Aurelio Montes masterclass

By Guy Woodward Aurelio Montes is recognised as a pioneer in his native Chile, but his entertaining turn in the New World Discovery Theatre saw him introduce readers to his newer ventures in Argentina and California.

The cavalier Montes’ original work in Chile was all about challenging preconceived ideas. ‘When we started, we had big problems,’ he told readers. ‘The vineyards were all family estates, and in 1988 in Apalta (in Colchagua), every variety was planted together, along with carrots, watermelons… we had to work out where to plant what.’

Montes was among the first to realise that aspect was key. ‘On the slopes, I play the music and the plant dances. On the valley floor, the plant plays the music and I dance. And it’s very hot.’

Montes spoke passionately of his belief in Carmenere, which he feels, ‘in the long term will be the flagship of Chile – it’s just so unique’. Yes he also spoke of his ‘shame’ that Chile’s winemakers for so long mistook the variety for Merlot, and, as a consequence, even when they realised their error, ‘didn’t know what to do with it’. ‘It’s a tricky variety to produce, we got it wrong, and we didn’t show the best of it to the world.’

Montes described Argentina as ‘the absolute opposite of Chile’, both in terms of character and climate. ‘We were hooked by the risk,’ he said, referencing the extremes of climate seen in hail the size of golf balls. ‘There’s only two options to combat hail,’ said Montes. ‘Netting and praying.’ Malbec was also a draw, with Montes of the opinion that the world wasn’t harnessing its full potential. ‘In Cahors they didn’t make good wine until 10 years ago. I thought we could go to Argentina and make a good one.’

Moving into Napa was ‘a personal challenge… to beat the Mondavis, the Ford Coppolas’. But Montes recognised the difficulty in being creative in Napa – ‘it’s been there for 50 years, producing great wine’. The increasingly hot climat is a cause for concern and Montes has plans for a Paso Robles wine in 2010, and is also exploring Coomsville, near San Pablo Bay, ‘Napa’s cold spot’.

And his next project? Portugal. ‘You’ll have to come back in five years to taste those wines though,’ he added.

Quote of the class: ‘My favourite wine would have the flavour profile of Chile and the tannic structure of Argentina.’

Reader quote: ‘What a great 45 minutes. I couldn’t get over how funny he was.’ Val Parkinson, Surrey.

Tasting notes

Montes Alpha Carmenere 2007

Lifted, fresh, menthol nose of spicy brambley fruit; full, ripe warm palate of chocolatey blackberry, though not overpowering. Angular tannins, tight. Black forest gateaux. Montes himself felt this was a wine ‘for the fireplace and candles, with a girl in a long dress’.

Montes Purple Angel 2005

92% Carmenere, 8% Petit Verdot.

Bigger dimension and structure. Altogether rounder and riper, notably on the nose. Smokey, warm forest fruit on the palate, more complex than the Alpha. Round but tightly woven layers.

Kaiken Reserve Malbec 2007

Named after the wild Patagonian bird that flies over the Andes from Chile to Argentina, and made in Mendoza’s cooler Uco Valley, at 750m altitude. Fairly simple but rich, chocolatey nose, with fresh, vibrant menthol touch. Fresh black cherry fruit, not overly dense. Perfect for a barbeque this summer.

Kaiken Ultra Malbec 2007

From 1,400m in Uco, this has an added sensuality and freshness. Spicy, smoky tobacco nose; pure blackcurrant on the palate. Long but not warm finish. Favoured by the audience over the Kaiken Reserve by quite a distance. Montes envisaged this at the fireplace, with the girl, but ‘no dress’.

Napa Angel 2006

Predominately Cabernet Sauvignon, with a small percentage of Syrah from Knights Valley. Fairly fresh, particularly by Napa standards, and with some austerity. Approachable, juicy blackcurrant jam, quite firm tannins. Montes says he’s aiming to marry ‘our own style and subtlety’ with ‘the character of the region – you can’t get away from that’.

Napa Angel Aurelio’s Selection 2006

Still a work in progress – both this vintage and the wine in general. From 15-year-old vines, the nose shows a hint of herbaceous hedgerow, while the palate is a touch closed for now, with tough tannins. Need to wait a few years for this one.

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