January 27, 2007
2004 Montes Alpha Syrah Alpalta Vineyard, Colchagua Valley, Chile
People tend to think that the Chilean wine industry is new and novel. This is a total misconception as more than 500 years ago missionaries traveling with the conquistadors brought vine cuttings all over South America, mostly to make their sacramental wine... or so they said. In what is now Chile they found both the climate and soil perfect for the beginnings of wine making. This was WAY before the wine industries of California and Australia were even a glimmer in the eye of some savvy pioneering immigrant.
Now, this isn't to say that the Chilean wine industry has been nurtured and prospered all of this time. In the early 1800's wines exported from this area were competing with the export wines of the Spanish monarchy. That was not a line to cross, and the Spanish crown ordered many vineyards burned and the vines pulled. This was a setback for several decades, but in the late 1800's a wave of French immigrants to Santiago brought their vines and cuttings and Chile saw the beginning a new age of wine making. The French brought cuttings from Bordeaux and the Rhone, and Cabernet Sauvignon in particular seemed to find a natural home on the slopes of the Andes mountains. Note also that around the late 1800's the vineyards of France, Italy and Spain became plagued with the Phylloxera louse and began fighting a losing battle against this vineyard destroyer. That is a pretty interesting story that I will tell another time, but back in Chile the vineyards were protected from the spread of this pest worldwide by the buffer to the east of the Andes and to the west by the Pacific Ocean. Many of those original plantings, most notably from Bordeaux, still produce fruit. Phylloxera is still damaging the wine industry around the world, but Chile remains isolated and free from this scourge.
The Montes Alpha winery has become very highly recognized, especially in the last few years. The winery owner, Aurielo Montes, is a successful wine pioneer in the region staking out new and important vineyard territory and focusing on low production ultra-premium wines. This Syrah has been rated very highly and considered to be representative of the uniqueness of the Chilean wine industry. I was excited to try it. Cat and I opened it and tasted before decanting. It came out of the bottle TIGHT. Really tight. Sharp and tight. Freaking tight. This concerned us, but look back a few reviews ago and we had had a similar start to a wine only to see it open up beautifully an hour or two later. So, we decanted and let this wine sit for a bit. We came back to it while making dinner and found it really freaking tight. We let it rest in the decanter while we made dinner. We tasted again as we sat down to eat and it was still really tight, yielding very, very little. Hmmm...
We ate dinner, it was lovely but I can't remember what we had. Cleaned up, loaded the dishwasher, let the dog out, watched an episode of The Soprano's and then decided to taste it again. WOW! Pretty dramatic change, thankfully. We enjoyed a glass and discussed how frustrating it is when a wine requires upwards of three to four hours to open up. I did some digging and found that other reviewers had had interestingly similar experiences with this wine. The nose had become much softer and had moved from an almost acrid quality to one with dark cherries and plum balanced with almost a spiced wine like scent. The palate also was much softer and very elegant. There were hints of vanilla and plum with the dry sweetness of black berry. The finish was longish, but smooth with restrained tannins. I did not find this wine to be especially complex, and though it was good I did not really find it to be that memorable or differentiated from other Syrah's in a way that would make it unique. It was nice once it had finally opened, and we enjoyed it quite a bit. It just didn't make a strong impression on us. We will probably come back to this wine and this vintage in another year or two as I suspect it will begin to deepen and improve with a little more time.
cost - $21.99
winecommando rating (1-10) - 7