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Tasting notes from Chile

text and photographs © 2010 Tom Cannavan

These notes accompany our in-depth feature on Chile, North to South.


Aurelio Montes scrambled, almost on hands and knees, up the 45º slopes of his latest vineyard. I had little choice but to follow.

The story here is by now familiar in the 'new Chile': the estate's oldest vines were all planted on the valley floor in 1994, at a density of 4,000 plants per hectare. Today, they plant on the hillsides at a density of over 7,000 plants per hectare. Syrah has proved extremely successful up here, and has led to quite extensive new plantings of other Rhône varieties Mourvèdre, Grenache and Carignan. I mention to Aurelio that the few Carignans I'd tasted on the trip were universally impressive. "It has a big future - I am very excited about it," he told me.    aurelio

This is Montes' main estate, with 140ha of red wine vineyards, though they farm another 150ha in Marchigue, closer to the coast. "This valley floor is fertile, agricultural land good for all crops, but not for great wines," expands Aurelio. "On the hillside we find colluvial rocks and poor granitic soils giving much lower vigour. I'm also planting at extreme densities."

   Indeed, the vineyard to which I was clinging (pictured left) is planted at 15,000 vines per hectare. "If I have to compare," says Aurelio, "the model might be Priorat."

This estate is the source of the fruit for Montes' icon wines, though a programme of replanting is underway following micro terroir analysis. A block of Cabernet Sauvignon had just been replanted with Carmenère for example. "It gives wonderful spices to cook with," says Aurelio, "but it would never be good enough unless blended."

In terms of their agriculture, Aurelio says "The best way to understand how Montes works is to come to the vineyards and look around - look at the wild flowers amongst the vineyard, the trees and the natural conditions. We practice sustainable agriculture, with minimum sprays and contacts with the vines."

Aurelio studied at the Catholic University in Santiago as did his father before him. He lived for one year in Australia, working for Cape Mentelle, Rosemount, and then worked in Napa for Franciscan wineries. Today, he seems both contented and ambitious as he shows me around the winery, built to strict Feng Shui principles including its location, orientation and construction materials. Grapes arrive and a lift takes them to the roof which is the reception centre. Currently, vibrating sorting tables allow fruit selection, but from next year a new system borrowed from the recycling industry will sort automatically using cameras and compressed air jets to remove poor quality fruit or extraneous materials.

white wines

UK distributor of Montes is PLB Group. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Sauvignon Blanc Limited Selection Leyda 2009
Quite a powerful lime skin and apple aromas, with a little bit of herbaceous character. The palate has plenty of texture and richness, the grippy fruit skin character is cut through with lemony acidity and a long, mineral finish. 88/100. £8.99, Majestic

Montes Alpha Chardonnay 2007
Aged in French oak, from the Casablanca Valley. Beautifully ripe green bean and fig aromas, with lots of creamy, cashew nut and oatmeal creaminess. The palate has ripeness and richness, with a big nutty character and plenty of cut and zest. There's a lot of phenolic grip here too. The broad, pithy orange and grapefruit acidity makes this very food-friendly and savoury. 89/100. £10.99, Tesco, Majestic, Morrison's, some Waitrose

red wines

Montes Pinot Noir 2008
Fine, smoky, lightly forest floor nose with good red berry fruit. The palate has fine freshness, with really nice, concentrated fruit and fine, spicy, backbone. Tangy and fresh. 88/100. £8.99, Majestic

Montes Alpha Pinot 2007
Leyda Fruit. 40% aged in French oak. Briary and raspberry fruit, with some tight, charcoally edges. Really nice, bold fruit. Very good quality. Lovely bright, fine, raspberry fruit on the palate. 89/100. £10.99, Independents

Montes Alpha Merlot 2007
From Colchagua, all the rest of this range aged in oak. Spicy, cedary, very good fruit and lots of complex, quite Bordeaux-like savour. Palate is juicy and has a lovely edge to the ripe, red berry fruit. Very silky tannin structure and fresh. 90/100.

Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
Colchagua. Adds a plummy, darker aspect than the Merlot, with some earthy and beefy quality, but that refined cedar and spice is still there and a core of black fruit. The palate has tight, sinewy, chewy fruit with lots of fleshiness. 89/100. £10.99, Tesco, Majestic, Morrison's, some Waitrose

Montes Alpha Syrah 2007
Colchagua. Nice ripe, bright red fruit nose, with a hint of some chocolate and some fragrant spice. The palate has that edge of raspberry and liquoricy character, with a little savoury black olive character and fresh finish. The spice and nice chocolaty quality develops nicely. 90/100. £10.99, Waitrose.

Montes Alpha Carmenère 2007
Colchagua. A bit of herbal, slightly green character and menthol, but nicely pitched within the framework of tight black fruit and peppery spice. The palate has a red fruited edge to it to, with a silkiness to the body and a dry, almost bittersweet chicory note in the finish. Spicy and long. 90/100. £10.99.

Montes Alpha 'M' 2006
Santa Cruz/Alpha. Bordeaux blend, 80% CS, 10%CF, 5% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot. Eighteen months in new French oak. Lovely big, creamy black fruit nose, with a voluptuous richness. Lovely oak, very fragrant and incense-like. Big, spicy, blood-tinged black fruit palate with lots of orangy acidity. Terrific, creamy finish. 92/100. £35-£40, top Waitrose and independents.

Montes Folly 2006
100% Syrah from the heart-shaped vineyard immediately behind the winery. Very silky and smooth, with blackberry silkiness and a real dark chocolate richness. The palate has great focus: it is concentrated and spicy, with a plushness and depth, little tobacco notes and a touch of savoury, briary, olive and undergrowth. Lovely acidity here too, the wine very harmonious. 93/100. £35-£40 independent merchants

Purple Angel 2006
92% Carmenère, 8% Petit Verdot from Apalta and Marchigue. Quite toasty and charry at first, with a cedar and pencil-shaving finesse. No green here, just a sage-like herbal note. The palate has lots of fruit sweetness. It is a little less dense than the M or Folly, but it has a lovely refined black fruit and a fine black cherry fruity edge. Fresh and lovely to drink. 92/100. £25, Harrods and independents.

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