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stirring the lees with james molesworth

A Sit Down with Enrique Tirado and his New Chilean Syrah

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Nov 12, 2008 3:03pm ET

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.

Dr Samuel Goldman
Bedford, New Hampshire —  November 14, 2008 9:02am ET
I wonder if Enrique realizes how important Concha y Toro will be in this new economy- and how his business will boom over the next 5 years. His wines are very inexpensive and absolutely wonderful. For people who really appreciate wine and can't afford $70-$1000 wines, this Chilean brand of wines are wonderful...
James Molesworth
November 14, 2008 9:21am ET
Sam: He's doing a great job. But there's a big team there - Marcelo Papa oversees the Casa Concha and Maycas de Limari wines, Ignacio Recabarren oversees the Terrunyo and Carmin de Peumo and the Guilisasti family gets them the resources they need to make great wine...CyT is hitting on all cylinders these days.
Jayh Henchen
Rochester, NY —  November 14, 2008 1:28pm ET
VERY disappointed with WOTY line up. Just thought I would tell you that!
James Molesworth
November 14, 2008 1:51pm ET
Jayh: Sorry to let you down. Are you speaking from experience (have you tried the wines)?

in any event, it's a big day for the Lapostolle people. They deserve it.
Marchello Chacchia
Connecticut —  November 14, 2008 7:07pm ET
I thought the line up was fine. Surprised to see Clos Apalta over an '05 Bordeaux, but no complaints here (other than the price will probably rise now on future vintages of my favorite Chilean wine- Melchor a very close 2nd by the way). They do deserve it, as do other Chilean winemakers. Hard work rewarded, and fine acknowledgement of the region to the world. There should be some well deserved celebration in that hemisphere this weekend. Cheers!Just curious James, was this your personal favorite and did you need to do any persuading of your associates? If so, how did that go? Wondering how that process plays out.
Eric Smith
Miami, FL —  November 14, 2008 7:29pm ET
James,Since the topic came up, I was wondering how one wine was the WOTY while a similarly rated wine (at the same cost) from the same region (albeit a different varietal) with 3 times the production does not make the top ten (Clos Apalta vs Don Melchor). I'm not complaining, but merely trying to get a sense of how WS determines the WOTY. Since you rated both of them I though you might be able to shed some light on the big difference on where they fell in the top 100 (assuming Don Melchor makes the top 100, which I believe is a safe bet).I was very excited to see a big emphasis on value in the top 10!Cheers,Eric
Jason T Pett
Baltimore, —  November 14, 2008 7:53pm ET
With such a limited production, I am sure that the Syrah will be difficult to acquire. Regarding the WOTY line-up, I was betting on the Don Melchor being the number 1 wine. Ironically, you selected another Chilean wine, which I have not had the pleasure to taste. I am very exited to see two of my favorites in the top 10 - Vieux Telegraphe and Pio Cesare. Thanks James.
James Molesworth
November 15, 2008 7:36am ET
Marchello: The process is a give and take among the senior editors. We need to come to a consensus of course. As for personal favorite, that doesn't lay into it - I always try to subjugate my personal preferences in terms of wine style, while focusing on the quality. The closest example is Don Melchor and Clos Apalta - two totally different wines that have been rating in the same range with me.

Eric: Good question - whittling 20,000 wines down to 100 isn't an easy task, and it's probably impossible to do it in a way that everyone can 'predict' along with us (and that's probably part of the fun). The Don Melchor is a great wine, and it's been highly ranked before in our Top 100 before. The editors felt however that Carmenere provided more x-factor over Cabernet in this case, as it really represents what is unique about Chile.

With Bordeaux having a terrific vintage in '05, there were a number of 10,000+ case, high scoring wines, so something's got to give with just 10 top slots. Price, score and production are 'fixed' criteria, while the x-factor allows us the shuffles things a bit, as we're always aiming to promote diversity in the wine world. We think the selection of a classic-rated Chilean Carmenere does just that...
John Valenti
Detroit, Michian, USA —  November 17, 2008 11:28am ET
I met Sebastian Lopez of Concha y Toro at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival earlier this year, at a free tasting Concha y Toro was sponsoring. It was a great event, and CyT's dedication and enthusiasm about their wine was evident. I spoke with Sebastian afterwards and suggested the Don Melchor was a very realy Wine of the Year candidate, and he just laughed ... it was inconceivable to him that a Chilean wine would get that honor in a year where Bordeaux was all the story. Surprise ! Even though I prefer the Don Melchor and would have liked to see that win, what's going on in Chile right now is a terrific story, and I'm glad to see CyT riding the wave of value and quality right to the top.
David Blakeley
New Jersey —  November 25, 2008 9:35am ET
James, off topic and late (for this article) but have you ever had the Concha y Toro Terrunyo Carmenere? I have not ventured much into Carmenere historically but bought a bottle of the 2006 at a new opening of Stew Leonards this past weekend and enjoyed it very much, especially at the low-30s price tag.
James Molesworth
November 25, 2008 9:47am ET
David: Yes, it's an excellent wine (last vintage reviewed was the '04). It comes from choice blocks in their Peumo vineyard. The whole Terrunyo line, with winemaker Ignacio Recabarren at the helm, is outstanding...

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