I went to a Montes tasting the other day at the Bluebird Wineshop. Montes is one of the iconic wines of Chile, having been written up extensively in various publications as well as getting rave reviews in the Wine Spectator and winning numerous industry awards. I decided to see what all the fuss was about.
Montes started out in 1988 and was one of the few Chilean wineries to focus entirely on import production. 90% of their production was for export and England was one of the first markets to benefit from this policy. Today they produce over 5 million bottles and export to over 92 countries, not bad for only being in business 20 years.
Montes is seeking to make the varietal Syrah the flagship grape of Chile. To this end, they presented their showcase wine, the Montes Folly, so named because the general consensus at the time they planted the vines was that they were crazy to try and produce a premium wine made from Syrah. We sampled the 100% syrah ’05 Montes Folly. It opened with a full-on black fruit nose, juicy blackcurrants and blackberries predominating, with a tantalizing earthy minerality lingering in the air. It was fresh and lively, bright black cherries, morello cherries and again that earthy minerality shining through on a nicely balanced, clean, crisp wine. It didn’t have the big fruity jamminess that many people associate with new world shiraz. And to differenciate themselves a bit more from the pack, they call the grape syrah (as they do in France) as opposed to shiraz (as they do in the new world i.e., Australia, US, etc).
The wine that everyone knows is the iconic Montes Alpha M. We tasted the ’05 M. Composed of 85% cabernet sauvignon, 10% merlot and 5%petite verdot, this lovely is produced from a single vineyard at low yields and aged for one year in new french oak barrels. It had a deeply fruity, intense nose, blackcurrant leaping out of the glass with new oak aromas surrounding it. Blackcurrants were again evident on the very fruity but not sweet palate owing to the fabulous balance of acidity in the wine. It was also shot through with a loaminess that added complexity and finished with strong chocolate flavours that seemed to last for a very long time. Nice ripe tannins, very smooth and elegant.
The Montes Purple Angel ’05 was my favourite because it had such a personality. It just jumped out of the crowd. Was it because it was 90% carmenere (a grape really only used in Chile today) or was it the petite verdot, a variety that is falling out of style as a blending grape even in it’s native France. The nose was nothing like the others, starting off with a musky, red pepper, exotic spiciness with violets, paprika and delicate mint notes underpinning the aromatic structure of the wine. Moving the wine around my palate, black fruits, plums and red peppers sprang into action and there was a fabulous spicy finish to it all. This was a fresh and lively wine, rather frisky, up for anything. I loved it! An exquisite delight. A well balanced, lovely example of what can be coaxed out of carmenere given the chance.
Montes has a deservedly iconic reputation and these wines only served to show what can and is being done in Chile today. I can’t wait for the next release.