Chilean icon comes to town

Alpha's Aurelio Montes visits Dublin and offers a selection of fine Chilean wine for guests' delectation at a Barry & Fitzwilliam wine tasting

Importers Barry & Fitzwilliam were hosts when Chilean wine icon, Aurelio Montes, visited Dublin recently. The company recently secured the agency for Montes and, says MD Michael Barry, they see it as covetable addition to their portfolio. Retailers will also be seeing a price reduction for the label. “When we took over Alpha it had an RRP of around €20-21 but now we’re putting it out at around €15-16; that’s the kind of reduction the trade needs in order to sell.”

Asked about the rising alcohol levels in some top Chileans such as Alpha, Barry is unmoved: “I’ve heard that some agencies in the UK are putting pressure on producers to reduce alcohol but I feel that wines have to have balance and for some wines in warm climates higher alcohol may come with that.”

Aurelio Montes agrees: “We certainly listen to the market – for example, many of our wines have less oak than they used to. But everything has a price and in our climate we have a lot of natural sugar and high alcohol comes with proper ripeness and fruit character.”

Montes had a long track record in the wine industry before he founded his own estate 22 years ago. By 1995 he had already been voted Chile’s winemaker of the year and had worked with Underraga and San Pedro, later acting as consultant to Lapostelle, Santa Ines and Echeverria. When he entered the wine business there was a lot of poor quality wine in Chile and he was one of those who succeeded in changing that culture, not just at estates where he worked, but throughout the industry. The confusion between merlot and carmenere was also sorted out during this time and the sad truth was revealed that a lot of sites in Chile didn’t really suit merlot.

Though Alpha is the label for which Montes is best known, he has always focused strongly on sound entry point wines for export markets – which take up around 95% of his total production. Tasting kicked off with Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (€10); with its well defined gooseberry and apple aromas and flavours, it poses stiff competition for some New Zealand sauvignons at around €5 more. Reserve Merlot 2008 sells for around €10.50 and has warm, cherry pie flavours perfect for a winter’s evening.

Montes Alpha Syrah 2006 had smooth plummy aromas and tasty red fruit. Alpha Chardonnay is an old favourite; the 2008 offered a pleasing integration of citrus and light toast flavours, finishing with an intriguing nutty streak. Alpha Cabernet 2007 was just a little warm, with smooth blackcurrant and plum but perhaps a softer structure than usual. It may not develop as well as some vintages but at €15-16 you’re not really looking for something to lay down and it’s very enjoyable now. Montes’ top bottling is Purple Angel 2006 (€50), a 93% carmenere with a very eye catching label. Inside are floral aromas and a hint of leafiness which goes on to the palate of fresh blackcurrant and plum. With that lively label, it would make a perfect Christmas gift wine.

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