Montes Alpha: Where Angels Decend
“He who knows how to taste does not drink, wine, he savours its secrets,” Salvador Dali
The primary reason they (and other importers) don't have the market presence of domestic wines [mostly California] is that they don't pay [oh I mean incentivize] distributors enough to have the same facings on the shelves or the case stacks in chain stores. Also, there's a considerable domestic wine lobby here in the states to keep imports throttled down and underrepresented. That said, of course, you can purchase Montes wines and other imports online and in a variety of 'off-premise' wine shops and stores who cater to this niche of the market. But if you enter any 'chain' stores [read that grocery store] wine aisle; you'll find it littered with dozens of facings of domestic wines, while competitive imports like Montes Alpha and others relegated to increasingly smaller import sections; with the possible exception of the new dry rose section which has blossomed in the last few years, bristling with the salmon-colored wines of Provence.
Thanks in part to my efforts while the Wine Steward of a cutting-edge wine department for La Jolla San Diego Vons. It was because of those efforts, my "It's Rose Season" campaign took off, like wildfire. The rose program I started in my store became the model in all the top producing Vons stores. Take a look at any grocery wine store aisle today, everyone domestically jumped on the Rose bandwagon, to say I was ahead of the curve is a mild understatement. Please forgive that brief detour. Now that said, regarding this tasting for which you see the notes and my analysis below, was conducted more a few years ago, but as with many good stories, it's worth being retold. While many of these vintages may no longer be available, consistency is a hallmark of Montes Alpha, I'm sure you find similar qualities in their current releases.
"Considered one of the ablest practitioners in the cellar, winemaker Aurelio Montes has always maintained that '80% of good wine comes from the vineyards and only 20% from the cellar."
The Napa Connection: Montes Alpha Wines who, as many of you know has been producing wines of distinction from Chile for many years now, has branched out and has established a few new labels. One is in Napa, with grapes sourced from Coombsville, Yountville, Oak Knoll and the very well known Oakville area. Their label for this project is in keeping with their "Angel" theme calling it Napa Angel and Napa Angel Aurelio's Selection which represent their 2006 release. These wines were produced at the Artesa Winery in Carneros, with the help of a consultant a Mr. Larry Levin, who was formerly the winemaker of Franciscan Vineyards. Many folks wonder why with all the success in Chile, why would they want to come to Napa to make wine? Good question, Aurelio Montes Sr (Chief Wine Maker) explained their reasoning this way," to create our own Napa wine has been a long cherished dream as Napa Valley is the wine jewel of the New World's Northern Hemisphere." Aurelio Sr also describes Napa this way, "it's one of the cathedrals of winemaking" alongside the likes of Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Piedmont. Those are both insightful quotes representing his profound respect for other winemaking regions in the world and one I can fully appreciate.
The 2006 Napa Angel Aurelio's Selection: This wine represents their premium label and is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon with the fruit sourced from Oak Knoll and Yountville and retailing in the neighborhood of $90 with Michelangelo-like art on their label. Micro Review: I found this wine to be a deep dark well of ruby color, well structured, opulent mouthfeel and layered with rich red berry fruits and a hint of smoked tobacco, leading to a long plush finish. I would recommend some more to time in the bottle, for a further benefit. The total case production of this wine is just a little over 4000 cases. This wine is not your everyday drinker but could be purchased for special occasions or as a gift to good friends or long-established clients.
The 2006 Napa Angel: This wine represents a more immediately approachable wine and is 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the fruit sourced from Coombsville and Oaknoll in Napa. The other 10% is Syrah from the Knights Valley in Sonoma. Retailing in the neighborhood of $50, featuring a playful Cherubic face with wings. Micro Review: This wine also had a very deep dark ruby colored core, in the mouth layers of ripe red plums and cherry's, broad shoulder in structure, with subtle notes of cedar and roasted vanilla notes mingling ever so nicely on the long smooth finish. This wine is one of stunning substance would be a lovely weekend wine that you open when you have friends over or just want to celebrate the end of a long week, with something from the BBQ. No need to rush out and find this wine with over 8000 cases made; but don't doddle a wine of this caliber won't last forever, so do yourself a favor and grab a few soon.
The Argentinian Connection: So what led Montes to Argentina? Could it be the search for new and improved excellent terroir sites outside the borders of Chile? Perhaps it's the allure of the rising tide of Argentinian Malbec in the US, as reported by The Wine Economist? Which stated, "In the same issue the results of the Nielsen company wine market survey for the period ending 2/7/2009 are reported and goes on further to report that "Argentinian table wine imports were up 40% by dollar value for the most recent year." This compares to a 10 percent increase for Chile, one percent for Italy and a one percent decline for Australia in US markets. That said, and I sure some of both were a factor in the decision making, Montes is committed to "preserving the true intent and expression of the terroir and climate" of Argentinian wines. Montes is producing three labels from Mendoza which are the Reserve Malbec and Ultra Malbec and a Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines reviewed for the webinar I participated in, are the 2007 Kaiken Reserve Malbec and the 2007 Kaiken Ultra Malbec.
