Winemaking began in Chile when the Spanish Conquistadors arrived, fresh from taming Bolivia. Catholic missionaries followed the conquering soldiers, bringing vines from Peru.
Legends say the first vineyards in Chile were established by Francisco de Aguirre Copiapó in northern Chile. Diego Garcia de Caceres first planted vines in 1554 in Santiago. Grapes from the Santiago area – likely the rustic Pais or Criolla Grande – were used to make sacramental wine, according to records dating back to 1555.
Those rough and ready wines would have had little appeal to today’s wine lovers. Thin and tart, pale brown, likely oxidized and sweetened, Chile’s earliest wines had little in common with the high quality wines we have learned to expect from Chile.
Fast forward almost 500 years to Vina Montes’ everyday dry, red Montes Classic Series Cabernet Sauvignon (464479) $15.85, a blend of 85 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and 15 per cent Merlot aged for six months in new and used French oak. An amazing value, built on a base of restrained blackcurrant fruit, it is softly pepper spiced, with underlying notes of vanilla, caramel and mint.
Long before the conquering scourge of the devastating root louse Phylloxera destroyed the vineyards of Europe in the late 1850s, wealthy Chilean landowners had imported their favourite vines from France. Today, Chile’s winemakers are believed to have the widest range of ‘original’ pre-Phylloxera vines.
Through the turbulence of the early 20th century Chile’s wine industry serviced domestic needs in relative isolation from the rest of the world. Political instability, bureaucracy and high taxes hampered the wine industry. Before 1980, most Chilean wines were considered low quality and mostly consumed domestically.
In 1987 Aurelio Montes, Douglas Murray, Alfredo Vidaurre and Pedro Grand got together and set their hearts on creating the finest wines that South America had ever seen. The four friends knew the potential for quality wines in Chile was waiting to be harvested, and so Viña Montes was born.
Even at the premium level, among similar wines from other Chiean producers, Montes Alpha Chardonnay (390203) $26.30 is a fascinating white wine with a medley of mango, peaches, guava and grapefruit aromas and flavours tantalizing the taste buds over a core of fresh sliced lemons and asparagus. Ten months in French oak adds subtle elements of toast, vanilla, butterscotch and caramel.
Winemaker Aurelio Montes del Campo was born in Santiago, Chile. Early in his career Aurelio traveled to the world’s major wine regions to gain experience of different viticultural and enological practices – Australian wineries Rosemount and Cape Mentelle and Franciscan Estate in California’s Napa Valley. He returned to Chile in 2001 and worked as an assistant winemaker at Viña Ventisquero under the supervision of Felipe Tosso.
Aged for 12 months in fine-grained Alliers oak barrels from France, Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon (322586) $26.30 is a blend of 90 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and 10 per cent Merlot exuding aromas of red fruit – strawberries and ripe cherries. Classic blackcurrant, ripe plum flavours finish with toast, caramel, cedar, mint, coffee, fresh-cut tobacco, and creamy vanilla.
Like its Cabernet Sauvignon cousin, Montes Alpha Syrah (603548) $27.20 comes from the renowned Apalta sub-region in Colchagua and is blended with 7 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and 3 per cent Viognier. Aromas of ripe red and black berries, plum jam and leather, smoke, and ham, as well as chocolate and mocha from the French oak, and a light floral touch from the small amount of Viognier.
Interviewed recently by Christopher Barnes for ‘The Grape Collective’ magazine, Aurelio Montes captured some of the elements of Viña Montes’ success, “The key thing that we did was innovation …We brought clones from France to refresh our viticulture,” Montes continued. “The story of Chile as a viticultural paradise is that for the past 150 years we have been reproducing the same cuttings from the vines over and over. There were some endemic viruses and diseases that were already in the plant. I thought, “Okay. Let’s get rid of these and let’s bring a fresh new concept of viticulture.”
Join your WineWise guy at The Riptide, Saturday August 22 at 6:30pm for an exploration of Pinot Noir and food pairings. Reservations are required. Tickets are $40 and may still be available from MetroLiquor’s Discovery Harbour store. Reach WineWise by emailing email@example.com