At an event on the 9th of August, Concha y Toro and winemaker Enrique Tirado provided us with a good opportunity to taste 10 vintages of their icon, Don Melchor, and analyse how a classic wine from the so called New World evolves. The tasting also presented the lauching of the 2007 vintage, commemorating 20 years of the wine, that had its first vintage in 1987.
The vineyards where the grapes originate for the Don Melchor are located in Puente Alto, in the Maipo Valley Chile. They total 114 hectares of which 107 are Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest Cabernet Franc.
Production is really small, with low yield per plant. There are about four thousand plants per hectare producing one kilogram of grape each or, as the winemaker said, “one bottle per vine”.
The climate is classic Maipo Valley, summers with hot days and nights freshened by winds blowing down from the Cordilheiras, despite some variation between vintages. The thermal amplitude is important, temperatures reach thirty degrees during the day and drop to nine at night.
In winemaking terms, nothing special – this is the advantage of working with excellent raw material, the wine practically makes itself “the winemaker is not that important” confesses Enrique Tirado. Fermentation at controlled temperatures and after twenty to thirty days from the moment the grape enters the winery, the wine is ready.
Not everything that comes from there goes to Don Melchor. There is a selection of what is fermented and included in the assemblage and what stays out of Don Melchor. Even if the financial department doesn’t love this part very much, there is no arguing. For Don Melchor only the best will do.
After the assemblage, the wines go to the barrel. What assemblage? Is not Don Melchor practically pure Cabernet Sauvignon? Yes, but, it’s an assemblage with different Cabernet Sauvignons. Tirado told us that each little piece of the 107 hectares of Cabernets has a different style of wine, they are harvested at different maturity days and so, they have to be fermented separately and then mixed. “when I started at Don Melchor, I would choose the parts I liked more and wanted that all the parts produce the same results. Then I noticed that this was not the way. The complexity of the Don Melchor comes from the differences between its Cabernet Sauvignons. The Don Melchor is an assemblage of Cabernet Sauvignons.” Until 1994, the wine was pure Cabernet. They did use a small percentage of Merlot in 1995, but according to the winemaker, instead of making the Cabernet milder, it ended up taking away a bit of its classic style. They used Cabernet Franc in 97 and 98, but they came to the conclusion it was not working and were about to pull out the vines until finally when the vines reached a certain age they started showing strength and added complexity to the wine. That is why they remained and are added to the assemblage at different percentages, according to the raw material of every year.
There are experimental vines of Merlot and Petit Verdot being monitored, to see if in the future they can add something, but it still is and,” always will be”, a Cabernet, insists Tirado.
1998: nose well evolved, with animal notes, smoked touches and balsamic. Touches of green peppers, eucaliptus and grilled meat. With more air hints of black pepper, floral and charcoal are evident. On palate it is fine, with good acidity, tannins are fine and dry, a touch salty and firm alcohol finish, not very potent, but thin and elegant
1999: a really dry and hot year, citric because of the excess heat. On nose it really has cooked fruit, alcohol, touches of green olives and it is not very ethereal, it is more closed. On palate , however, it is fresh, has fine tannins, a lot of extract, really rich, tasty. At finish there is a little alcohol touch, but it is perfumed with no excess heat.
2000: a normal climate, slightly fresh and the style of the wine, according to Enrique, is classic. I tasted alcohol, coffee, fruit and baked peppers. A touch of coffee with milk, also smoked and meat. On palate it is full, creamy, volumous and big. It is less acidy, with firm and dry tannins. The finish reminds me of dark chocolate and fruit liqueur or something like port wine.
2001: easy balanced climate. Nose with vanilla notes, slightly closed. Touches of chocolate and biscuit. It takes a while but it opens to touches of perfume, florals with fruit, really brilliant. On palate it is thinner and fresh, with founded tannins, it does not have the sweetness of the 2000, a little more diluted ( in a good sense ), fresher and shorter.
2002: it starts with some aromas of red peppers and pickles, but it also has fruit. Then touches of more fruit and coffee appear. On palate it is smooth, with fine tannins, good freshness, long, the alcohol carries the perfume through the mouth. It is long, fine and elegant. Enrique told us later he thought this vintage was feminine and elegant .
2003: easy vintage, but a little hotter and with a lot of potential according to Enrique Tirado. It begins really closed and alcoholic. It opens up slowly, with touches of cherry liqueur, temporary, ethery, a brilliant fruit. On palate it is thinner, but with good extract, a thinner and subtler style, with delicate tannins, delicate acidity too. It is tasty but subtle.
2004: really open and exuberant, with notes of fig, floral, cherry bombom, some mineral touches that reminds one of sand. On palate it is fresh, sweeter, with a lot of tannin and alcohol, a full aftertaste, rich, with touches of coffee wood, tobacco, mint chocolate. Young style, muscles and potent.
2005: a vintage of great maturity. It has vanilla, toffee, milk chocolate, but not very evident. On palate it is full and chocolaty too, long, with chocolate aftertaste, really dense.
2006: it was a fresher vintage, but got hotter in the end. It was later harvest, in general. Tirado thinks the 2006 is one of the great Don Melchors. It started off closed, then opened reminding one of baked red peppers. Then flowers appeared, fruit in the alcohol, but always discrete, it is not an exhuberant Don Melchor style. On palate it is fresh and mature, with very founded and long tannins, without being over and nausiating
2007: baby powder and cocoa notes, chocolate powder. Again the flowers appear, but discretely. On palate it is full, young, with good acidity, tannins are still tight and the alcohol has not founded yet, it’s evident. The finish is long and reminds one of dark chocolate.
We can basically say that there is a Don Melchor for every taste. More evolved, more delicate and elegant or more potent and musclely, always within the same style. The Don Melchor style. As the vertical tasting of the other Chilean icon Seña was just a while back, I can’t help comparing. There are no best or worst, but one thing is clear. While the Seña has an elegant international style that can fool us as to its origin, in Don Melchor, the tastes and aromas of Chile, the red peppers with red fruit in the alcohol are very transparent and evident, for they appear in almost all of them. And the conclusion is that without a doubt it is an international wine but with an unequaled chilean aspect.