When it comes to the making of Don Melchor’s cabernet sauvignon, it’s all about the soil.
“Don Melchor comes from a single terroir called Puente Alto that is perfect for expressing cabernet sauvignon,” says head winemaker Enrique Tirado, who has been with the winery for 14 years.
“Terroirs that allow this level of complexity, expression and consistency in the quality of the wine over the years are found in only some parts of the world,” he continues.
Not that he is tooting his own horn on baseless grounds. Don Melchor’s 2010 vintage was awarded 95 points by US magazine Wine Spectator last year, and the 2001 and 2003 vintages are rated highly on the same magazine’s closely watched annual Top 100 wine list.
Perched at 650m above sea level, in Chile’s Alto Maipo Valley, the 127ha Puente Alto vineyard is characterised by rocky alluvial soil consisting of stones that roll down from the Andes. Warm days here are balanced with cool air from the mountains, allowing for a slow and extended ripening process, so grapes reach full maturity.
But what gives a Don Melchor cabernet sauvignon its complexity is the different characteristics of the seven blends that go into it. In 1997, the winery divided its vineyard into seven blocks, each of different sizes and soil characteristics. Six of these blocks produce cabernet sauvignon, while one produces cabernet franc.
“The cabernet franc adds complexity and elegance to the final blend, along with soft tannins on the palate,” shares Tirado.
During a wine tasting at local French restaurant Olivia Cassivelaun Fancourt (OCF), Tirado introduces the wines made from each of the seven parcels to demonstrate their differences. Plot one has soil with significantly fewer stones, so wine from this parcel has a fruity character with soft tannin structures, as opposed to the strong tannins in wine from plot three which has more stones. In particular, wine from plot five stood out because of its slight peppery notes, which Tirado attributes to the limestone content in the soil.
For the final touch, Tirado carefully blends all seven wines in various percentages. The resulting 2013 Don Melchor is well-balanced with notes of spice and sweet vanilla on the palate, and goes well with the steak tartare and soft cheese canapes served at OCF. But the takeaway from the session was the insight that even small geographical differences can produce unique characteristics.