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Andean terroir key for top Chilean winery Don Melchor

A semi-arid climate and porous soil help Don Melchor produce award-winning Cabernet Sauvignons

Geography is key in the making of Chile's flagship icon wine Don Melchor, says head winemaker Enrique Tirado.

The Puente Alto vineyard, where Don Melchor is made, has a unique location at the foot of the Andes mountain range in Chile and on the north bank of the Maipo River.

The location not only affects the way its award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon tastes, but has also helped regulate the conditions in the vineyard against unpredictable factors, such as global warming, keeping the wine quality consistent over the past 30 years.

Most recently, the 2014 Don Melchor received 94 points from Robert Parker Wine Advocate and was singled out as the best Cabernet Sauvignon of the 2014 vintage in the wine critic's latest report on Chile.

"It's a very small appellation, but there's a huge influence from the Andes," Mr Tirado, who was in Singapore recently, tells The Sunday Times.

Don Melchor is a label under Concha y Toro, now the largest producer of wines from Latin America. Puente Alto's terroir is recognised as one of the best in the world for producing Cabernet Sauvignon.

Don Melchor wines are also known for their complexity and ageing potential.

Mr Tirado, 51, who considers Cabernet Sauvignon the "king of wine-grape varieties", has been with Don Melchor for the past 20 years and feels that he is lucky to have the perfect confluence of the semi-arid climate, the vines and the stoney, porous soil on his side.

The vineyard's history dates back to the 1960s when Concha y Toro wanted to "develop the Maipo Valley's tremendous potential for producing high quality wines, especially Cabernet Sauvignon", according to its head of fine wines marketing Isabel Guilisasti.

Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant grape variety planted at the winery, taking up 90 per cent of the 127ha of vineyard. The other varieties that are grown are Cabernet Franc (7 per cent), Merlot (2 per cent) and Petit Verdot (1 per cent).

"The Andes has an amazing effect in protecting us, to allow us to keep the freshness and achieve the consistency of the fine tannins and fine balance in our wines," says Mr Tirado.

But, ultimately, he wants to make a wine that best expresses the terroir of Puente Alto and that maintains the Don Melchor personality.

He says: "We're not trying to make a Cabernet Sauvignon like in another place. When you taste it, you can taste the Andes soil."

The final blend of Don Melchor is made up of individual wines that come from up to 142 parcels of land the vineyard has been broken up into.

"Each parcel adds to the final blend, aromas, flavours and texture," he says.

To keep the blending process objective, he engages the help of renowned French wine consultant Eric Boissenot - whose family has worked with world-famous Bordeaux wineries such as Lafite Rothschild, Latour and Margaux - to determine the final blend.

The two men would spend three to four days tasting up to 150 individual wines before deciding what goes into the blend. And this is even before it goes into the 100 per cent French oak barrels to be aged.

"But, at the end of the day, the most important decision is made based on your feeling," Mr Tirado says.

The common thread in all his wines is "an expression of red fruits and berries, a mineral character, and a rich, full-bodied long finish".

He notes that it is not always easy to achieve the balance of red fruit characteristics and freshness, fine tannins and textures.

"But if you manage the vineyard and the vinification, you can achieve that," he says.

• Don Melchor retails at $160 (2013 vintage) and $175 (2014 vintage) and is available at FairPrice Finest, Cold Storage, 1855 The Bottle Shop, or online at RedMart and cruworldwine.com.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 24, 2017, with the headline 'Fine wines by the peaks'. Print Edition | Subscribe