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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. 

Points on Wine - Top Chilen Wines 2018

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

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. 

  1. 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.

  2. 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).

  3. 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

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.

  1. 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

  2. Primus: 3 premium wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère, and The Blend, which is a blend! of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Carmenere

  3. 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.

Points on Wine - Top Chilen Wines 2018

Clos Apalta

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.

Bottom line

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. 

Top Chilean wines

Clos Apalta 2013

100 points

First 100 point wine! So perfect. On the nose wonderful notes of black fruits, once the wine hits the palate the magic really starts. Notes of blackberry, dark fruits and fresh earth. Green bell pepper and blueberry pie notes sing! Soft tannins and a length which lasts forever. This organic wine is a blend of 70% Carmenere, 21% Cab Sauvignon, 7% Merlot and 2 % Petit Verdot. What makes this wine 100 points? I spent a good 30 minutes trying to find an aspect which did not work, the length, blend, depth, finish. Nope nothing. Everything was perfect, days later I could still remember the perfect balance and finish of this wine. Wow!

Neyen Malbec Limited Edition 2014

98 Points

Best Malbec I have ever tried, phenomenal wine, waves of chocolate, violet, soft blueberries and blackberries, great acidity amazing length. only 900 bottles made. If you can find it, buy it

Ritual Pinot Noir Monster Block 2014

97 Points

Wow! Burgundy look out! Dark red fruits on the nose with notes of mushrooms, ripe dark red cherries, mushrooms and fresh earth on the palate. Great acidity with a fantastic long elegant finish. This can compete with any pinot on the planet. I loved this pinot, words cannot do this justice.

Clos Apalta 2014

97 Points

A wonderful wine to experience at this young age. More green bell peppers than 2013, less ready to drink with eucalyptus, black and blue fruits and those green peppers. Drinking wonderfully but don't touch this wine for a few more years. This will be a superstar!

Ritual Charonnday Supertuga Block 2015

96 Points

Where did this come from? Burgundy? Sonoma? Nope Chile! Put this in a blind tasting and you will never guess this one. On the nose dried apricots, peaches and citrus on the palate, there is a wonderful stewed apricot and lemon meringue pie, brioche and nutty flavors, crushed stones as well, a long elegant creamy finish which lasts for minutes perfectly balanced. This is aged in 400 l barrels for 14 months. Burgundy killer?

Montes Purple Angel 2015

96 Points

Best Carmenere I have tasted, fact. Blend of 92% Carmenere and 8% PV, this wine was aged in 100% new oak barrels for 18 months. Fantastic color. Notes of raspberry, green pepper, peppercorn, and nutmeg. Perfectly balanced from the second it hits the palate, the depth is perfect and the length is long and goes on for minutes. Really enjoyed this now, however this will only get better over the next 5+ years

Montes Alpha M 2013

95 Points

Blend of 80% Cab Sauvignon, 10% Cab Franc, 5% Merlot and 5% PV, aged in 100% new oak barrels for 24 months. This still smells very closed and took a couple of minutes to start opening up to violets and dark red fruit. On the palate blackberries, blackcurrants, licorice, spice, and peppercorn filled the palate. It was lush, deep and a joy to drink. Still very young but very much enjoyable.

Ritual Syrah Alcaparral Block 2015

94 points

Fantastic cool climate Syrah, blackberry, licorice, all spice, pepper notes. Long finish. Really enjoyable to drink. 14 months in French barrels, 25% new.

Neyen Espiritu de Apalta 2014

94 points

Wonderful blend. The color and the nose is fantastic, deep and intriguing. The Carmenere add a smooth velvety chocolate finish and the Cabernet keeps you coming back for more with the structure and dark red fruits. Long and smooth finish this was fantastic. 12-14 months in French oak, 70% new. Blend of 50% Cab Sauvignon and 50% Carmenere

Laura Hartwig Edicion de Familia

93 points

Blend of Cab Sauvignon, Cab Franc, and Malbec. Nose of violet and black fruit. Palate was stunning with chocolate, mint mocha with a smooth undertone. The finish was of good length as well. Still slightly closed, for now, long decant or wait a couple of years will do the trick. Great find.

Ritual Sauvignon Blanc 2016

93 points

White flowers, blossom on the nose green apple on the palate, great acidity. Fantastic Sauvignon which really shows the true potential of this grape. 30% used oak. Drink now.

