One of the most renowned names in the wine industry may well be Don Melchor, Concha y Toro’s iconic Cabernet Sauvignon. In June the stately Don made a rare appearance in Manila, at the Discovery Primea with winemaker Isabel Mitarakis for the presentation of its current vintage, the 2015. But there was more. Mitarakis would also lead the tasting of Don Melchor’s 1998 and 2008 vintages to constitute what would be like a mini master class. And as befiting an honored guest, a wine dinner would cap the evening, hosted by Jun Cochanco, president of Fly Ace Corp., whose company has been in partnership with Concha y Toro for more than 12 years for the importation and distribution of its wines in the Philippines.
The interest—and excitement—over the Don Melchor 2015 was justified. First released in 1987 (and on to its 29th vintage with the 2015 release), Don Melchor had consistently made it to the top list of eminent wine critics, making it one of Chile’s most highly respected Cabernet Sauvignons and consequently one of the world’s best. According to Enrique Tirado, Don Melchor winemaker since 1997, the 2015 vintage is “unquestionably” one of the best vintages he has ever made. And so, it was with great expectation that I watched as the precious portion of the 2015 was poured into my glass. But first, we were to taste the 1998 and the 2008.
Before tasting the wines, winemaker Isabel Mitarakis did well to explain how Don Melchor is made and what makes it unique.
Great wine begins in the vineyard. With Don Melchor, this truth begins with the Puente Alto Vineyard at the foot of the Andes mountains, on the oldest terrace of the Maipo River. Named as one of the 25 best terroirs of the world for Cabernet Sauvignon, Puente Alto is the site of Don Melchor’s 127 hectares of vines. Here, in the semi-arid Mediterranean climate, the combination of warm days and cool nights and the stony, nutrient-poor soil make for the ideal growing environment for Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyard is divided mainly into seven different lots of Cabernet Sauvignon, the vines averaging 30 years old, with parcel 7 having the youngest vines. To highlight the quality and specificity of each lot, the parcels are harvested and vinified separately. Each year, Don Melchor is made with a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon from these different lots, with fruit from smaller parcels of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot or Merlot.
Which one did you like best? The inevitable question that does the rounds of the tables at every wine dinner had to be asked. I thought the 1998 was now fragile, with a whisper of fading fruit. The 2008 was pure espresso over ripe black fruit. “Fresh mouth, cigar box, grippy tannins but silky,” I had scrawled on the tasting mat. The 2015 was undeniably fresh beneath its intense, purple-red core. “Graphite, floral notes under ripe, black fruit, dark chocolate,” read my notes.
But at dinner, there was the Don Melchor 2014, wonderfully perfumed and silky, with more mineral notes. And there was no denying how the vibrant creamy-toasty notes of the Marques de Casa Concha Casa Chardonnay 2016 played off the brightness of the citrus-cured yellow fin tuna in the fennel-orange-watercress salad. I picked up black pepper notes in the Marques de Casa Concha Carmenère 2016 and thought the wine would have worked well too with the pepper-crusted ribeye and the arugula-flecked potato purée. Like the Carmin de Peumo, its more illustrious sibling (and Chile’s first iconic Carmenère), fruit for the Marques de Casa Concha Carmenère also come from the Peumo Vineyard in the Cachapoal Valley, widely recognized as the ideal terroir for Carmenère.
All the wines were brilliant, but the night belonged to Don Melchor. The 2014 and the 2015.