Vina Montes epitomizes Chilean quality

Viña Montes in Chile has been around for 25 years now. In that time, they’ve been a part of the Renaissance that has occurred in Chile, with quality and diversity rising dramatically year after year, and meeting with what was already a wine region that offered value. As with most Chilean brands, they offer a broad range of wines at numerous price points aimed at a varied consumer base with a multitude of needs. This vast range of wines is produced with a multitude of intents. All told, they make close to a million cases of wine, some in small lots and others in large quantities. Here’s a look at three current releases that are widely available across the country.

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First up is the Montes Alpha 2011 Chardonnay. The fruit for this offering was sourced in the Casablanca Valley. This Chardonnay is a 100 percent varietal wine. Aging took place over 12 months with 40 percent of the wine seeing time in French oak, the balance in stainless steel. This wine has a suggested retail price of $25. The Montes Alpha Tier of wines was on the forefront of Chile’s entry and innovation into to premium wine space. Pineapple aromas light up the nose of this Chardonnay, with pear and apple characteristics as the dominant fruits on the palate. Toward the back end, the apple quality picks up a bit of lovely green tartness. This is accompanied by baker’s spices, star anise and a gentle kiss of crème fraiche. Here’s an example of Chardonnay that is absolutely studded with lively fruit and true varietal character. The barrel treatment enhances those flavors, adds complexity and never detracts. This is an elegant Chardonnay for the money. I recommend serving a few degrees warmer than the typical white wine as it shows off more of its charms that way.

The Montes Alpha 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon was produced from fruit sourced in Colchagua Valley, one of Chile’s best Cab regions. This wine blends together Cabernet Sauvignon (90 percent) and Merlot (10 percent), one of its most natural partners. After fermentation this wine was aged in a combination of new and used French oak barrels over a period of 12 months. About 100,000 cases of this wine were bottled and it has a suggested retail price of $25. Plum and bramble aromas leap from the nose of this Cabernet Sauvignon. Dark fruits rule the day here and blackberry, black raspberry and more fill out the palate, while little wisps of red fruit do pop through every now and then, adding to the depth. Espresso and black pepper spice are both prominent on the finish, which has good length. Firm tannins and solid acidity lend to the overall well-proportioned nature and structure of this wine. For $25 or less this is very good value in Cabernet Sauvignon. Some lesser examples from other regions often sell for close to twice the price. Grab up a case of this wine and drink it over the next five years and enjoy its evolution.

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Frankland Estate proves that Australia is much more than Shiraz

It’s possible — perhaps even likely — that the first thing you ever tasted from Australia was Shiraz. In fact, it wouldn’t shock me if Shiraz is the only grape you’ve tasted from down under. Lots of Australian Shiraz, at bargain prices, filled lots of U.S. store shelves for a number of years. Some of it was interesting and tasty, but a lot of it was anonymous or worse. The thing is that Australia is a huge country with many distinct wine growing regions, and while they do make lots of delicious Shiraz, they also produce many other grapes quite well too. I recently sampled the wines of Frankland Estate at a portfolio tasting and was impressed enough that I needed to retaste them in a sit-down setting. There are quite a few distinct selections in their lineup, but three in particular really stood out to me above the others.

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The Frankland Estate 2011 Isolation Ridge Chardonnay was produced using organic fruit. All of the grapes were harvested from a trio of different locations within the winery’s estate vineyards. This offering is 100 percent Chardonnay. After being pressed into stainless steel, the wine is fermented utilizing wild yeast in French oak barrels for a period of nine months. About 1,000 cases of this offering were produced in the 2011 vintage and it has a suggested retail price of $39.99. Aromas of limestone and citrus are joined by an undercurrent of nutmeg on the nose of this Chardonnay. Apple, pear and lemon zest flavors lead an absolutely intense blast of pure and unadulterated fresh fruit flavors. The finish is clean and crisp, showing off minerals, spice and a bit of crème fraiche. The depth and clarity of the fruit here is striking, as is the persistence and length of the finish. Frankland Estate’s 2011 Chardonnay is an extremely impressive example of this wonderful grape.

The Frankland Estate 2012 Isolation Ridge Riesling was produced using fruit that has been dry farmed with organic methodology. This wine is 100 percent Riesling. All of the fruit was hand harvested and then immediately pressed into tank. Fermentation took place in a combination of tank and neutral oak at low temperatures. About 1,200 cases of this Riesling were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $39.99.The nose is fresh and vibrant with bits of citrus alongside mineral aromas. Lemon zest flavors overlay stone fruit characteristics throughout a gently layered palate. Grapefruit, lime, white pepper and minerals galore are all part of the impressively long finish. This wine is refreshing with lively acidity and a crisp finish. It begs you back to the glass for sip after sip until the bottle stands empty.

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Dry Creek Vineyard: Quality, value and dependability

Dry Creek Vineyard is one of the flagship wineries of Sonoma Valley, as well as the namesake producer of an entire appellation. It’s one of the largest producers in Dry Creek Valley, and like almost all of the wineries there, it’s a family-owned and run operation. Most of their wines are produced using fruit they grow or source right in their native valley, with a few other wines sourced from nearby appellations. They have a number of wines that are readily available all over the country at reasonable prices that offer consistent quality and drinkability one vintage after another. Dry Creek Vineyard also pushes the envelope and adds new offerings to their portfolio from time to time. Some of these are smaller production wines and sometimes they are larger production wines. Case in point: the first wine covered in this column is in only its third vintage.

