WHAT: The extended drought in California and other parts of the world has some wine drinkers worried about what might happen to their favorite wines. But in some cases the drought has had a positive effect.
Because of rising temperatures and a desire for sustainability, Montes Alpha has been working on a dry framing program for some of their grapes for several years. They introduced a line of dry farmed wines beginning with the 2012 vintage, which has just been released.
The results are encouraging. I tasted a cabernet sauvignon, a carmenere and a syrah, and all were great. I thought the syrah was the best.
It is a gorgeous inky purple in the glass with aromas of blackberries and blueberries, with some floral and leather notes. It is a strong, full-bodied wine, with dark berry fruit flavors. The tannins are smooth, and the finish is long, with hints of jam, vanilla and black pepper. It is a rustic, yet elegant, wine.
The grapes all come from prime vineyards in the Colchagua Valley. Montes was the first to plant syrah grapes there, a gamble that paid off, though the yield is low.
The wine is 90 percent syrah, with seven percent cabernet sauvignon for structure and three percent Viognier for aromatics.
The dry farming was started as part of the effort to put less strain on the environment, but it has had other benefits.
Dry farming means the winery does not water the vineyards unless rainfall goes below a certain minimum needed to keep the vines alive. Even then it uses rainwater it has captured in reservoirs.
Winemaker Aurelio Montes Sr. said the effort saves 65 percent of water consumption, or enough to provide water to 20,000 people. One problem is the yield goes down by several tons per acre. But the quality goes up.
“You sacrifice a lot in terms of yields,” Montes said in an Internet chat from Chile last week. “It would be a good practice if more winemakers learned to irrigate less.
“We get more ripe fruit and more weight in the mouth … with a higher concentration of phenols, allowing it to better undergo natural oxidation in the barrel, and picking up more complexity and nuances.”
I asked him if he worried about getting too much rain, but he said that wasn’t a problem because the vineyards have been in “a drought period for nine years, so the quality has been perfect.”
The syrah is an incredible wine, but I thought the carmenere and cabernet sauvignon I tasted also were very good. All are in the same price range.
So far, about 620 acres are dry farmed, but Montes said they will continue to add more. Merlot and malbec are included with Carignan scheduled to be added. Montes said they are looking at trying a muscat in the dry farming experiment, either a dry or a sweet.
He said Rhone varietals such as syrah are better suited to dry farming than Bordeaux varietals such as cabernet sauvignon, but he does see a beneficial effect on the Cab.
Montes says his winemaking philosophy is “intervene as little as possible, sustainability, let the terroir express itself and, of course, quality.”
The Colchagua Valley is only 11 miles from the Pacific Ocean, in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. The cold climate allows the grapes to ripen slowly and reach full maturation.
WINERY: Montes began operations in 1987 in Curicó, originally under the name ‘Discover Wine’. The name was later changed to Montes, taking the name of the winemaker.
The founders were Pedro Grand, Alfredo Vidaurre, Douglas Murray and winemaker Aurelio Montes. While the reputation of Aurelio Montes as a winemaker, leader and innovator grew, Douglas Murray created a seamless web of worldwide distribution. A tireless traveler, he promoted the image of Chile and its wines while building trust and friendships that blossomed over the years.
The owners believed they were protected by angels, especially after Murray survived two near-fatal car accidents. The angel appears on the labels, and Montes says it now “symbolizes protection for us all.”
The winery has grown and now occupies a modern facility in Apalta. Only Montes remains with the company, but it has become a leader in fine wine production in Chile. The winery has remained 100 percent Chilean owned, with no foreign partners.
The 1987 Cabernet Sauvignon from Montes was the first premium wine exported from Chile, and it was a hit.
Today, more than 90 percent of Montes wines are intended for export and are distributed in more than 100 countries on five continents. The winery continues to create interesting wines, taking risks with new horizons and projects that will undoubtedly continue to surprise and delight wine lovers around the world.
It produces several levels of wine, including Purple Angel, Montes Alpha M, Montes Alpha, Montes Folly, Montes Cherub and the Classic series. In the Montes Alpha series they produce cabernet sauvignon, carmenere, chardonnay, merlot, pinot noir and syrah. Their spring harvest sauvignon blanc should be in the United States soon.
GOES WITH: We had this wine with turkey vegetable soup served over noodles. That might not be a typical pairing for this hearty wine, but my wife, Teri, and I thought it was a great combination.
The turkey and the syrah flavors complement each other instead of clashing. And the turkey is heavy enough to stand up to the rich syrah. I really liked the way the fruit flavors in the wine mixed with the turkey and vegetable flavors.
The Montes Alpha Syrah also would be a good match for lamb, burgers on the grill or pizza.