Chile - The secret wine country you need to know about
When you think about Chile, you think of mountains, Easter Island, penguins and somewhere which seems quite isolated. What you do not think of is wine. However, during February, I was lucky enough to try close 100 wines at 4 different wineries and independent tastings. What I found shocked me, a 100 point wine (Clos Apalta 2013), the best Malbec I have ever tasted, Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs that could stand up to any Burgundy grand cru.
After two weeks of discovering this fantastic country, talking to producers, walking vineyards and across the mountains I can happily say that you cannot find anywhere else in the world which produces such a high quality of wine at such a reasonable price. 95% of wines scored over 90 points. Biodynamic practices seem to be standard and as Marcelo(winemaker at Ritual) mention during our tour of the vineyard: "When you look after the land from the start going biodynamic is not really that difficult".
Oak usage is varied throughout Chile with Montes using only new oak in their premium wine, certain wines see up to 24 months of new oak. Compare this to Ritual where very little new oak is used. Both approaches produce some excellent wine, however, I did find the Montes Folly 2014 (92 points), had a little too much time in oak. Comparing this to the Purple Angel 2014 (97 points), which had a perfect balance between fruit and oak flavours.
Montes was my first vineyard and I was lucky to stop there for lunch. This was a fantastic experience where I this fantastic salmon dish with a glass of Montes Alpha Pinot Noir (92 points). A perfect spot prior to trying some phenomenal wines.
Montes winery is based in the Colchagua Valley, Santa Cruz around 2 hours outside of Santiago. Like many other wineries in Chile, Montes focuses on sustainability, and you can feel the pride they take in making their wines sustainable. Montes do not just practice sustainability on their premium brands, but also to a certain extent on their entry level range.
Montes produce a range of wines from Ultra Premium to their entry-level wines. Most of these wines will be found in international outlets and so I will focus on these brands.
Montes classic and limited series - Their base entry range which is still remarkably good for the price. The whites are crisp with good citrus notes, and the reds use limited oaks to elevate the wines and provide excellent quality compared to the price. The grapes are sourced from San Antonio, Colchagua Valley, and Aconcagua Valley. These wines should be consumed upon release. Highlights in this range include the Montes Sauvignon Blanc (89 points) which offers a zesty, citrus, fresh wine, perfect on a summers day.
Montes Alpha series - This range of premium wines offer excellent value for money. These wines are sustainable with both limited irrigation and limited machine operation during harvest time. The grapes are sourced from Colchagua Valley and the Aconcagua Valley. The Malbec (92 points) was the highlight with wonderful notes of black cherry and plum with a velvety chocolate finish. My other highlights from this range included the Pinot Noir (92 points) and the Cabernet Sauvignon (92 Points).
Montes Icon series - There are three wines available internationally. The Montes M which is a red Bordeaux blend (95 points), Montes Folly (92 points), 100% Syrah. Finally, the Purple Angel (96 points) which is a fantastic presentation on the Carménère grape. This is by far the best Carménère I am aware of, it does have an 8% of Petit Verdot, which just helps with the structure of this stunning wine.
Veramonte was our next stop in Chile. Veramonte is located in Casablanca around 3 hours from Santa Cruz towards the coast. The climate was completely different compared to Santa Cruz. It felt as if we were driving around Sonoma, California. Upon arrival, we were met by Marcelo and Maria Angelica who would be hosting us for the next couple of hours. Veramonte owns multiple vineyards across Chile and produces many wines which are available outside of Chile. Veramonte has three collections of wines in their portfolio.
Neyen Collection: A wine with a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Carmenere. These vines are located in Apalta, Colchagua. A limited edition 100% Malbec is also made under the Neyen Collection
Primus: 3 premium wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère, and The Blend, which is a blend! of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Carmenere
Ritual: A collection of wines which come from the cool Casablanca region. Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are all produced to this fantastic climate.
Walking around the vineyard and speaking to Marcelo Jara, one of the winemakers, I really got a sense of love he has for his vines which I have rarely felt outside of France. There is no over farming, no chemicals, no forced irrigation, no cutting corners. They practice dry farming, focus on the grapes in the vineyard, and then allow for a little oak to enhance the wine instead of dominating it. Marcelo spoke to me about the Organic practices which they are very proud of. Unlike other vineyards which have struggled to go through this transition, Marcelo mentioned that for them it was simple. Their growing technics used little to no chemicals on the vines and so going Organic was a simple decision with little drop in quality.
We started with the Ritual collection. The Ritual collection is split between the premium and the ultra-premium (Superblock) wines. These wines were a joy to drink. Highlights included; The Sauvignon Blanc (93 points) was floral and notes of green apple with great acidity. It reminded me of the acidity of New Zealand with the depth of Pessac Leognan. The Ritual Chardonnay Supertuga block (97 points) showed notes of dried apricots, peaches and lemon meringue pie. This wine could stand up to any 1er Cru from the Cote d'Or. The Ritual Pinot Noir Monster Block, dark red cherries, fresh earth, and mushrooms lead to well-balanced acidity and a very long finish. This Pinot had the depth and complexity to stand up to the best Pinots on the planet. Burgundy, look out! Finally, the Ritual Syrah Alcaparral Block (94 points), was spicy with notes of blackberry, liquorice, and pepper. Again, fantastic acidity! The balance and length were near perfect. This is such a solid collection of wines, it is worth going out of your way to get a couple of bottles! The balance of all of these wines was near perfect.
For dinner, we went to the residence of Close Apalta. We had a phenomenal meal and tried some excellent wines including my first 100 point wine of the year; Clos Apalta 2013, we also tried the Close Apalta 2014 (97 points). Both of these wines really express the real potential of Chile and how Carménère, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot can be blended to create a world-class wine.
The Owner believed so much in Close Apalta he sold all of his shares in the famous Grand Marnier, now if that does not show guts I do not know what does. It paid off, and he can now show the world that Chile can make perfect wines. Furthermore, the price is a fraction of what you would pay for a first growth wine in Bordeaux or a Grand Cru in Burgundy.
Clos Apalta makes their flagship Bordeaux blend wine which showcases Carménère as the main grape, however, they also produce a second range of wines named Lapostelle. These wines are certified organic and focus on mainly single grape varieties; Cabernet Sauvignon (91 points)and Sauvignon Blanc(92 points) are the most popular wines. Both wines show both depth and complexity for the price.
Chile was an experience I will never forget. We are always as a community talking about France, Italy, and Spain in the old world. In the new world, we speak of California, Australia, and South Africa. However often we forget a rising star which is not just producing good wines but is producing world-class wine. It is not just one or two producers who are producing this phenomenal wine, however, the whole country is on a mission to produce top quality wine. If I was producing wine in any other country in the world I would be worried. Chile is only going to get better.