Talking Cabernet Sauvignon with Don Melchor’s Isabel Mitarakis Guilisasti


Don Melchor is possibly one of the most recognised – if not the most recognised – wines from Chile; the iconic Concha y Toro-owned winery essentially put Chile on the wine map especially where Cabernet Sauvignon is concerned. In fact Don Melchor is today considered among the top producers of Cabernet Sauvignon around the world, and its vineyards in Puente Alto the ultimate expression of terroir when it comes to growing that variety. 

Don Melchor winemaker Isabel Mitarakis Guilisasti was recently in town to promote the most recent vintage of Don Melchor (the 2015 vintage); since 2012 she has been working closely with head winemaker Enrique Tirado to put together Don Melchor wines, starting by bottling the Don Melchor 2012 and then participating in the entire winemaking process every vintage after. And if you’re wondering about her name, yes she’s a scion of the founding Guilisasti family behind the sprawling winemaking empire that is Concha y Toro.

We sat her down for a chat – over wine, of course – about her love for Cabernet Sauvignon, and to ask her about the latest vintage.

What’s the most challenging about working with Cabernet Sauvignon?

[Guilisasti] I like the expressiveness of Cabernet Sauvignon, the layers of aromas and flavours that give the wine the great concentration, depth, and complexity that I find so attractive.

Cabernet Sauvignon has very good colour and fresh-fruit expression. The tannins are ripe and deliver great concentration, body, and persistence. They are very complex and expressive wines.

Personally, I find that Cabernet Sauvignon has the best balance between fruit, concentration, quality of tannins and complexity.

What do you think is different about the Cabernet Sauvignon grown and vinified in Chile that’s different from the rest of the world, such as those from Bordeaux, Napa Valley, or even Margaret River?

[Guilisasti] It’s hard for me to compare such high-level Cabernet Sauvignons because each is unique. They have different human stories, soils, and climates, so they are not comparable.

Each wine is the expression of a place or location. In our case, Don Melchor is the expression of Puente Alto, its soil, climate, vines, and the team that has worked to make it. It’s all about making a wine that is the best expression of that place. Don Melchor is essentially the expression of Puente Alto Cabernet Sauvignon.

Each wine is ultimately a combination of the terroir’s elements, natural conditions and the winemaker’s hand. Winemaking is the means to reaching a goal, and with Don Melchor, our aim is to create a wine that expresses the “beauty of balance,” meaning that the wine’s expressions must complement and not cancel each other out, i.e. the balance between fruit expression and complexity or the balance between potency and elegance.

Don Melchor is the expression of stony soils, the cool Andes, age of the vines, and of a team that has worked for many years to understand these elements and achieve the best quality in each and every vintage.

We value the past and try to understand the history of the soils, climate, and vineyard, but with the goal of creating a wine that looks to the future with a perfectly balanced expression.

What do you think is the most special about the terroir of the Puente Alto vineyard?

[Guilisasti] Puente Alto has unique conditions for producing outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon. On the one hand, it has a Mediterranean climate that encourages good ripening, and most importantly, the moderating effect of the Andes on temperatures, which prevent excessively high daytime heat while at the same time drastically lowering nighttime temperatures.

These daily temperature swings are essential for producing top-quality fruit.

On the other hand, more temperate conditions lead to optimal grape ripeness at the end of the season and to producing vibrant ripe fruit expression with good acidity — in other words, freshness.

Furthermore, poor, stony, alluvial soils produce balanced plants with small clusters and highly concentrated colours and tannins that deliver expressive, full-bodied wines with ripe tannins and good balance.

Puente Alto has conditions that resemble those of other great terroirs for Cabernet Sauvignon, such as the Médoc in Bordeaux, which also explains the arrival of Almaviva to this terroir.

The Puente Alto vineyard has 127 hectares of Cabernet Sauvignon averaging more than 30 years old.

For the latest vintage (2015), there’s 1% Petit Verdot that vintages in the past couple of years did not have. What was it that required the addition of Petit Verdot?

[Guilisasti] Every vintage of Don Melchor is different in its own way, depending on many factors. When we made the blend for this vintage, we realised that the different parcels of Cabernet Sauvignon for Don Melchor gave life to a wine with tremendous complexity and an exquisitely delicate texture, but still, something was missing.

The decision to incorporate 1% of Petit Verdot was due to the desire to add body and roundness to the final wine — and it clearly worked. The 2015 vintage is an extraordinary wine! Its balance, depth, and complexity are truly admirable. Its red-fruit aromas delicately intermingle with its mineral notes of cold ash and pencil lead, and the fine, delicate texture appears on the palate, making this an ample, generous wine.

 

The Don Melchor line is available at leading stockists and retailers; prices vary.