There's been a parade of Chilean winemakers through here in recent weeks, which continued today as I sat down with Enrique Tirado, head winemaker at Concha y Toro who is in charge of their flagship Don Melchor bottling.
The 2005 Don Melchor is just arriving in the market now, so you can expect an official review in the coming weeks. Tirado also left me with samples of the just-bottled ’06 and still-in-barrel ’07 vintages.
The 2006 Don Melchor is silky, soft and relatively forward. It’s a lower acid vintage following a growing season that had a cool start but finished by racing through some high temperatures at the end. It shows the black fruit and loam notes typical of the wine, along with a touch of grilled sage. It's lighter in body than the exceptional ’01, ’03 and ’05 vintages. The ’06 saw a little less new oak than either the ’04, ’05 or ’07 vintages and spent just 14 months in barrel. As usual, there’s a drop of Cabernet Franc (4 percent) along with the Cabernet Sauvignon.
The 2007 Don Melchor represents the smallest crop for this wine in some time—just 11,000 cases were made instead of the typical 18,000 cases. A cold snap during the flowering resulted in greatly reduced yields, though the remainder of the growing season was warm and consistent. The acidity is in the range of the ’04 and ’05, and there’s just 2 percent Cabernet Franc in the vintage. The ’07 Don Melchor also saw its highest percentage of new wood yet—78 percent, with the rest in one-year old barrels. The wine is still very primal, with a grapey intensity and lots of vivid purple, blue and black fruits. If the wine knits together more, and I expect it will, it should rival the quality of vintages like ’01, ’03 and ’05. If you notice the pattern, you realize it’s a pretty good bet to focus on the odd-numbered vintages when seeking out Chile’s top reds (though of course there are always exceptions).
One of Chile’s best winemakers, Tirado has his hands in more than just the Don Melchor bottling. He’s also working on a new Syrah bottling that will be positioned higher than the Don Melchor in Concha y Toro’s wine portfolio (similar to their Carmín de Peumo bottling). The as-yet-unnamed wine will debut in the 2007 vintage, so it's still a ways off.
The grapes are sourced from 25-year-old Syrah vines (old by Chilean standards) planted in the Viluco area of Maipo, a warmer spot as it's located 22 miles southwest from the famed Puente Alto home of Don Melchor. The wine will also contain small amounts of either Cabernet Sauvignon or Petit Verdot and Tirado is in the middle of the blending process now. A barrel sample of the pure Syrah component shows very rich and juicy—but also restrained—purple and black fruits, all layered with sweet spice and toast notes. It clearly offers outstanding potential.
I really like what’s being done with Syrah in Chile, though the number of wines is still small compared to Cabernet Sauvignon. Viña Montes’ Folly bottling got the Syrah ball rolling a few years ago and other producers have begun working more earnestly with the variety since then. But even as the grape is starting to show real potential in Chile, it may suddenly find itself losing out to the charms of Pinot Noir, which has also recently caught the fancy of Chilean vintners.
Tirado has also set up shop on the other side of the Andes, working on the wines from TriVento, the Mendoza-based operation owned by Concha y Toro. Tirado has fashioned a new Malbec that debuts in the 2005 vintage, sourced from 90-plus-year-old vines set along the northern bank of the Mendoza River, just west of the town of Luján de Cuyo. The wine, which contains 10 percent Syrah, will be released in March and so an official review will come out soon. The price hasn’t been set, but there are only 250 cases of the wine to go around, so don’t expect it to be a value. Tirado has been working with the vineyard since 2001 and the parcels for the wine, called Eolo, previously went into TriVento's Malbec Gold Reserve bottling. The ’05 Eolo spent 20 months in barrel, nearly three-quarters of which was new, and yields for the parcels are naturally low, under 2 tons per acre.
With a few new high-end wines in the works (and this is not the trend in Chile right now, as the shrinking peso-to-dollar ratio has squeezed margins for Chilean wineries) combined with his attention to detail and penchant for researching a vineyard thoroughly, I can understand why Tirado has a fishing trip lined up on his schedule. He’ll need to charge up the batteries for the upcoming harvest in Chile—early reports are that things have warmed up considerably after a cool November and December, yields are low and the weather is dry. Translation: a good-looking year…
Eric Swanson — Westlake — January 29, 2008 3:08pm ET
James Molesworth — January 29, 2008 5:32pm ET
Maximiliano Morales — Santiago, Chile — January 29, 2008 7:49pm ET
Dave Goldstein — Atlanta — March 26, 2008 10:28am ET
James Molesworth — March 27, 2008 7:47am ET
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions