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WINE TAKES US FAR - Bortársaság magazine

WINE TAKES US FAR

Chile – Argentina travelogue, April 2024

 

It's an old legend that wines can be truly understood by tasting them in their own place of growth, and that's where they taste best. We can report that this method works 12,000 kilometres away from home: the juicy, rousing, pulsating wines of Chile and Argentina match perfectly with the spirit of the place, the smoky flavours and the ocean air.  Accepting the invitation of the Montes, we spent a week and a half in South America.

 

MONTES – ‘from Chile with pride’


The story of Chilean wine would not be complete without mentioning Viña Montes. Aurelio Montes and his team decided to break with the mass production typical of the wine region and enter the market with Chile's first serious premium wine in 1987. This was the Alpha Cabernet, and the rest is wine history. We met the founders (Aurelio M. and Douglas Murray) for the first time in 2008, at a wine expo in Bordeaux, and soon our first order arrived, with such legendary wines as Purple Angel and Folly on the pallets.

Since then, Montes has been the cornerstone of our New World selection, and after 16 years, we accepted their invitation and visited them. The timing is no accident: in the middle of April, after flying for nearly 20 hours, we dropped into the beautiful Chilean autumn, right in the middle of the harvest.

 

MARCHIGÜE – the quiet hinterland

After bustling Santiago, our first trip leads us south to the coast, to Marchigüe. When hearing the name Montes, everyone first associates it with the Apalta region, and the name already suggests greatness, but their property there is only the tip of the iceberg. Montes is a lot more than that: they run at least seven estates in Chile, located at great distances from each other. Of these, Marchigüe is the largest and also the quietest. The 650-hectare vineyard is the gold reserve behind the global brand. In contrast to their extreme, peripheral estates, everything in Marchigüe is determined by stability, calm and professional viticulture. Not a single ray of sunlight is wasted, the rows of vines along the pollinating vineyard roads are exact copies of each other as far as the eye can see.

We arrive at a real ranch, with horses in the shade, Border Collies sleeping on bales of straw. Upon entering the ideal weekend house, the wooden floor creaks and half a dozen straw hats hang on the rack the essentials of life are here. The modest manager of the estate, Cristobal Hemard, holds a bunch of ripe and juicy grapes in his hand, tasting the day’s harvest: the Carmenére has soft acidity and a plum flavour, while the Malbec is like eating mulberries. In the background, the fire is already crackling for the evening dinner, while a new colleague joins in, holding a basket of freshly grilled empanadas and a cool bottle of Alpha Carmenére. We have arrived in Chile.

The “don't worry” attitude, the sincere hospitality and the openness of the Montes colleagues accompany us throughout the journey. Our lively guide, Patricia, has been working on the estate for decades and talks to us with sparkling eyes when we ask her about the beginnings. Later, for a few rows, we also join the harvest, putting healthy Cabernet Sauvignon grapes into the cases, which will return in a few years in the Alpha series.

Our favourite wine from here: Alpha Carmenére 2021

MONTES Alpha Carmenère 2021

MONTESAlpha Carmenère 2021

HUF 7 900
Bottle priceHUF 7 900
Member price
HUF 7 505

 

APALTA – the heart of the estate

The next day, we head to the capital of Chilean wine: the Colchagua Valley, and within it, Apalta is our second stop. This is the homeland of Bordeaux blends, Carmenère and the Cabernet varieties the land of dense reds. Montes started here in 1987 and it is still the heart of the estate complex. Carlos Serrano, the commercial director of Montes, comes to welcome us by the gate, and we immediately jump into the SUV and head towards the highest plots. The car creaks under us, we can't believe it, but Carlos knows that we’ll  easily make it driving up the rocky road. He has been working with Aurelio Montes for 23 years.

Wherever we look, we see steep vineyards and terraced parcels; however, Montes were the first in the valley to venture up the mountainside. Earlier, everyone thought only about the valley floor the plain. Aurelio fell in love with the Apalta estate at first sight, even though the pricey offer included nearly 100 hectares of forest and hillside that were still considered useless at the time. Later, when they could no longer expand in any other direction, they started climbing up the mountain with the grapes, and the first wines coming from here rewrote what the local farmers had believed about the Colchagua Valley until then. Since then, in peak assault attempts between estates, the only limit is how far they can bring up the water that’s essential for irrigation.

We continue our walk around the cellar, where during its construction everything was planned based on two principles: gravity flow winemaking and feng shui. The giant winery built from simple materials is logical and well-thought-out. The hand-picked grapes arrive here even from the most distant places of the Montes estates, which are then sorted by hand and moved by elevators and gravity flow all the way up to bottling. The central part of the cellar is an amphitheatre-like barrel cellar used for ageing. Chile's celebrated wines take shape here: Purple Angel, Folly and Alpha M.

The professional part ends with a tasting after a new Sauvignon Blanc that had just been launched, we taste the current vintage s of the above-mentioned big names, and finally a bottle of Taita is served, which is possibly one of the best New World reds we know.

Looking out of the tasting room’s windows, everything is surreally green and lush. The picture is only broken by a small chimney of smoke, from which we know that the team of legendary Argentinian chef, Francis Mallmann, is already preparing lunch. The on-site restaurant, Fuegos de Apalta, opened in 2016. With this, Latin America's best-known hedonist and winemaker came together. The view of the central element of the restaurant, the dome-like stove, is almost meditative the juicy meats sizzling on the iron plate, and the pineapples hanging in the smoke immediately suggest good things. The decor is straightforward, the music is well selected, and the smoke of the apple and cherry trees permeates every dish. And the Montes wines stand the challenge and accompany these unbridled flavours beautifully.

Our favourite wines from here: Purple Angel 2021, Folly Syrah 2020, Taita 2018

MONTES Purple Angel 2020

MONTESPurple Angel 2020

HUF 34 000
Bottle priceHUF 34 000
Member price
HUF 32 300

 

ZAPALLAR – Outer Limits


We’re driving through avocado plantations up to the north, then towards the coast of the ocean. The distant corner of the Montes estate complex is the Zapallar estate, which also marks the northern border of Chilean wine production. The term ‘Outer Limits’, which is the collective name for the wines from here, immediately makes sense. In many ways, we are on the edge, from here to the north everything becomes a desert and to the west the coast breaks off and the ocean opens up just 7 km away. In terms of varieties, compared to Apalta, we jump to the other end of the spectrum, with Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Albariño growing in the orderly rows. The fog that floats in in the morning keeps the flavours of the fragile varieties tight until the harvest. Tasting an intoxicatingly green Sauvignon Blanc next to the roaring ocean is at least as good a pairing as anything else during the trip.

After just a half-hour drive, we arrive in the city with the same name, located right at the coast. Zapallar is the local Provence, and whoever is able to is building a villa here, overlooking the ocean. There’s a chiringuito, or beach bar, in the bay. Empty bottles of familiar champagne growers above the counter indicate that we’re in the right place. Divers are working just a few metres away from our table and sea lions are playing in the water. As the fog clears up, we can even see a dolphin. If someone thinks the character of the Sauvignon Blanc from here is exaggerated, just imagine this abundance. Some people succumb to the lure of the ocean and choose the 15-degree waves instead of coffee after a long lunch.

Our favourite wine from here: Outer Limits Sauvignon Blanc 2023

MONTES Outer Limits Sauvignon Blanc 2023

MONTESOuter Limits Sauvignon Blanc 2023

HUF 8 400
Bottle priceHUF 8 400
Member price
HUF 7 980

 

CROSSING THE ANDES

From the coast, we set off on one of the most awaited points of the journey: crossing the Andes, by car, in 7 hours. After detours, escape routes and 17 hairpin bends, puffing road cyclists, we arrive at our first stop: the Portillo ski centre. It's an unreal feeling to sip coffee at a ski lodge with the sand from the ocean from yesterday still stuck at the sole of our shoes. This is only possible in Chile.

After an authentic Latin American border check, we’re greeted by an Argentinian flag as we pass the foot of Aconcagua, which is the highest point of the Andes and the continent at 6,960 metres above sea level. We spend the next few hours in a landscape that is almost incomprehensible to European eyes, in which the only artificial object is the road itself. Everything else is intact.

 

KAIKEN – Argentina

The next morning, Kaiken's dynamic team, brand manager Antonella Frugoni and Nicole Monteleone, welcome us at the Agrelo estate in Mendoza. This 64-hectare plantation of the Malbec, Cabernet and Petit Verdot varieties was the place where the history of Kaiken began in the late 2000s. We soon head south and approach the foot of the mountains on gravel roads. In places, Gaucho riders remind you that you are already in Argentina. We drive into the spectacular Chacayes estate, where Kaiken's discovery series, Aventura, started a few years ago. Transition from strength to elegance, from concentrated fruit to finer details, from weight to freshness. Young plantations, in virgin plots, 130 km southwest of Mendoza, 1,250 meters above sea level. Between the vines we find riverbeds, rolling rocks, thyme, verbena flowers and good scents. You can feel the difference from the first sentences spoken along with the filled wines: while at Montes, varieties and blends are brought to the fore, at Kaiken, the place of growth is given priority in the wines.

 

The last stop is the old winery of Kaiken, which once functioned as a press house of an Italian family, who were involved in olive oil. In the rows next to the cellar, the estate's oldest vines, planted in 1910, are Malbec. This is the place where the most popular wine in the selection, Mai, is harvested from. Traditional canals run between the rows, the vines are irrigated by flooding up to this day, and the water comes directly from the Andes. Two-thirds of the wines we taste are Malbec, and the Kaiken team talks about styles and areas, and finally they let the Mai speak for itself, with little to say about one of the estate's best wines.

Francis Mallmann is responsible for the frame structure, who after Apalta also opened a restaurant here on the Kaiken estate. The Ramos Generales has a relaxed atmosphere, with tables under the gazebo, and in the background the sparkling white Andes, which have always been in the corner of our eyes, wherever we went in the last eight days.

Our favourite wine from here: Ultra Malbec 2020 and Mai 2020-2021

 

KAIKEN Ultra Malbec 2020

KAIKENUltra Malbec 2020

HUF 7 500
Bottle priceHUF 7 500
Member price
HUF 7 125
KAIKEN Mai Malbec 2020

KAIKENMai Malbec 2020

HUF 25 900
Bottle priceHUF 25 900
Member price
HUF 24 605

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