The 2007 Kaiken Ultra Malbec: This wine represents the 20 plus-year-old vines from the Uco Valley, just outside the city of Mendoza. Micro Review: In the glass, there are lots of color - dark inky hues of purple dominate, then give way to shades of violet on the rim. The nose has a roasted, espresso and caramel aromas mingled with bright, fresh floral notes and ripe berry fruit. The 2007 Kaiken is a full-bodied Malbec just bursting with red and black fruit flavors, predominately cherry and blackberry, from the first splash to hit the palate to the well-honed finish it is just incredible. The flavor profile is full of fruit-dark berries and plums softly restrained with delicate tannins and enveloped in spicy cloves. This Malbec lovely and is perfect for year-round consumption and can be found just under $20 most places which makes this wine easy on the wallet as well. Your food pairing options are endless, as this wine offers many things to many people.
The 2007 Kaiken Reserve Malbec: This wine represents what I would call a QPR winner! It's a blend of 90% Malbec and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes were sourced from 15-year-old vines in the first zone just outside Mendoza. Micro Review: In the glass, you find a deep violet color, warm oak nuances, and spice in the nose, with notes of ripe red fruit. In the mouth, it displays a dazzling attack of fleshy tannins; while at the same time it's silky mouthfeel, followed by a long caressing finish. Overall impression this wine represents a harmonious connection with the wood, which makes this wine an excellent example of the Mendoza terroir. Kaiken Malbec - KAIKEN WINES can be purchased [depending on distribution] at a variety of local retailers, and this wine sells in what I call the bargain range, coming in around 10-14 dollars depending on where you shop; this is a bottle of wine to purchase by the case.
The Re-Discovery of Carménère: Often referred to as the long-lost grape, carmenère had all but disappeared from its original Bordeaux home in the late 1800s during the rise of phylloxera. In fact, it took another century after it was initially imported from Bordeaux before carmenère was rediscovered flourishing, albeit covertly, in Chile. It wasn’t until 1994 that French professor of Oenology Jean-Michel Boursiquot determined that some of the Merlot growing in Chile wasn’t Merlot at all but rather the long-thought-gone Carmenere. Four years later, the Chilean government officially recognized Carmenere as a separate distinct varietal and it’s been thriving ever since.
Carménère, it used to be big, huge in fact, one of the six “noble” red grapes allowed in Bordeaux wines, which was no small feat. Perhaps, Carmenere wasn’t quite as big as I've eluded to, it rarely if at all commanded its own 100% varietal wines while it was in Bordeaux yet, but it did hobnob with other famous, well-known grapes. Many of which you'd immediately recognize, like, Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot, and it cozied up to Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon similar to what peanut butter did to jelly. But still despite its power, and deep color, it was nothing more than a blending grape that lost favor in its home country of France.
Still, with its recent rediscovery, Carmenere has enjoyed quite a renaissance in Chile. Despite the fact that Cabernet is the most widely-planted grape in the country, Chile has become synonymous with Carmenere, as it is the only country that grows the grape in any volume of note, although you will find it other places, but not in significant quantities. Which brings us to the third part of this "live" online tasting which included the 2006 Montes Purple Angel and the 2007 Montes Alpha Carménère, which is the first time and I had the great pleasure to be reviewing these two wines side by side.
Montes Purple Angel 2006: This wine is composed of 92% Carménère and 8% Petite Verdot from the Colchagua Valley. Half of the Carménère fruit and all the Petite Verdot was sourced from the La Finca De Apalta Estate, while the other half of the Carménère comes from the Montes Archangel Estate in Marchigue. After aging in new French Oak barrels for 18 months, it was bottled and laid down a year before release.
Micro Review: In the glass, it's dark as night in the bottle (the bottle itself weighs at least 2lbs) and glass, darting to a violet colored rim. In the nose you find, red currants and big hairy red raspberries with expressive notes of Creme de Cassis in there as well mingling with scents of bittersweet chocolate. After the first sip, black currants, blackberries and pomegranate pulse upon the palate. The dark fruits dissolve and then evolve upon your palate into even darker flavors as the wine sits in your mouth: more semi-sweet chocolate, tobacco, fennel. The richness of Carmenere won’t and can't be denied, although there will be one notable thing missing from the profile, tannins. That’s the beauty of a well made Carmenere: you never know what you’re going to get, but you’re going to want to come back for more and more again and again. With a 59 dollar price tag, it's an indulgence for many, while not often experienced, it should not be ruled out!
Micro Review: In the glass, this wine had a vibrant ruby core, nearly opaque and a violet colored rim. In the nose, you could almost feel the blackberries and spice notes tickling your nose, while on the palate, well-integrated tannins, truffles, red fruit and tobacco skating upon a very soft and smooth finish. This example of Carménère is a winner and one to stock up on for sure, if you have never had one of this wines, do yourself a favor and get on down to your favorite wine shop and confidently ask for a Carménère, you may just get a blank stare; until next time cheers everyone!