Yesterday, I sat down with Aurelio Montes, owner and winemaker of Chile's Viña Montes. I was tempted by the opportunity to taste a complete vertical of his top two wines—Folly, a 100 percent Syrah, and Alpha M, a Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend.
“I almost never do verticals,” said Montes, when I asked him about the last time he tasted a full set of the two cuvées. “It’s too expensive,” he added with a laugh.
The Alpha M vertical was shot for our ongoing video series, so keep an eye out for that in the future. I’ll focus on the Folly vertical here.
2000 was the first vintage for this ultrapremium Syrah, which raised a few eyebrows when it debuted at $70 a few years ago. It’s sourced from vines planted in 1996, with subsequent plantings in ’97 and ’98, on very steep slopes of decomposed granite soils (hence the "folly" of planting in such a tough spot).
It’s a big, powerful wine, thanks in part to its 18 months of aging in 100 percent new French oak. Montes also bleeds off 10 to 20 percent of the juice from the vats in order to increase the concentration in the wine.
I found the wine consistent with their official reviews on release, save for the 2000, which has matured and softened now. The most interesting aspect of seeing them all together was their consistent profile—big and rich, with lots of blue and black fruits and good minerality. Plus the toast, which I sometimes find a bit heavy on the wine, integrates well—the 2003 in particular was really singing.
Montes noted that since the ‘02 and '03 vintages, as more vineyard blocks have matured, he’s been able to increase production without sacrificing quality. That’s due in part to the blocks with clones 174 and 300 coming on line—these clones are known for their smaller, more concentrated berries, and Montes is very happy with their quality, as opposed to the more common 99 and 100 clones.
I also got a sneak peek at the ’04 Folly, which has just been released. Though it’s not as the big as the ’03 (which is a terrific vintage in Chile), it's very harmonious already, with a huge core of fruit surrounded by creamy mocha, spice and mineral notes.
Syrah is hot in Chile: There are now over 12,000 acres of it compared to almost nothing a decade ago. Though the total sampling of Chilean Syrah remains small, early returns indicate it could be the grape for Chilean vintners to focus on as a stand-alone variety, as opposed to Carmenère, which I feel is best suited to blends (though there are a few exceptions).
“I am so happy with Syrah in Chile,” said Montes. “I think it is improving so fast, it will pass Carmenère.”