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Don Melchor's Swing Coach

Chile makes some of the world’s best Cabernet Sauvignons, both actually and potentially, and one of its iconic ones is Concha y Toro’s Don Melchor.  Since 1997, Enrique Tirado has been responsible for making Don Melchor, and, like every other winemaker in the world, he is a good son who first gives praise to the virtues of Mother Vineyard, where, as legend and faith have it, every great wine is made. He shows photos of his vineyard – 127 hectares located along the Maipo River near the Andes that is planted to 90 percent Cabernet Sauvignon with seven percent Cab Franc and traces of Merlot and Petit Verdot.

It also helps, Tirado admits, to have a good swing coach.

Tiger Woods, whatever his vices, has the virtue that all competitive people have: No matter how great he is, he wants to get better.  Although he has won more major tournaments than any player except Jack Nicklaus, and may eventually overtake the Golden Bear, Tiger has the self-confidence to go the wise men and say, “My game isn’t where it should be.  Help me make it better.”  He hires a swing coach – and Tiger being Tiger, he has had more than one – and has them deconstruct then reconstruct his game.

Tirado without a doubt could make an excellent wine even if he took vows of silence and became a hermit within his own winery.  And many great wines are being made by reclusive men and women who follow only the dictates of their internal GPS’s.  But Tirado wants to take what his vineyard, his bosses at Concha y Toro and his enological training have given him and add something else – a swing coach.  That is, an outside consultant who will tell him what he needs to hear even if he wishes he didn’t have to hear.

I met Tirado last week in New York at a small vertical tasting of four Don Melchor wines, three of which he made.  These included the current vintage, the 2009, as well as 2005, 2001 and 1995.  All were delicious.  Rather than parse them one by one, let’s just say the family portrait painted by the four is that Don Melchor is a wine with rich, but not forward, dark and lively fruit, lovely but pronounced tannins and hints of mint and earthiness.

When Tirado took over in 1997, he began working first-hand with Jacques Boissenot, the famed Bordeaux consultant who is retained by four of the five first growths (Haut Brion is the exception).  “My first vintage, I had this one lot that I especially liked, but when we tasted the lots blind, it was the one Jacques didn’t like,” Tirado laughs.  Apparently the wine was too extracted.

At that time Boissenot came to the Maipo Valley for the sessions, but now Tirado and all his cuvee samples travel to the small village in the Medoc, Lamarque, where Jacques and his son Eric have their laboratory. There, decisions on the blend are made.  While some consultants have the reputation of being dictatorial (“if you pay me, then you must use my advice”), the winemakers in Bordeaux I have talked with who work with the Boissenots paint a picture of them as being more like colleagues.

What have the Boissenots added to the mix? I ask Tirado. “He is very passionate about tannins – ripe tannins with no green notes,” he replies, and, indeed, when we finished tasting, another writer had commented first on the quality of the tannins, very noticeable, yet supple and well-integrated.

The one thing I notice in the progression of the four vintages is that while the fruit and tannins maintain their high quality, the overall structure of the wines continues to improve, becoming more Medoc-like.  The 2009 vintage of Don Melchor, Tirado says, is somewhere on the ocean making its way to the U.S.  There will be only about 2,000 cases allotted for the country, much of it to restaurants.

If you have a chance, try a bottle.  It represents Chilean Cabernet at its best.  Enrique Tirado and his swing coach have done a great job.

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