Viña Montes: From Chile with Pride

Posted on Apr 29, 2020


chile wine region

Chile’s climate provides ideal conditions for Carménère.

There are certain wine regions in the world that are known for a particular grape variety. For example, the Napa Valley is synonymous with Cabernet Sauvignon, Burgundy for Pinot Noir and Argentina for Malbec. Then there are the regions that have so many different unique micro-climates they can produce a much greater variety of high-quality wines. Sonoma is one that comes to mind with its 17 different AVAs and 259 different soil types. On a recent trip to Chile, we discovered that although it’s a place often associated with Carménère, it’s finally gaining notoriety for its quality with respect to  a diverse range of varieties. For the last 3 decades, Viña Montes has been at the forefront of this transformation helping to reposition the country’s reputation worldwide both with quality and diversity.

Chile wine

The stunning vineyards at Montes.

With high risk comes high reward and the risks taken by Montes to experience the level of success they now enjoy, have been many. Viña Montes calls Chile’s renowned Colchagua Valley home, and while that choice is not surprising given the Valley’s reputation, choosing the Apalta area within Colchagua when they established the winery in the late 1980s, certainly was.

colchagua valley chile wine

Winemaker Aurelio Montes Sr. [Source: Montes Wines]

Winemaker Aurelio Montes, one of the four founding partners (along with Douglas Murray, Alfredo Vidaurre and Pedro Grand) first laid eyes on Apalta long before there were any vineyards there. He was so convinced that its slopes full of boulders would be the perfect spot that he convinced his partners it was worth the cost both financially and reputationally to be the first to plant there.

They purchased the land in 1990, planting French clones on the 45-degree slopes much to the bewilderment of their peers who were all planting on the valley floor. The fertile soil on the floor certainly provided lots of fruit but the high yields and healthy soils resulted in lower quality wines.

colchagua valley chile wine

Another view of the Vineyards at Montes.

Montes knew from his travels to highly regarded regions in Germany and France that there was a better way. He was after poor quality soil to make the vines struggle, lower yields that would produce higher concentrated berries, and hillslopes for better irrigation. He never wavered in his belief that this particular area was not only unique, but allowed for a long, steady ripening of the fruit.

This pioneering spirit also led Montes to be the first to plant their Marchigüe vineyards in the same valley between the Coastal Range and the sea, and then head north to Zapellar where they were the first to plant a vineyard there. Montes was also the first to plant Syrah in the Colchagua Valley, the grape variety that was easily the most memorable in terms of our favourite wines from the trip.

An approximate two-hour drive from Santiago, we arrived at Montes Winery on a warm spring day that truly showcased the beauty of the property.

The Feng Shui designed winery.

Miles of vineyards surround the modern winery with the Pangalillo Hills serving as its backdrop. The winery itself was built in 2004 with a simple yet striking design based on Feng Shui principles all within a gravity-flow design. Using gravity to move wine from the upper to lower levels of the facility is gentler on the fruit while helping keep aeration to a minimum thus allowing for a purer expression of the fruit. All of their fruit is hand-harvested, hand-sorted and de-stemmed.

cochagua valley chile

Fuegos de Apalta

Lucky for us, not only did we have perfect weather to enjoy the beautiful vineyard views, we happened to be booked in for lunch at their restaurant Fuegos de Apalta. Built in 2017, the restaurant, opened to much fanfare as it’s run by Argentine Chef Francis Mallman. A well-known chef in South America, his fame expanded globally after being featured on the Netflix original series Chef’s Table. One could argue another risky move by a Chilean winery choosing to work with an Argentine Chef for their restaurant!

Similar to the winery, the restaurant is a modern design that takes full advantage of the views with clear glass floor-to-ceiling windows on each side.

colchagua valley chile

Lunch at Montes.

We were greeted with a glass of their Sparkling Angel Brut (our first ever Chilean sparkling wine) then treated to an incredible food and wine pairing that included: salt-crusted pears with Burrata paired with their Outer Limits Sauvignon Blanc, grilled skirt steak paired with their Icon wine the “Folly” (so named because they were considered loco (crazy) with all of their innovative ideas), capped off with a final dessert course of grilled pineapple and homemade Mascarpone paired with their late harvest gewürztraminer.

