S pecial occasions demand a special wine. For me, there is no more special occasion than Christmas, so when my wife Teri and I got together with my son Michael and his friend Jamie for a Christmas Eve prime rib dinner, I opened the Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2009.
Don Melchor from Concha y Toro is one of the most famous wines in the world. The 2009 is only the 23rd vintage of this incredible wine, but it has quickly joined the list of the most sought-after wines.
The 2001 and 2003 vintages each placed fourth on the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the World, and it consistently gets 90+ point ratings. From its first vintage in 1987 to the present it has defined ultra-premium South American wines.
The reputation is well deserved. I opened the wine and decanted it two hours before dinner, and it continued to develop throughout the evening. I resisted the urge to sip as I was cooking because I knew each drop would be better after it breathed a little.
The wine is a beautiful deep cherry red in the glass, with aromas of blackberries and chocolate. On the palate are rich flavors of blackberries and black currants with silky tannins. It is well-balanced and obviously made to improve in the bottle.
I looked around the table and saw nothing but smiles, so I knew my family shared my opinion of the wine. It is an incredible wine, but I wished I had waited a couple of years to open it. The wine made each bite of delicious prime rib better, but I could tell it was just beginning to develop.
It is still tight, with the flavors still locked in after spending 15 months in French oak barrels. A few more years in the bottle and this wine will be over the top. It will continue to develop in the bottle for decades. (I’ll just have to buy more and lay them aside for a few years.)
That is to be expected because the wine was made in the style of a great Bordeaux. That was what Don Eduardo Guilisasti Tagle had in mind when he urged is son Rafael and the winery’s enologist Goetz Von Gersdorff to visit the father of modern winemaking Emile Peynaud.
Peynaud brought science to the art of winemaking in Bordeaux and then around the world. He introduced crushing and fermenting grapes in separate batches based on characteristics of each batch of grapes. He also pioneered selecting only the best grapes and greater use of malolactic fermentation.
When the Concha y Toro team met with him in 1986 Peynaud recognized the quality of the grape samples the men had brought from the Puenta Alto vineyard in the Maipo Valley at the foot of the Andes Mountains. “There is a potential in these wines that I think I will not find elsewhere abroad,” he said.
Peynaud encouraged his business partner and successor at many renowned Bordeaux chateaux, Jacques Boissenot, to join the project, which was named after the founder of Concha y Toro, Don Melchor. Boissenot traveled to Chile every year for the next 10 years to help get the best quality from the vineyard. He also has helped the winemaker blend the wine every year.
Enrique Tirado, winemaker of Don Melchor since 1997, tracks each vine in the 281-acre plot to find perfectly balanced fruit, rich in taste, color and aromas. The vineyard has been divided into smaller parcels that are tended independently to encourage even maturation. After fermentation the wine is blended to achieve the Don Melchor signature taste. This year the blend includes 4% Cabernet Franc.
Tirado’s passion to create the best wine possible led him to conduct the first study of soil and terroir in Chile in 2002, in conjunction with one of the most prestigious academic centers in France, the Institut National Agronomique Paris-Grignon.
“For me, Don Melchor is an ongoing quest to get the truest possible expression from every plant in the vineyard to attain beauty in the equilibrium from each Puente Alto terroir harvest,” said Tirado. “It’s my true obsession.
“Though I use technology as a tool to improve my knowledge, perhaps more importantly it is by observing and sensing what is happening with each plant and every wine that gives me that perfect balance year after year.
“Don Melchor’s style captures the complexity and finesse expressed through the perfect balance of the stony Puente Alto soil, the Andean breeze, the generous Maipo Valley climate, and the 25 years the vines have taken to produce their best grapes.”
The Don Melchor would pair well with many elegant dishes, but they will need some heft to stand up to this incredible wine. I would try red meats, especially lamb and game in various dishes: roasted, stewed, with sauces made of red wine, mushrooms, rosemary or tomato. You could have this wine with hearty cheeses, but it is such a fine wine, it deserves to be served with a special meal.
I served it with a standing rib roast that was cooked to near perfection. Sometimes I cook the prime rib too long and it dries out. This time I tried a new method, as suggested by Cook’s Illustrated.
I browned the meat on all sides in a skillet on the stove. Then I placed it in a roasting pan in the oven at 250 degrees for nearly four hours. I took it out when an instant read thermometer register 135 degrees in the middle. Then I let the meat sit for about 20 minutes before slicing. It turned out a perfect medium rare, red and juicy on the inside, with a nice brown on the outside.
I served it with mashed potatoes, creamed corn and a tossed salad. Teri fixed some sauted zucchini and other vegetables for herself. This really was a feast and put me in the perfect mood for a moving late-night service at Lutheran Church of the Resurrection. Every year when we hold our candles up while singing “Silent Night” I can’t keep the tears from my eyes.
As we sipped the wine during dinner I thought about how I had traversed the range of Concha y Toro wines in my life. I started with the $5 bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that I thought were wonderful in the 1980s (and I still do). Concha y Toro was one of the pioneers in bringing quality Chilean wines to the United States, and they continue to be the leading wine company in Chile.
They offer a wide variety of wines and styles in all price ranges, and I have enjoyed many of them. Some of my favorites are:
–Terrunyo, which comes from the selection of a specific block of their best vineyards, in which they identify a unique and complex character in each variety selected. This line included the first ultra-premium Carmenere, becoming a benchmark for the Chilean wine industry.
–Marques de Casa Concha, which presents a classical style of the grapes that have had a long history in Chile. It has won many prizes over the years, including being ranked three times in the Top 100 Wines of the Year, by Wine Spectator.
–Gran Reserva Serie Riberas, a special selection selection of Gran Reserva wines coming from vineyards located close to different river basins.
–Trio, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere. It represents the complexity and elegance of great blending at a more affordable price.
–Casillero del Diablo. The rumor that a cellar was haunted by the devil gave life to this key wine in the portfolio of Concha y Toro. This now legendary brand offers more than 10 varieties, from classical to exotic, making it suitable for different ocassions.
–Frontera, the best-selling Chilean wine in the world, with nine varieties. It comes from Chile’s fertile central valley, whose vineyards are protected naturally by four geographic frontiers: the desert (north), the glaciers (south), the Andes (east) and the sea (west).
There are several other Concha y Toro labels. I have never found any of their wines that weren’t first rate.
What: Don Melchor 2009