Don of Time
A classic Chilean cabernet continues to impress
Winemaker Enrique Tirado has overseen winemaking at Viña Don Melchor since 1997. From the beginning, he says the project’s aim has been to produce “a wine that’s an expression of its terroir.” It was a bid to show show the world that Chile could craft premium wines as well as cheap and cheerful, bargain bottles. The 2021 vintage marks the 35th release of Viña Concha y Toro’s icon wine that started in 1987.
Tirado visited Ontario this week to host a LCBO Vintages dinner in Toronto. The following day, he stopped in Burlington to taste a trio of Don Melchor releases and share some thoughts on the evolution of Chile’s first icon wine.
Puente Alto is a small appellation (471 hectares in total) that’s home to Don Melchor and its sibling, Almaviva, a joint venture between Concha y Toro and the Rothschild family of Bordeaux, as well as Eduardo Chadwick’s vineyard for his own ultra-premium cabernet.
Don Melchor is a cabernet sauvignon-based wine produced with grapes grown from a contiguous 127 hectare vineyard on the northern side of the Maipo River, just south of Santiago. The parcel of land has been subdivided into 15 smaller plots based on soil and vineyard expression as well as wine style and quality. It’s a moderated pocket, cooled by breezes from the Pacific Ocean and the influence of the Andes, with cooler nighttime temperatures that also help preserve freshnesss. The vineyard is planted with a majority of cabernet sauvignon vines (90%) with cabernet franc (7.1%), merlot (1.9%) and petit verdot (1%). Harvest is typically mid-March to the end of April.
Tirado says that 60 to 70 per cent of the vineyard makes the blend of Don Melchor each year, with declassified wines going into the Gravas Cabernet Sauvignon or Marqués de Casa Concha wines, notably the Heritage label made from Puente Alto grapes.
Tasting through these three remarkable wines helped me understand how Don Melchor’s style has evolved while retaining its innate Chilean nature. Originally, a 100% cabernet sauvignon, it often includes cabernet franc, merlot and petit verdot in the blend.
It hasn’t become yet another glossy and ripe cabernet, the sort you might find from ambitious producers in California or elsewhere. Tirado attributes that to the attention paid in the vineyard and to the weather conditions each vintage.
“We are open to manage the vineyard in a certain way according to the weather,” Tirado explains. “If it’s cooler or it’s warmer, you need to manage the vineyard and the vinification in a different way.”
Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2020
Puente Alto, Maipo Valley, Chile $220 (35100)
92% cabernet sauvignon, 6% cabernet franc, 1% merlot, 1% petit verdot
Ripe nose with blueberry and cassis and secondary savoury and cedar notes. Serious fragrance and structure. (More polished and charm than many New World icon wines.) This is ripe and restrained, expressive and enjoyable. It’s remarkable how approachable this is now. with amazing aging potential. Drink now-2040.
Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
Puente Alto, Maipo Valley, Chile
96% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc.
Nice development showing on the nose, with mineral, ash and graphite notes broadcast with some expressive red fruit. Touch of mint/herbal notes on the palate. Drink now-2030.
Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 1998
Puente Alto, Maipo Valley, Chile
100% cabernet sauvignon. Second vintage. A wet, cool El Niño year. Made Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the Year
Developing and dusty nose. Palate shows marked acidity and blackberry fruit that’s holding nicely. Very much alive. Drink now.