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The Dry Creek Vineyard 2010 Foggy Oaks Vineyard Chardonnay is a single vineyard effort. All of the fruit for this wine was sourced at the namesake vineyard in Russian River Valley. It’s a 100 percent varietal wine. Foggy Oaks Chardonnay was aged entirely in French oak. Just a smidge less than 5,000 cases of this offering were produced, and it has a suggested retail price of $20. Orchard and tropical fruit aromas are joined by spices and toast on the nose of this wine. Apple and pear characteristics in particular light up the palate, which is substantial and weighty but spry and well in proportion. Anjou pears, lemon zest and minerals are all part of a long and impressive finish. The bottom line is that this is an elegant, extremely well-crafted Chardonnay. In its price category it’s an outright steal. Russian River Valley is one of the best appellations in California for this grape and this is a terrific example.

The Dry Creek Vineyard 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon was produced from fruit sourced in the winery’s namesake appellation. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (86 percent), Merlot (4 percent), Cabernet Franc (4 percent), Malbec (3 percent) and Petit Verdot (3 percent) were also blended in. Fermentation took place over 28 days in a temperature-controlled environment. Twenty months of barrel aging followed in a combination of French, American and Hungarian oak; 30 percent of the barrels utilized were new. Almost 12,000 cases of this Cabernet were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $25. Berry fruit, toasty bramble and bits of vanilla bean are all part of the nose on this 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. Blackberry and cherry are part of an overall mélange of red and black berry fruits that dominate the palate of this wine; black peppercorn and wisps of nutmeg add spice. Dusty earth, espresso and continuing fruit flavors are all part of the finish which has solid length. The tannins here are well-integrated and along with firm acidity lend to the excellent structure. This Cabernet is delicious now, but will age well over the next five to eight years. This is a fine example of Cabernet Sauvignon at a price that belies its quality.

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Finally, we come to the Dry Creek Vineyard 2009 The Mariner. This is a proprietary Meritage blend. It combines Cabernet Sauvignon (43 percent), Merlot (37 percent), Malbec (10 percent), Petit Verdot (5 percent) and Cabernet Franc (5 percent). The fruit for this wine comes from a combination of their own vines and neighboring vineyards within Dry Creek Valley that they’ve been working with for many years. Fermentation took place over 20 days, followed by 24 months in 100 percent French oak; 46 percent of the barrels were new. Dry Creek Vineyards produced 5,238 6-bottle cases, and this wine has a suggested retail price of $40. Dark fruit aromas, dotted with bits of red fruits, emerge from the nose of this Meritage. The palate here leads towards the darker fruit flavors: blackberries, raspberries and plum are all along for the ride. This wine has an awesome depth that’s matched by its precision and graceful power. Bits of chocolate sauce, earth, toast and minerals are all here on the finish. Firm acid keep things in check. This wine is an absolute delight to drink. The 2009 Mariner is a seamless blend that does what great Bordeaux-inspired wines should do: create a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. This wine will age effortlessly for the next decade, but there’s no reason to wait — it’s delicious now and these folks are likely to put out another splendid Meritage next year. So my advice is to drink up!

This trio of wines is only a small window into the fine releases that Dry Creek Vineyard is producing year after year. Two of these wines feature Cabernet Sauvignon prominently. For me this is one of the secrets of Dry Creek Valley. Cabernet from there doesn’t often get the headlines, but there are some fine examples and two are covered here. Being in Dry Creek Valley, they of course make several Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel-based wines. They also make a Chenin Blanc that, at around $10, is one of the great picnic wines, vintage after vintage. Again these are just a few examples. By and large their offerings are easily accessible across the U.S. The wines have been fairly priced throughout their 40-year history, and they offer a consistency of quality that can’t be ignored. They are one of a small number of excellent go-to producers based in Sonoma County that fit all those criteria. If they’re not on your personal wine radar, they really should be.

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A Delicious Trio of Aromatic Whites from Chile

By now, most wine lovers know Chile as a source for excellent Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. Those paying closer attention also realize that there is terrific Pinot Noir and Chardonnay reaching our shores from Chile. That, however, is just the entrée into the remarkable diversity and quality that Chile offers, often at outstanding price-points that will make you take note. Among the reasons that so many diverse grapes flourish in Chile is the regional diversity. Whether we’re talking about valley floors, mountain ranges or vineyards influenced by ocean breezes, Chile has them all — and more.

One of the things that particularly struck me when I was down in Chile was the number of aromatic white wines being produced by some wineries. Sometimes, they were small production items for larger wineries; in other cases, part of their main line of wines. The bottom line is that there are many wines in this general category worth both the time and money of interested wine lovers. With that in mind, I sat down and tasted some offerings that fit the grouping, and selected three standouts to look at.

