When you are invited to spend a day in the Colchagua Valley, tasting food from recently opened Bistró Alfredo and drinking practically every Montes wine in existence, you don’t ask questions. You go. That’s how I ended up escaping Santiago’s recent heat wave (if I’m saying it’s too hot, trust me, it’s too. damn. hot.) in favor of the delicious breezes and fresh tastes of Montes Wines’ Apalta estate.
I was able to visit Montes once before and was impressed but not blown away. I blame our tour guide, who got an A for effort but not for information or intelligibility. This time, however, none other than the head agronomist and head wine maker led our group, a serious perk of being a guest of the vineyard.
We climbed aboard our chariot, also known as an open truck, and headed up the hill. This is part of the standard tour, and the views were in fact hazier on this second visit. But it’s still pretty impressive to look out over the valley at rows and rows of perfectly ordered grapes.
We first stopped to taste a new Montes wine from their Outer Limits label, which focuses on unique terroirs. This blend of Carignan, Grenache and Mourvedre combines three grapes I’d never tasted, and Carignan is the only one I’d heard of being grown in Chile – definitely pushing those limits! The label also offers a Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Noir from the beach resort of Zapallar which is not a traditional wine-growing region.
Next up: Kaiken Brut, a Pinot Noir and Chardonnay sparkler from Montes’ Argentine outpost. This festive little number paired perfectly with our first taste of Bistró Alfredo’s Patagonian cuisine: smoked salmon, pecorino, wild boar salame, octopus carpaccio and orange-ginger scallop carpaccio.
The fruity tastes in the latter tied in with the standout Cherub Syrah Rosé. This was one of my favorites of the day and could end up being very dangerous with how easily it goes down. Nothing if not thorough, I made sure to have a sip of the Malbec-Cabernet Sauvignon Twins blend before returning to the truck, but my mind was still on the Cherub.
Noticing my love of Syrah, wine maker Gustavo played it cool asking if I’d tried Folly, Montes’ icon Syrah. When I said “no, but I hope to get the chance someday!” – because that stuff costs $150 a bottle, and there are limits – he gave no indication that someday was about to arrive.
First we learned how Montes wine is made. The grapes are received and processed on the roof, allowing the use of gravity instead of pumps. This keeps oxygen out, making for better vino. And of course, no visit to Montes would be complete without seeing the barrel room, which is beautifully lit and echoes with Gregorian chants to soothe the wine.
Finally, the tasting. Of SEVEN wines. The Outer Limits Sauvignon Blanc is complex and acidic, not wimpy, and I liked the not-too-jammy Montes Alpha Malbec. Apparently for my tastebuds Montes wine breaks stereotypes. We also tasted Outer Limits Pinot Noir (yum) and Kaiken Malbec (not so yum in my anti-Malbec opinion).
I felt very privileged to try all three of Montes’ icon wines. M, which I’d had before, is too old school and strong for me. Purple Angel, the Camenere, is smoother but still big. Folly is fruity and modern. The label is done by the artist behind Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” art and changes each year to reflect Chilean landscapes. While I wouldn’t pay $150 for it, I did very much enjoy it.
soak up the alcohol round out the day, we feasted at Bistró Alfredo. I admit to confusion with the disparity between the set menu and what arrived. I love pastel de centolla, a king crab pudding typical to Chile, but where was the king crab salad? The Magellanic lamb was tasty if not photogenic – perhaps an effect of too much wine – but the sauce was not made of plum. I saw no potatoes, but I was happier with their replacement, a salad of greens, strawberries and cherry tomatoes. My chocolate orange mousse was delicious, but someone ate it before I could take a picture! Ok, maybe that last one was my fault.
Nothing was confusing about the wine pairings though. Yes, MORE WINE. Thirteen wines in a day! The Alpha Chardonnay started us off well, the Alpha Syrah rounded out my Syrah bliss, and the Gewurztraminer Late Harvest was so good my table stole a second bottle “for photos.” It somehow ended up in our glasses. This wine has been a favorite of mine since 2011, and if you think Late Harvest is for people who don’t drink wine, you need to try this.
As I said way back at the beginning of this post, my experience was a very special one. It doesn’t reflect a typical tour, but it wasn’t intended to. This was a chance to really get to know the Montes wines with the help of their creators. Any doubts I had from my previous visit have been put to rest – this vineyard is traditional, but it’s also innovative. Bistró Alfredo serves up quality food, and diners should definitely take advantage of the suggested pairings.
Even if you can’t visit the Colchagua Valley, thanks to booming exports you can probably head down to your local wine shop and grab a bottle of Montes wine. If my marathon day of tasting is any indication, it’ll be hard to go wrong.