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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.
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No - they are not thinking of making smaller lots of DM - they have just broken the vineyard down to its most basic parts, so that they can improve the quality of the wine. This is how they are micromanaging the picking and blending, and it represents a total departure from what was done 15-20 years ago for the Don Melchor.

As for the '04, I have not tasted it yet, so I didn't mention it.
Also - for those of you who might taste the '01 now, it is in a funky phase and needs serious decanting to get up and running. If you have some, just forget about it for 2-3 years before you start drinking it again.

The '02 on the other hand, is drinking just fine and along with the '00, these are the vintages to consume in the nearer term while you wait for the '01 to come around.
quote:
Originally posted by James Molesworth:
Also - for those of you who might taste the '01 now, it is in a funky phase and needs serious decanting to get up and running. If you have some, just forget about it for 2-3 years before you start drinking it again.

The '02 on the other hand, is drinking just fine and along with the '00, these are the vintages to consume in the nearer term while you wait for the '01 to come around.


I opened a bottle of '01 about two weeks ago--definitely closed up tight.
quote:
Originally posted by James Molesworth:
Also - for those of you who might taste the '01 now, it is in a funky phase and needs serious decanting to get up and running. If you have some, just forget about it for 2-3 years before you start drinking it again.

The '02 on the other hand, is drinking just fine and along with the '00, these are the vintages to consume in the nearer term while you wait for the '01 to come around.


It is information like this that is very valuable. Thank you.

Do you have any recent notes regarding the 1999 Don Melchor and how it is holding up (drinking window)?
quote:
Originally posted by James Molesworth:
Also - for those of you who might taste the '01 now, it is in a funky phase and needs serious decanting to get up and running. If you have some, just forget about it for 2-3 years before you start drinking it again.


That would explain the preponderance of scores lower than the 95 given at release.
We had our first 01 early in the summer, clearly caught it before this phase. I loved it, wife's favorite red of all time ( and she's been with me through all 23 years of this vice of mine, therefore has had all the good and all the bad too. )

James, as a trained geologist, I really appreciate your post. While Chile gets mixed reviews, it just seems so obvious that they have the climate and geology for great things. Only 2 more components are needed to reach the pinnacle (they are getting close), time and more folks like Mr. Tirado and Alexandra Marnier-Lapostolle.
quote:
Originally posted by James Molesworth:
No - they are not thinking of making smaller lots of DM - they have just broken the vineyard down to its most basic parts, so that they can improve the quality of the wine.

Put a restraining order on the Beringer & Mondavi people. They'll have them making 10 different Single-Vineyard bottlings, most of which won't be as good as the blend. "But think of all the money you'll be making until you have to sell the property to an international conglomerate."
quote:
Originally posted by MiamiAtty:
James...Have you noted any "hallmark," "classic" or "textbook" flavor cues that are common among Maipo Valley Cabs? For example: tar and roses are hallmarks of Barolo.


Eucalyptus is a flavour that I often pick up in the DM and some other Maipo cabs.

Terrific post James. Thanks. I'll be picking up some more of the '02 tomorrow.
Gator

sorry, our server was down yesterday or I would've responded sooner.

The Almaviva is separate - when the joint venture was formed, they selected parts of the Puente Alto vineyard and took them for the joint venture. They are now owned by Almaviva and not CyT. The wine is quite different - it contains Carmenere, which the DM doesn't, and it spends longer in oak (all new) - about 18+ months. The DM is only 14-16 months in about %70 new oak.

The Casa Concha Cab (winemaker Marcelo Papa has done a bang up job with this line) is from the Puente Alto vineyard as well, but obviously the better fruit goes to the DM. The Casa Cncha Merlot, Chardonnay and Syrah (the latter a new addition to the line) are sourced from other areas of Chile.
Last edited by jamesmolesworth
The minty notes are still in some Maipo Cabs - there are cool spots in the valley where these flavors can develop in grapes as well as eucalyptus trees in the area which have an effect. Chile's winemakers have for the most part tried to move away from this though by both picking later (and riper) and sometimes removing the trees from the property. The DM is not nearly as minty as vintages from the early 90s for instance.

There are some wineries - such as Quebrada de Macul (which makes Domus Aurea) which maintain their very minty style, and they can be beautiful wines in their own right as well.

"Loamy" - rich dark soil - is the characteristic that defines Maipo Cabs for me, in comparison to Colchagua Cabs which have more currant and briar notes.
TN:

Tasted next to the 2004 vintage.

2005:
Dark purple color. Sweet and ripe nose, including sweet black cherry, raspberry, cassis, menthol, coffee, and a little bit of heat. In the mouth, heavier and less acidity than the 2004. It's a bit tight at this point, but IMO this wine will be better than the 2003 vintage. Good Cab. A
I had a bottle of this on Friday night with some friends paired with burgers from the grill. I have to say I’ve never had a bottle of DM that really did it for me. This bottle showed ripe fruit with a bit of vanilla and very, very dry tannins. Might be in a weird phase, but It was just an average new world cab on that night.
quote:
Originally posted by GlennK:
I had a bottle of this on Friday night with some friends paired with burgers from the grill. I have to say I’ve never had a bottle of DM that really did it for me. This bottle showed ripe fruit with a bit of vanilla and very, very dry tannins. Might be in a weird phase, but It was just an average new world cab on that night.


Put me in the same camp

Have had the 97 99 01 and the only thing this develops is some green bellpeppers
When I first started buying Don Melchor with the 1999 vintage, it was selling for $35 here. I've always enjoyed Don Melchor, especially at maturity, but my problem is it's still just a very good, solid $35 wine. It's not worth $80 which is what it's selling for now. (I'd rather buy 4 bottles of the Marques de Casa Concha Cab).

Our tasting group recently did a mini vertical of Don Melchor vintages 1990, 1995, 1996, 2001, 2003, 2005. The most remarkable thing about this tasting was that the wines were so dramatically different. Normally at a vertical I would expect to see a common thread of either winemaker style or terroir spanning the vintages. But if it were a blind tasting, one would never know these were all from the same vineyard.

By the way, the 2001 was by far the wine of the night. 1990 was surprisingly alive and kicking. 2005 is not at all ready.

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