Wine Legend: Montes, Alpha M, 1999, Apalta, Colchagua Valley, Chile
Bottles produced 25,900
Composition 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 5% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot
Release price £40
Price today £75 approx
A legend because…
It was Aurelio Montes who suspected that the Apalta hillsides had extraordinary potential for exceptional wines. He bought and planted the site in 1989, intending that the area would be the source for his top range. He reduced the yields to levels unheard of in Chile at that time, and gradually launched a range of varietal wines including a Chardonnay, a Syrah and a Cabernet Sauvignon. These made a strong impact on the international market, so Aurelio decided to create an even more special cuvée, which was named Alpha M after his business partner, the late Douglas Murray.
Aurelio worked at a number of Chilean wineries before setting up his own company, Montes, and producing his first vintage in 1987. He was keen to show that Chile could produce not only good value, sound varietal wines but also wines of the highest quality – and he realised that this would require the right site, and the right winemaking and marketing strategies. The outcome was Alpha M. Its first vintage was 1996, but fewer than 10,000 bottles were released.
Outstanding in Chile, being warm and dry until harvest, which took place under ideal conditions. Although there was some regional variation in ripeness and quality, many argue that for Cabernet Sauvignon the 1999 vintage has never been surpassed.
Apalta is a small, bowl-shaped region within Colchagua Valley, with a southern exposure. Aurelio has written: ‘Some would consider this to be a negative factor, because in Chile a northern exposure is usually preferable. However, the fact that a harsher sun does not hit the vines all day long causes the grapes to ripen more slowly.’ Mountains and the nearby Tinguiririca river also have a moderating influence. The high-density vineyards for Alpha M are steep, especially at the top of the slopes, and cool winds at night reduce the average temperature.
After harvest, the grapes were destemmed and given a cold soak. Once the alcoholic fermentation was completed, a post-fermentation maceration was encouraged to add body and structure. The wine was then aged for 18 months in new barriques.
In 2002, James Molesworth noted in Wine Spectator: ‘Racy, pure red, with cassis, suave smoke, mineral and bittersweet chocolate notes, this glides along to an impressively lengthy and stylish finish. Should strut its stuff for some time to come. Clearly part of Chile’s elite right now.’
Just over a decade later, in 2013, Jancis Robinson MW recorded: ‘Dark with a ruby rim. Still very concentrated. Tea-leaf flavours and really concentrated…Lovely freshness.’
John Stimpfig reviewed the wine in Decanter in 2017: ‘A really impressive and very drinkable wine, which is in its pomp right now… There’s a real sheen to this generous but not overdone blend, which has a muscular frame but supremely soft and succulent tannins… The wine is mature with sous-bois notes, coffee, leather and tobacco spice. But there’s also plenty of primary fruit coming through, making this a generous, voluminous wine to enjoy and savour over the next five years.’ Decanter Premium members can read the note in full here.