Casa Lapostolle Sauvignon Blanc Grand Selection 2016

93 points

White flowers, floral notes, delicate and light as it slides across the palate. Fruit notes of green apple and citrus, however not overpowering, long and excellent finish. Blend of 85% Sauvignon Blanc, 8% Semillon, and 7% Sauvignon Gris.

Veramonte Carmenere Primus 2016

93 points

Beautiful color in the glass, raspberry, plum, pepper, good acidity and length. Drinking well now, but should be kept longer.

Casa Lapostolle Chardonnay Curvee Alexandre Atalayas Vineyard 2016

92 points

 

Bright golden color, citrus, apple and honeysuckle on the nose following to bakes apple and nutmeg on the palate with a medium finish. Medium depth, low acidity. Drink now

Montes Syrah Folly 2014

92 points

This is a 100% Syrah, aged in new French barrels for 24 months. Deep in color with notes of red and black fruit, dried figs, spicy chocolate rolls over the tongue. However, the tannins are pretty high and this is also quite bitter as well. This is still very young and should probably not be touched for another 3-4 years. Need time to settle

Ritual Pinot Noir 2016

92 points

 

Fruit forward pinot, ripe cherry, nice earth notes due to the 30% whole cluster fermentation. 20% new oak the rest used. perfectly balanced with a great fresh finish. Great acidity, drink now or hold

Ritual Chardonnay 2016

92 points

 

Beautiful clean chardonnay from Casablanca, Chile. Lemon, white peach, well-balanced acidity, medium finish. Drink now

Montes Alpha Pinot Noir 2015

92 points

 

Fantastic Pinot! Ripe red berries, sour cherry tart, good acidity with little vegetal notes, small cola taste, however, this is a very fruit forward Pinot. Medium finish. Solid.

Montes Alpha Malbec 2014

92 points

 

Nose is of black fruit, on the palate lots of black cherry and plum which is layered with smooth tannins and velvety milk chocolate. The cellar helped this wine come together. Drinking well now, excellent for the price. This shows that Chile can make Malbec. I found it a lot softer than Argentinian Malbecs tried.

Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

92 points

 

Dark cherries, blackberries, tobacco and spice on the palate. medium finish, med tannins. Drinking well now, however, should be revisited in 2-3 years.

Laspostolle Cabernet Sauvignon Cuvee Aexandre 2013

91 points

 

88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Syrah and 4% Cabernet France. Fruit forward Cabernet, dark cherries, and blackberries on the nose leading to a very fruity palate with good acidity and notes of licorice, fresh earth, and black pepper. Medium depth. I gave this the same rating at the Montes Alpha which is slightly more earthy and has more oak notes than this. Both enjoyable, however, this is for drinking now.

Laura Hartwig Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

91 points

 

 

Nose of violet and black fruits, palate had notes of blackberry, blueberry pie, soft and smooth finish, however missing depth. Still quite closed, needs 3-4 years.

Laura Hartwig Malbec 2017

90 points

 

On par with the Montes Alpha 2015 from earlier in the day. This is still very young to fully enjoy and so should be re-visited in 3-4 years. Beautiful color in the glass with notes of raspberries and plum. Less smooth than the Montes and had more vegetal notes, med+ tannins, slight cacao velvety flavor, the finish was medium, however, a bit jagged, this needs time

Montes Alpha Malbec 2015

90 points

 

 

Having tasted the 2014 a few days prior, I found this to be sharp around the edges, showed great characteristics of blackberries, plum, violet and milk chocolate. Tasted quite different than 2014. To re-visit in a couple of years.

Ritual Merlot 2015

90 points

 

 

Really interesting cool climate Merlot, plum, blackberry reasonably high acidity. Not use to this high acidity in a Merlot, interesting!

Montes Alpha Syrah 2015

90 point

 

 

Deep red, dark cherries, smokey, allspice. high med-high acid, reasonable unsettled for now, needs a couple of years to come together. Drink in 2020

Montes Alpha Chardonnay 2015

90 points

 

 

Light floral nose with citrus and more ripe lemon notes. The palate showed more med-high acidity with more stone fruits; peaches and nectarines. Medium depth. Drinking well, however, could keep for another couple of years.

Veramonte Primus The Blend 2014

90 points

 

 

Blend of 40% Cab Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, 23% Carmenere and 3% Cab Franc. Good Bordeaux blend with notes of red fruits and black pepper and dark plum. Reasonably high acidity and tannins. Simple finish

Veramonte Cabernet Sauvignon Primus

90 points

 

 

Nose of dark black fruits, palate of dark blueberries, blackberries, and chocolate. Smooth soft tannins. Good standard cab, drink now, grapes from Maipu.

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