I sat down yesterday with Enrique Tirado, the head winemaker for Concha y Toro who is primarily responsible for the Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon. His first vintage of DM was ’97, and he’s spent his time since then learning the ins and out of the Puente Alto vineyard that provides the fruit for the wine.
The vineyard was first planted in 1979, and with its alluvial soil and gravel base, it’s a prime spot for Cabernet production. There are 280 acres of vines, primarily Cabernet Sauvignon with one parcel of Cabernet Franc (the wine is typically 90 percent or more Cabernet Sauvignon, depending on the vintage). In the early days of the wine, the vineyard was typically picked all at once, but Tirado has used soil analysis and satellite imaging to isolate different soil types in the vineyard as well as outline different parcels (and blocks within these parcels) of vines. This all helps to determine the optimum picking time for each parcel or block, all of which are then vinified separately, giving Tirado 60 to 80 lots of wines (and 60 to 80 lots of additional press wine as well) from which to craft the final blend of Don Melchor.
At our sit down, we tasted representative samples of the ’05 vintage from each of the 7 parcels that Tirado has separated the vineyard into. 2005 is a strong year for Chile, with Maipo Cabs at the top of the heap. Tirado feels he finally has a handle on the vineyard (he’s a humble guy, considering how good this wine has been since he’s taken over) and is very happy with ’05. Following are some brief comments on the barrel samples.
Parcel 1: The first vines planted in the Puente Alto vineyard, this parcel only has 2,000 vines per hectare and deeper soils than the rest of the vineyard. It’s plush and creamy with lots of black cherry fruit and soft structure.
Parcel 2: Parcels 2 and up are planted at twice the density of Parcel 1 (on average) and are in shallower soils. This is brighter and has noticeably fresher acidity.
Parcel 3: Very racy, with lots of red currant and spice, and firmer tannins. Both parcels 2 and 3 are at the eastern side of the vineyard, and can vary up to 3 degrees in temperature from the western parcels (which are further from the cool breeze that comes down off the Andes).
Parcel 4: Rich plum with loamy hints. More bass than treble here.
Parcel 5: Tight and racy, with long, silky tannins.
Parcel 6: Very briary, with loam and mint and chewier structure. Big blast of fruit on the finish.
Parcel 7: This is the Cabernet Franc parcel. Impressive ripeness (%14 alcohol in ‘05, usually in the mid-13s) with dark, juicy fruit and tobacco lingering on the finish.
All the parcels showed different characteristics, but still maintain a common thread as well – what Tirado calls the Don Melchor personality.
The bottom line is Tirado now has this vineyard finely tuned along with nearly a decade of experience with it – these things take time. The Don Melchor has the longest track record of any of the heavy hitters from South America, and Concha y Toro is committed to quality.
Of course, it will be some time before the ‘05 is released, but the ’01 (95 pts) can still be found and the ’02 (92 pts) is also outstanding. The ’03 also shows terrific potential based on the barrel samples I’ve tried.
This all adds up to a superb $45 wine (current price for the ’02) that offers, fruit, distinctive terroir and the ability to age well for 5-10 years. With 10,000+ cases made every year, it’s easy to find - so this is a great opportunity for those just starting out to begin building a vertical of world class Cabernet in their cellar, without breaking the bank.