Montes Wines of Colchagua Valley in Chile moved from Findlater Wine & Spirits to Barry & Fitzwilliam last June and great things are hexpected from this, the fourth largest Chilean wine brand in the world. Montes has now made its presence felt in some 110 countries and the winery does not confine its activities to Chile but also has vineyards in the US (in the Napa Valley and Paso Robles). Its Argentinian label can boast to being the 20th-largest exporter in Argentina.
To help celebrate its arrival at B&F’s stores, the co-founder of Montes and former Chilean Winemaker of the Year Aurelio Montes hosted a lunch and tasting in Dublin’s Dylan Hotel recently.
On the go for over 20 years now, Montes’ unusual formative approach to the wine market and the business of growing and selling wine now forms part of some texbook case studies at Harvard Business School.
“First we bought the grapes then we hired a winery,” recalls Aurelio, who’d spent many years in many wineries, learing the skills, “After this we bought the land for building a winery and then – we built one.”
But the company didn’t finish with simply buying the land to build on.
In the process of building it, Montes brought in the services of a Feng Shui expert to ensure that everything was environmentally up to scratch, right down to ensuring that the sound of running water could be heard throughout the complex, thus ensuring a sense of calm (for both people and grapes).
The gravity-fed tanking system (which includes one tank below ground level on a see-saw device to raise it back to the top tank if necessary) avoids the need for pumps, thus comprising another environmental Arelio-developed aspect to the winemaking process at Montes.
The wines now available include: Biggest-selling Montes Classic Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (100 per cent Sauvignon Blanc) which goes “nowhere near oak” and which has an RRP here of €10.99.
At 14 per cent ABV The Alpha Chardonnay 2008 is high in alcohol and at €15.99 represents “the best price/quality ratio in Ireland” commented an impartial Michael Barry.
Montes Classic Reserva Merlot 2008 is kept in barrel for two winters before being released. It retails here at €11.99.
At the tasting, Aurelio responded to criticism that Chilean wines have but a poor reputation for Merlot by insisting that it was more a question of “finding the right spot” in which to grow the grapes.
“Merlot figures are pushing up again in many export countries,” he said by way of vindication.
And in response to questions about the relatively high ABV of Montes wines Aurelio was pithy, even candid: “As a winemaker, the price one has to pay for low alcohol wine is too high”.
Having an ABV of 14.5 per cent, The Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 comes high in tannins and can confidently be laid down for 10 to 15 years, believes Aurelio.
“We’re 64 per cent self-sufficient in terms of grape needs for this wine and we’ve lots of control on the other 35 per cent as we’ve selected this from some very good parcels of Cab Sauv land,” he commented.
The Montes Alpha Syrah 2006 retails at €15.99 and the grapes responsible for this are adapting well to the Chilean slopes, considering that the Syrah grape was unknown in Chile before 1995.
Top of the range here, the Montes Alpha ‘M’ 2005 retails at around €50 per bottle.
Having a naturally low yield, this 80 per cent Cab Sauv, 10 per cent Cav Franc and five per cent Petit Verdot blend spends 10 months in oak before being transferred to the bottle where it will spend the year before release.
The final wine, the Montes Purple Angel 2006, is highly unusual comprising 92 per cent Carmenere and seven to eight per cent Petit Verdot.
“It took us 10 years to research the correct spot in which to grow the Carmenere and then we found two different styles being produced,” said Aurelio, “Carmenere tends not to keep, but this wine is holding very well in the mix.”
This purple-tinged wine got its name from the high purple colour evident in the Carmenere grape juice.
And in closing, Aurelio had a handy rule-of-thmb on Chilean vintages: “The odd years seem to enjoy better harvests than the even years in Chile,” he remarked, but in general there was little variation in Chile’s climate which has led to a consistent quality in Chilean wines – unlike Bordeaux, he pointed out archly.