Winemaker Enrique Tirado is known for Cabernet Sauvignon. As technical director at Concha y Toro, his main responsibility has been to shepherd the company’s flagship Don Melchor bottling, a wine that has been consistently outstanding (with three classic-rated vintages) during his tenure.
But Tirado has been quietly working on a Syrah as well, a new project that will carry a lofty price tag equal to the winery’s Carmín de Peumo bottling (made by Ignaci Recabarren). I sat down with Tirado and Concha y Toro’s Isabel Guilisasti here at my office earlier this week to get caught up on the wine, which is finally ready to be released.
Called Gravas del Maipo, the new Syrah project began in 2005, when Tirado was charged with isolating what he thought was Chile’s best Syrah terroir.
“We wanted Enrique to find a place that could express both the fruit and elegance of Syrah,” said Guilisasti. “We had Syrah planted in Maipo of course, but also Limarí, Peumo, Maule and Colchagua, and so we asked him to research all the Syrah vineyards we had. And after he did, he chose to stay in Maipo. He’s a Maipo winemaker after all,” she added with a smile.”
“I tried to get outside of Maipo,” laughed Tirado. “But the drive to Limarí was too long.”
Syrah is still very much in the early stages in Chile. Viña Montes' Folly bottling was the first to stake a claim at the high end with the grape (both qualitatively and price-wise), while producers such as Matetic, Kingston Family, Agricola La Viña, De Martino, Viña Maycas del Limarí and others have produced outstanding versions as well. The first recorded plantings didn’t appear until 1996 (Concha y Toro brought in vine material in 1993 but it had to spend two years in quarantine). As of 2007, there were only 8,577 acres of Syrah in Chile, out of a total of 290,000 acres of vines. Concha y Toro is one of the few making a serious commitment to the grape, with 1,611 acres of Syrah out of their own 18,431 acres of vines (the winery remains the dominant player in Chile’s wine industry).
“Cabernet Sauvignon is Chile’s signature variety,” said Guilisasti. “And Carmenère is distinctive, but needs to be grown in certain areas. Syrah, though, seems to do well everywhere here—coast, hills, north, south. So there is a lot of potential for the grape here. But while Limarí, Elquí, San Antonio are the new trendy places in Chile, it’s important not to forget or abandon the history that we have. Maipo is certainly not boring. Maipo has given a lot to Chilean wine history and there is still a lot to find out about Maipo.”
Tirado chose to base the wine on fruit sourced from one of Concha y Toro’s oldest vineyards, in Buin, just 23 kilometers west from their central Puente Alto vineyard. Located on the south side and on the middle of the Maipo river’s three alluvial terraces, the vineyard was planted in 1967 with Sauvignonasse and a mix of other grapes. But the deep loam and gravel soils have proven ideal for red varieties. Over time the vineyard was grafted over to Syrah and others and Tirado has isolated 8 hectares for the Gravas del Maipo bottling, which debuts with the 2007 vintage.
“We are rediscovering Maipo. Yes, it’s traditional and historic, but it can clearly produce different wines,” said Tirado. “It takes time of course. We had to rip out Chardonnay and other things that weren’t suited for Maipo. But it’s been great fun to rediscover Maipo.”
The Syrah Buin Gravas del Maipo 2007 contains 12 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, a noticeable percentage for a wine that is supposed to deliver Syrah character. But Tirado explained the decision to blend in some Cabernet Sauvignon as necessary for the wine’s structure.
“The press wine wasn’t quite good enough quality for me, and I usually like to use 10 or 12 percent press wine. So I added some Cabernet to help fill it in a little. In the future, maybe Mourvèdre, Grenache, or other grapes we’re working on might go into the blend, but it will always be a predominantly Syrah bottling,” said Tirado.
The wine, which is aged 18 months in barrel (80 percent new) will tout a $149 price tag. There were just 200 cases made, though production could increase to 1,000 cases in the coming vintages.
That price tag is sure to raise some eyebrows. The issue of price is always a sensitive one for wineries. In the case of Guilisasti, Tirado and the team at Concha y Toro, they want their wines to be respected and bring prestige to Chile, a country that still has only a few wines at higher price points despite constantly-improving quality over the past decade. I understand their position and I’m all for wineries getting a fair and commensurate price for the efforts that go into putting the wine into bottle, and this wine is several years of work in the making.
The wine does show dense, sappy kirsch and anise notes, with a great tug of loam underneath. The toast is well-integrated and the acidity is racy, giving a superlong feel to the finish. There are additional pepper and tobacco notes in reserve and it looks like it should age well over a five- to eight-year track. [As always, a formal review, based on a blind tasting of the wine, will appear in the near future.]
As good as it is and as much effort has gone into producing it, in the end though, it is the market that will determine what it is willing to pay.
[You can now follow James Molesworth on Twitter, at http://twitter.com/jmolesworth1.]
John Shuey — Dallas. TX — January 21, 2011 12:59pm ET
David W Voss — elkhorn, Wi — January 21, 2011 3:54pm ET
James Molesworth — Senior Editor, Wine Spectator — January 21, 2011 8:41pm ET
Nestor Gonzalez — Medellin, Colombia — January 22, 2011 7:04am ET
Andrew J Grotto — Washington, DC — January 22, 2011 11:25am ET
Louis Robichaux — Highland Village, Texas — January 23, 2011 10:00pm ET
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