Colchagua: the Epicenter for Carmenere

By March 21, 2014Winemakers

They say that 75% of carmenere produced in Chile comes from Colchagua so we’ve come to the right place to learn about this grape variety. Our first visit today was to Neyen which means ‘spirit of the gods’, hence the symbol on the label. This is a first class winery, and the first one established in Colchagua. It only produces one wine and is 35% owned by Augustin Huneus of Veramonte. The wine is always a blend from 130 year old cabernet sauvignon and 80 year old carmenere. There are only 35,000 bottles produced each year and we were fortunate to taste 3 vintages: the 2010 redolent of cedar and with a deep ruby color; the 2009 which was intense with more structure; and the 2006 which was onion skin on the edges and was more bouquet than aroma.

We then went to a much larger winery for lunch. Montgras, owned by two partners from Catalunya, produces almost 10 million bottles annually. They own 35o hectares and have over 3,000 oak barrels in their barrel room. 96% of their production is exported. We had an excellent tour of the vineyards, sampling over 8 different grape varieties- some ready to harvest, others not ready until May. The soil was parched- there hasn’t been any rain since September.

At our tasting we had their delicious-and inexpensive-Amaral 2013, a sauvignon blanc from Leyda. We all loved it; the chardonnay 2013 from Colchagua, a hot weather chardonnay slightly oaky that was paired well with brie; the carmenere 2012 which paired well with chorizo; the Antu Syrah 2012 that was ‘silky’ smooth; and the Intriga 2011 cabernet from Maipo. With a delicious alfresco lunch (everyday has been divine so we can lunch outside) we had the Amaral chardonnay 2012 and the Intriga cab 2011.

We ended another great wine lovers’ day at Montes, perhaps the most famous winery in Colchagua. Located in Apalta, as was Neyen, Montes is spectacularly located at the foot of a mountain. The tasting room takes full advantage of the location and you meditate as you taste. We had the sauvignon blanc 2013 from Leyda, perhaps Chile’s best region for this grape which exhibited pineapple and passion fruit and minerality and at under $10 is a great value;the chardonnay 2012 from Casablanca which showed good fruit and a discreet amount of oak; the Montes Alpha M 2010, a blend of 89% cabernet sauvignon, 10% cabernet franc, 5% merlot and petit verdot- a great wine that comes at a cost: $150; and the Purple Angel 2011, mostly carmenere with 8% petit verdot, a great wine but again at a dear price of $120.

Montes produces about 20 million bottles so it ranks as one of Colchagua’s biggest producers. Tomorrow we go back to the Apalta Valley to visit Clos Apalta which should be another highlight. Incidentally Apalta is the Indian word for ‘poor soil.’

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