Today, Chilean wine, and quality wine at that, is everywhere. It’s easy to forget that wasn’t always the case. Back in the late 1980s when Aurelio Montes and Douglas Murray founded their winery, Chile was suffering through the final years of the Pinochet dictatorship and demand for wine in Chile was flagging. Chilean wines were sold mostly in Chile at the time, and were not known to be of particularly high quality. But Montes and Murray, along with partners, Alfredo Vidaurre and Pedro Grand developed what would become Viña Montes to not only produce quality Chilean wines for consumption at home, but also for the export market.
They recognized the potential of granitic soils on the slopes of the Apalta Mountains in western Colchagua Valley and planted the area to French clones of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. They rigorously selected quality fruit and aged their wine in new French oak. In 1998 they released their Bordeaux-style red blend, Montes Alpha M. They fearlessly planted Syrah on steep, windy slopes and soon released Montes Folly (the name is a nod to skeptics who thought Syrah was sure to fail). The final icon wine released by Montes was their Purple Angel, a rich and ripe Carmenère.
After more than 25 years of winemaking, vineyard plantings stretch across the Colchagua Valley and include estates in Apalta, Curico, and Marchigüe. They have forged relationships with winegrowers in Leyda. Most recently, vineyard sites have grown to include Zapellar, a cool, coastal area 112 miles north of Santiago. Dynamic is the word that comes to mind to describe the efforts at Montes.
We recently tastes three wines from across the range of wines produced by Montes and are happy to share our tasting notes and food pairings with you. We received these wines as tasting samples.
2015 Montes Alpha Carmenère — dark ruby in the glass with generous dark fruit aromas and herbaceous hints tucked in behind the fruit. Tart blackberry and red raspberry fruit flavors are juicy. Hints of green pepper add just the right amount of herbaceous interest as does a subtle smokiness. Tannins are significant and drying, but well integrated with the flavors. Flavors last a long time in this medium-bodied wine as do the tannins. 14.5% abv. Average price $19.06 according to Vivino.
This is a lovely Carmenère that has just the right amount of green pepper flavor behind the juicy fruit flavors to make it interesting and make you think Carmenère. Over the years I have had some Chilean Carmenère that was not as nicely balanced. Those experiences, like biting into a green bell pepper, make me especially appreciative of the flavor profile of this Carmenère.
The 2014-2015 growing season had adequate rainfall over winter and then was dry and warm. Dry is good, it means reduced disease pressure. Warm is good too, but hot can be a challenge. Technical notes indicate record heat during picking required some modifications in the wine cellar to produce balanced wines. This kind of knowledge comes with making wine in the region for over 25 years. 55% of the wine was aged in new French oak for 12 months.
Pair this Carmenère with a lamb burger on a whole wheat bun with lettuce, ripe tomato and mayo. Add potato salad on the side. Pizza made with ground lamb and tomatoes would also be amazing.
This wine is part of the Montes Alpha tier of wines that also includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Malbec, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah.
2015 Montes Limited Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Carmenère — dense ruby in the glass with generous aromas of ripe plums, cut flower stems and dried tobacco. Ripe blackberry and plum fruit flavors combine with dried alfalfa, black tea and hints of tar. Tannins are drying and well integrated with the flavors, which last a good long time. 14.5% abv. Average price $15.43 according to Vivino.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère play well together in this delicious, 70/30 blend. The flavors are truly a blending of the flavors of both varieties and highlight the fine art of blending wine. 47% of the wine was aged in oak for 10 months.
As I sipped this wine and thought about a food pairing for it I remembered one of my favorite slow-cooked dishes simply called Sunday Sauce. Short ribs slow-cooked with onion, tomato paste, tomato sauce, oregano, garlic and carrots make the perfect sauce for spaghetti. It would make a delicious pairing with this Cabernet-Carmemère blend.
The Montes Limited Selection tier of wines also includes Carmenère, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.
2013 Montes Purple Angel Carmenère — dense ruby in the glass with toasty aromas of coconut, cedar and concentrated dark fruit. Ripe blackberry and dried blueberry flavors combine with hints of cedar, smoke and tar. Interesting herbaceous hints hide in the background. Tannins are drying and significant in this medium-bodied wine and wind their way through the very long finish. 14.5% abv. Average price $69.99 according to Vivino.
This is a bold, dense red wine with complex flavors, plenty of texture and a very long finish. The flavor profile is influenced significantly by oak aging (it is aged for 18 months in 100% new French oak). The fruit flavors are bright and youthful. It cries out for food with bold flavors; pair it with a grilled rib-eye steak and baked potato with butter, sour cream and bacon. Be really bad and skip the vegetables. Don’t skip decanting this wine, however. The winery wisely suggests one hour.
The 2013 growing season was cooler than normal with delayed bud break and flowering. Cool weather also delayed and extended verasion, though warm weather in the end produced the desired level of ripeness. 8% Petit Verdot is blended with the Carmenère for this bottling.
Along with Montes Purple Angel, the Icons tier of wines includes Montes Alpha M (a Bordeaux blend) and Montes Folly – “the wildest Syrah from Apalta.”
These wines from Montes have something for every palate. If you prefer a less rich and ripe style, choose the Limited Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Carmenère. If you’re looking for a juicy wine look for the Montes Alpha Carmenère. If you are in the mood for something big, bold and ripe reach for the Purple Angel.
This tasting of Carmenère was also an interesting reminder of how delicious Carmenère can be when the green pepper component of the flavor profile is properly managed. I do love a hint of green pepper in Carmenère, in fact I look for it, but, too much of a good thing can be completely off-putting. Adequate sunshine to produce phenolic ripeness, management of the grapevine canopy to provide adequate sunlight to grape clusters and control of crop yield are a few of the tools used in the vineyard to control the flavors of bell pepper in Carmenère. Vineyard yields vary from extremely low (1.3 tons per acre) to a modest 3.6 tons per acre in this group of wines. Clearly, hard work in the vineyards has paid off in the wine glass.