Pacific breezes and the damp fogs that creep into the valley every morning. The cool climate and the high minerality of the chalky soil give Limarí Chardonnays a fine crispness and plenty of character. This is a light-to-medium bodied wine, slightly off-dry with a pleasing balance of fruit, rich acidity and a faint hint of yeast. Despite the light body, there’s plenty of minerally fruit on the palate and the wine has a long dry and fruity finish that just seems to go on and on. This is a very attractive Champagne-style wine with character and quite a zesty citric flavour.

Unusually for a sparkling wine, the cork is quite narrow, so if you don’t manage to finish the bottle you can bash the cork back and leave the bottle in the fridge. Stored this way, I found that it kept its bubbles for three days after opening. Sparkling wines should generally be served really cold and the makers of this one suggest between 4° – 6°C which virtually means straight out of the fridge.

Sparkling wines make excellent aperitifs at the start of an evening or dinner party perhaps because we tend to associate them with celebrations or festive occasions. The bubbles seem to cleanse the palate ready for food, and the refreshing tang of acidity seems to perk up the appetite too. The wine will go well with oysters, shellfish or Japanese sushi.

Casillero del Diablo Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (white) Chile (Bt. 699 @ Big C, Tesco-Lotus and others)

This very pale-gold wine comes from the Central Valley and has an elegant, almost ethereal floral aroma of peaches, gooseberries, pineapple and pomelo. I noticed that the press handout (something I always read after I’ve tasted the wine and made my notes) describes the aroma as “meaningful”. Whatever information that is supposed to convey is anyone’s guess.

As it turns out, the aroma is quite sweet and sensuous for a Sauvignon Blanc, but the true feisty character of this grape comes through vigorously on the taste. Sauvignons are famous for their acidic kick and this lively little number certainly lives up to its reputation. Even so, it has a soft texture with plenty of fresh sharp fruit on the palate. There’s a good firm body and a satisfyingly long finish with a touch of citrus.  Sauvignons are nearly always best with food and especially fish dishes. Plaice and cod are a bit too bland but something with a richer flavour like sea bass would work well. To my surprise, it proved to be a perfect partner for my famous cheese quiche, which is especially appreciated by the three dogs who share my stately residence. The texture of the pastry and the creaminess of the quiche was a perfect foil for the sharpness of the wine. For years I always used to drink red wine with quiche, because it seemed the most sensible thing to do. But not anymore. A chirpy Sauvignon Blanc makes the perfect match.

Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 (red) Chile (Bt. 699 @ Big C, Tesco-Lotus and others)

This wine has that typical rich aroma that we’ve come to expect from Chilean Cabernets – full of intense black fruit, especially black cherries, blackcurrants, plums and mint.  There’s even a faint reminder of fresh ground coffee and dark chocolate.  The wine is medium-bodied with a heady 13.5% alcohol content and if you’ve got a decent nose, you’ll pick up the “heat” on the aroma. There’s a soft mouth-feel, yet the wine has quite a self-assured personality; it’s authoritative, firm and strong but with a very soft and elegant framework of tannins which make for a very satisfying taste. The rich black fruit brings a slight sensation of sweetness to this very dry wine.

Oh heavens, all these words! I wish I could just hand you a glass and you could taste it for yourself. Unfortunately newspaper technology hasn’t quite got to that stage of development yet. So I shall have to make do with even more words and if it’s heavy going, I really do apologise. The wine is Chilean to the bone and the kind of thing that deserves interesting food. Full flavoured red meat dishes spring to mind. It’s very much a wine to share and talk about. I talked about it for almost half an hour with one of the dogs until she suddenly got up and wandered away. But I should have known better, because that particular dog never touches red wine. It brings on one of her migraines, or so she says. In any case, she prefers playing her clarinet, which she does at every opportunity.

There’s another musical connection here. One of my friends likes to describe chamber music as “music for musicians”. Now I happen to disagree entirely, partly because the statement is illogical and possibly downright silly. But I know what he’s trying to get at. In the same way, I’d suggest that this Cabernet Sauvignon is a “wine for wine drinkers”. I could have happily sat here all evening drinking this wine, but I’m going out. That wretched clarinet is beginning to fray my nerves.