First up is the Cono Sur 2012 Bicicleta Viognier. This wine was produced using hand-harvested fruit from the Colchagua region of Chile. It is a 100 percent varietal wine. Fermentation was accomplished in stainless steel tanks followed by eight months of aging. This wine most often sells for right around $10. Apricots, Lychee fruit and hints of white pepper all but explode from the nose of this Viognier. Peach and apricot star on the light palate that practically bounces on the tongue with enticing fruity goodness. Lemon zest, minerals and continues spice make up the finish, which has nice length. This is a crisp and refreshing wine that is vibrant and alive; if it could speak it would scream summer. I taste a lot of wine every week and there are those that — even though I like them a lot — I can put down easily. This Viognier from Cono Sur was not one of those. It is so mellifluous and engaging that I was compelled to keep drinking it

The Meli 2011 Riesling was produced entirely from fruit sourced in the Maule region. The fruit for this wine is 100 percent Riesling and was entirely hand-harvested. Fermentation took place over two weeks in stainless steel tanks. This offering most often sells for right around $12. White flower and stone fruit aromas abound on the nose of this Riesling. The palate is gentle and layered with continued stone fruit joined by spice and almond characteristics. The finish shows off tiny touches of mesquite honey and petrol. This is a perfectly dry, remarkably crisp wine that’s delicious on its own, and also paired with lighter foods.

Finally, we have the Anakena 2011 ONA White Blend. This offering combines Riesling (43 percent), Chardonnay (42 percent), and Viognier (15 percent). The fruit was sourced at the winery’s Las Brisas Vineyard in Leyda Valley. After fermentation, this wine was barrel-aged for approximately nine months. This wine most often sells for right around $15. Golden delicious apple, lemon and Lychee fruit aromas are present on the nose of this blend from Anakena. The palate is loaded with flavors that are simultaneously diverse and harmonious in their cohesion. Peach, apricot, bits of lemon zest and hints of orchard fruit are all present, along with spices galore. Bits of Granny Smith apple and green herb emerge on the finish, which is crisp, clean and pleasing. This wine grabs you and makes you reach back for sip after delicious sip.

With the warm weather months here I find myself reaching for white wine more often than not. In fact, I generally always have a few bottles chilled, whether it’s to pair with the lighter foods of summer or simply to sip on my deck. There is something about the warmth of the season that brings out my desire to drink whites far more often than at other times of the year. These three wines from Chile are perfectly suited for drinking all summer. They’re aromatic, refreshing and loaded with character. Each of them also represents an excellent value. I heartily recommend them and hope they’re a jumping off point for the exploration of the bounty that Chile offers in diverse, well-made, fantastically priced, aromatic white wines. There is no end to the diversity that Chile offers; even these wines are from three unique regions. The more of Chile you taste, the more impressed you’re bound to be.

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Spain’s Ribera Del Duero Region makes a strong impression

I recently attended an excellent tasting that featured wines from the Ribera Del Duero region of Spain. It’s always fascinating to taste a broad array of wines in one room from a specific part of the world. It allows side-by-side comparisons, and showcases how many excellent wines a region has. In the case of Ribera Del Duero the array of terrific wines I tasted in one day was a bit head-spinning, actually. While I’d had wines from this area before, I’d never sampled nearly as many at one time. A couple of producers kept reverberating in my mind days after the event, thus I decided to revisit a few of their wines so I could share my thoughts about them. Tempranillo has long been one of my favorite red varieties and this grape flourishes as well in Ribera Del Duero as anywhere.

The Bodegas Peñalba Lopez S.L. 2009 Los Cantos was produced from a blend of Tempranillo (95 percent) and Merlot (5 percent). The vineyards sourced were planted an average of 20 years prior to the vintage. Fermentation took place over nine days in stainless steel vats with native yeast. Barrel aging followed in French oak. This wine has a suggested retail price of $23. Lovely herb and floral aromas fill the nose of Los Cantos. The palate here is studded with layer upon layer of fresh, dark fruit flavors. This wine is marked by crisp acidity and refreshing flavors that beckon you back to the glass for sip after sip. Bits of French Roast coffee and sour black fruit flavors mark the finish; cherry and blackberry are of particular note and accompanied by minerals and copious spices. Los Cantos is a tremendous value in its price range. It’s the kind of wine you may want to buy a case of, to keep around for everyday drinking.

The Bodegas Peñalba Lopez S.L. 2006 Torremilanos was produced using Tempranillo (90 percent) and White Tempranillo (10 percent). White Tempranillo is a genetic mutation of the original Tempranillo grape and a relatively recent one. The vineyards sourced have more than 90 years of age on them. Fermentation took place in concrete tanks. Aging followed in a combination of French oak (80 percent), and concrete tanks (20 percent) over a period of 24 months. This selection has a suggested retail price of $30. Ripe black cherry aromas and bits of toast mark the nose of this wine. Spices such as cardamom and clove are present on the palate and support oodles of dark fruit flavors which are impressive in their combination of intensity and precision. Black tea, minerals and continued fruit flavors such as cherry are in evidence on the finish, which has excellent length and persistence. This wine will work wonderfully both on its own and paired with full-flavored foods, and is a real knockout.

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