I sat down with Enrique Tirado here at my office earlier this week. Tirado is the head winemaker for Concha y Toro, and he oversees the winery’s flagship Don Melchor bottling, as well as a number of other projects, including TriVento in Argentina.
Still young, Tirado has nonetheless already delivered on the great promise he displayed when he emerged along with the new generation of winemakers that really got Chile’s industry rolling earlier this decade—a group that includes Marcelo Papa, Álvaro Espinoza and Michel Friou, among others.
One of Tirado’s pet projects is now coming to fruition—the debut 2007 vintage of his yet-unnamed Syrah is about to be released. The project was first unveiled here, and the finished wine, a blend of Syrah (88 percent) along with Cabernet Sauvignon (12 percent) has filled out nicely. It’s dropped a lot of the baby fat it had when I tasted it earlier this year, and now shows some really racy acidity and a lip-smacking minerality to go along with its purple and black fruit flavors.
"Chilean Syrah is good, but it could use a little more structure," said Tirado of his decision to blend in Cabernet. The wine does show nice grip thanks to the addition of Cabernet, but despite the Cab component, it’s still very much Syrah, which I like.
Sourced from a 25-year-old vineyard planted along the banks of the Maipo riverbed, it shows what potential Syrah offers for Chile, where both poor, stony alluvial terraces and steeper, granite-based slopes exist, along with a range of cool and warm climates.
Syrah is not widespread in Chile—there are only around 7,500 acres of it, out of more than 280,000 acres of vines, but it’s growing steadily. Aurelio Montes got the ball rolling on Chilean Syrah a few years ago with his Folly bottling at Viña Montes, and wineries such as Matetic and Kingston Family have run with it. In addition, winemakers such as Espinoza (with his Antiyal) and Sven Bruchfeld (with his new Polkura project) use it today in increasing amounts, often in blends that can include Carmenère and other grapes. Viña Casa Marin’s debut Syrah San Antonio Valley Miramar Vineyard 2005 is a terrific example of cool-climate Syrah, with its pronounced iron note and mouthwatering acidity.
Nonetheless, there isn’t a long history of top Syrah production in Chile, and Tirado notes that he’s still getting a handle on the grape, particularly from the viticultural end.
"We have to learn more about irrigation [of Syrah]," he said. "It’s totally different from Cabernet in how it dehydrates through the growing season."
Tirado is one of the more open-minded winemakers I know, and he’s always looking for help, ideas and inspiration. To that end he spent some time in the Rhône earlier this year, visiting the likes of Stéphane Ogier, Alain Graillot, Michel Chapoutier and Louis Barruol, to help get a feel for both Syrah in particular, and Rhône varieties in general. Today, most young winemakers do a little bit of traveling when they’re just starting out in the industry but then that's it, so kudos to Tirado for keeping up the effort even as he settles in experience-wise at CyT.
The new Concha y Toro Syrah is set for release in the first part of next year and there were just 225 cases produced (that will grow to 500 in 2008). Though no price has yet been set, expect it to be in the range of the winery’s Don Melchor bottling.