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stirring the lees with james molesworth

A Sit Down With Aurelio Montes

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Dec 5, 2006 9:34am ET

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.”

Paul Anderson
Longview, TX —  December 5, 2006 7:20pm ET
One major enjoyment I get from Chile are their Carmenere and Merlot wines - actually I think I was enjoying Carmenere when I was drinking whatt I thought was Merlot before that mystery was solved. I just thought Chile offered a very different and enjoyable style of Merlot. Now we hear that Syrah is setting up to overtake Carmenere. As much as I also enjoy Syrah, I sure hope it does not spell the decline of Carmenere. I know it has not caught on strongly here in the USA but some of us do like it.
Kirk R Grant
Ellsworth, ME —  December 5, 2006 7:54pm ET
Great story...it's always nice to hear about(and if you can swing it...experience) vertical tastings. I cracked a 2001 Alpha M about two months ago with an old friend from highschool. It was so seductive and beautiful that the following two wines couldn't hold a candle to it. However recently I have been faced with a dilema. I thought that you might have some insight to after reading some of your past blogs. I have reached a point where I simply can not afford to buy any more wine right now. I am a full time college student working my way to my Masters; I have also spent the better part of the past two years on a buying and tasting frenzy. I went out to Oregon promising myself to only bring 2 bottles home a day...and returned with 19 bottles from 12 of the 15 wineries I visited. Another down fall is the NH wine store. They have unbeatable deals...that I just can't pass up. A 2003 Oreno at $70 or my most recent purchase the 2001 Marchesi di Barolo for $28. Do you have any recommendations on how to slow down? Last year I mannaged to taste over 4,000 wines thanks to a part time job at a wine store. However while in school I am falling into the trap that I am spending a majority of my money paying off past wine purchases that I just couldn't turn down. I know this was way off the topic...however you seem to be the one senior editor closest in age and hopefully you've been where I am now and might have some insight on some ideas to help...thanks for your time.
James Molesworth
December 6, 2006 8:17am ET
Paul: I don't think Carmenere will decline - there's a lot planted and Chile has invested a lot in finding a grape that sets the country apart from other wine regions. But I don't think it's capable of being a stand-alone variety. In blends with Cabernet though, it can be excellent.

Kirk: Advice on how to slow down your wine buying? You could try getting married and having kids...but other than that, the wine bug is a permanent affliction...!
Ian Tarrant
Ontario, Canada —  December 7, 2006 12:31am ET
James, thank you for your insightful comments around Chilean Syrah - I've had a few really good examples, and do believe that Chilean wines are getting stronger and stronger (in Ontario, we are fortunate to have a fairly wide selection from time to time).I have to admit, that I'm also a Carmenere fan, specifically enjoying many of the single varietals that have come out over the past few year. Mostly good QPR-types, Santa Rita, Santa Carolina, Perez Cruz, etc.You seem to feel that it's future revolves around blending only. My question is what wine makers in Chile have made the most of this varietal as a blend?
James Molesworth
December 7, 2006 4:06pm ET
Ian: Not blending 'only' - but blending primarily, yes.

In blends, Carmenere is an important part of the new wine from Vina Neyen de Apalta, Alvaro Espinoza's Antiyal, Montes' Cab-Carmenere blend, Vina Santa Ema's Rivalta, Veramonte's Primus and numerous others...

For the successful stand alone bottlings, look for Apaltagua's Grial, Concha y Toro's Terrunyo and new Carmin de Peumo and Montes' Purple Angel, among others.

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