Not resting on their laurels and continuously pushing the boundaries has become Montes’ trademark though their latest “folly” may prove their most challenging project to date.

Fuegos de Apalta

Walking into the restaurant…

The winery has planted vines in the Chiloé archipelago, one of the most southern locations in the country with a vineyard. Production isn’t expected for a couple of years yet, but time will tell whether this proves too risky even for them, or ignites another revolution within Chile’s wine industry. Given the people behind it and their success so far, we’re certainly not betting against them.

Either way, Montes has been monumental in opening the minds of wine drinkers around the world to the idea that Chile is more than capable of producing wines of the highest quality. And while it may take a little longer to shed the Carménère association, the country’s 16 different valleys combined with the pioneering spirit of winemakers like Aurelio Montes, tells us the future of Chile’s wine industry is very bright.

Tasting Notes

2017 Montes Clos d’Angel Chardonnay

Deep gold colour. Richly textured with notes of melon, almonds and a hint of mineral. The oak adds richness as well as some vanilla notes. There is just enough acid to serve the right counterpoint to the oak. The finish lingers nicely with hints of tropical fruits.

Very Good+

colchagua valley chile wine

2019 Montes Outer Limits Sauvignon Blanc

2019 Montes Outer Limits Sauvignon Blanc

Grapefruit and lime mix with a steely minerality in this refreshing 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Medium light body this is an ideal pairing with shellfish or as an aperitif. Back-end acidity gives a crisp note to the finish.

Very Good+

2012 Montes Folly

100% Syrah coming from the steepest slopes of their highest vineyards in Apalta in the Colchagua Valley.

Apalta Colchagua valley chile wine

2012 Montes Folly

This wine is a hedonists dream! The texture is soft, round and plush. But this is a powerful wine of great intensity, which brings forward comparisons to Barossa or perhaps California’s Central Coast Syrahs. Blackberry pie and hints of baking spice come through loud and clear as the fruit dominates the flavour profile. With a bit of air, hints of blueberry join in. There is a creaminess to the texture but there is enough structure to maintain its vinosity. Black pepper notes frame the long finish. Comes across as much younger than 8 years and will no doubt improve with time in the cellar. This is a very modern style Syrah; highly extracted, intense and impactful. Collectors of cult Syrahs would do well to buy this, at half the price or less than what you would pay in Barossa or Paso.

Excellent

Colchagua valley chile wine

2019 Late Harvest Gewürztraminer

2019 Montes Late Harvest Gewurztraminer

We did not encounter many dessert wines while we were in Chile but we were sure glad we found this one. Flavours of honeysuckle and ginger swirl together and are joined by hints of lychee and burnt orange. This wine is very viscous, bordering on syrupy. The sweetness is nicely counter-balanced by the spice notes. Delicious and hedonistic, a great way to end a meal!

Excellent

 

 

apalta valley colchagua valley chile

From Chile with Pride.

Montes S.A.

Apalta Winery

Parcela 15 – Millahue de Apalta

Santa Cruz – CHILE

2 Comments

  1. robin@42aspens.com'

    I know it’s tough for regions to get out from under their “signature” variety, but quite honestly Chile has done a pretty terrific job with Carménère! It is true though that most wine regions are not, nor should they be, one trick ponies. It is wonderful to see other varieties being produced so well in this region.
    I am completely fascinated by their planting in the Chiloé archipelago! Your post caused me to dive into a little bit of geography to see where exactly this region was. There is quite a bit of Chile within the Austral region south of what are considered “wine regions”. The photos of this archipelago are stunning! This is definitely something I will follow!

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    • We agree but we were more impressed by the sauvignon blancs and syrahs we had, likely because they were more unexpected. It will be very interesting to see how that planting goes…the one great thing about only recently putting the kind of investment/focus on the higher quality wines is that they seem far more open to experimenting than some of the more traditional old world regions. We certainly were impressed by what we say and tasted!

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