At a paired dinner at Chef’s Table, Marques de Casa Concha shows what top-of-the-line Chilean wine can do

(Sept 23): This is a Chardonnay shaped by the ocean. In a vineyard in Chile’s Limarí Valley, just 19km from the Pacific Ocean, the grapes grow enveloped in chilly sea breezes and cold, cloudy mornings. The fruit ripens unhurriedly in clay soil, which is rich in calcium carbonate (the main component of pearls), packing each grape with more flavour and minerality. The grapes are harvested by Marques de Casa Concha and the Chardonnay is aged for 12 months in French oak barrels.

We are drinking the 2017 vintage. Light yellow in colour, the wine is unusually velvety for a new release. There are hints of pear and a minerality that has been softened by oak. With a finish that lingers, the Marques de Casa Concha Chardonnay 2017 stands effortlessly on its own, particularly in Singapore’s sweltering climate.

With food, it holds up just as admirably. In a shophouse on Tras Street, at Chef’s Table, where the omakase menu changes daily, Austrian Chef Stephan Zoisl serves up a thick wedge of golden eye snapper and New Zealand mussels, surrounded by artichoke chips and a frothy lobster bisque. “The Chardonnay is lightly acidic and oaky and I felt it would go well with the sweet complexity of the lobster and mussels,” says Zoisl.

The fish is perfectly crisp on the outside, with a hint of citrus that mingles well with the briny crustacean foam. “The artichoke chips were added for crunch and their roasted flavour, to let the wine shine all the way,” he adds. Indeed, as a winery, Marques de Casa Concha is starting to garner more attention, with 90+ ratings from critics such as James Suckling. Named after a noble title bestowed on its founder, the label is part of Concha y Toro.

The Marques de Casa Concha Chardonnay 2017 stands effortlessly on its own

The grapes for Etiqueta Negra are from the El Mariscal vineyard 

Concha y Toro is the biggest wine producer in South America and the third-largest wine brand in the world. With a mind-boggling 160-plus labels in its stable, Singapore drinkers will very likely have had a taste of one of its wines. Many are easy on the palate and wallet and can be found on the shelves of Cold Storage or NTUC FairPrice. These include names such as Casillero del Diablo, Sunrise, Trio and Frontera.

Marques de Casa Concha is the harder-to-get cousin. And the classiest of the range has to be the Etiqueta Negra (which translates to Black Tie). The inaugural 2016 vintage, with its black and copper label, is such a showstopper of a wine that it made me want to send off a congratulatory email to the brand’s celebrated winemaker Marcelo Papa. A big, big wine, this is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Cabernet Franc and 8% Petit Verdot. It has a rich aroma of red and black fruits, plenty of body and tannins that have been tamed by 16 months in oak.

To match this heady wine, Zoisl has deftly seared a slice of flank steak. He has also braised beef cheeks in a charred onion sauce and added chanterelle mushrooms, which lend an earthy flavour and chewy texture to the dish. Every mouthful of the rosy steak is a delight and the beef cheeks are fork-tender.

The grapes for Etiqueta Negra are from the El Mariscal vineyard, which sits 650m above sea level in the chilliest part of Chile’s Maipo Valley. The climate is semi-arid and dictated by the Andes Mountains. Daily temperatures can vary by about 18°C from their highs to lows, which gives the grapes more time to mature, intensifying their aromas. With an ageing potential of 20 years, this is a wine that can claim a spot among Chile’s growing ranks of super premium wines.

The Marques de Casa Concha Chardonnay retails at $51.33 on Lazada (Redmart) and at $59.95 at NTUC FairPrice whereas the Etiqueta Negra is only available in the following restaurants: Cé La Vi, Cut by Wolfgang Puck, Salt Grill & Sky Bar, and Oxwell. However, wine lovers can still get their Chilean red wine fix at Chef’s Table, where the Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 regularly features on the wine list. It is a personal favourite of Zoisl, who describes the wine as elegant and mellow and great on its own or with food.

Sunita Sue Leng was previously an associate editor at The Edge Singapore