If you enjoy wine regularly, then you probably already know that there are bargains to be found at wine stores in the South American wine section—especially those from Chile and Argentina. But just like wines from other parts of the world, they vary greatly in quality.
One of my favorite South American producers is Chile's Viña Montes. Since the adoption of the country's first appellation control system in 1985, wine quality has steadily improved. And this winery has been at the forefront of the movement toward dependable, high quality Chilean wines since its founding by industry veterans Aurelio Montes Sr. and the late Douglas Murray, in 1987. The following year, partners Alfredo Vidaurre and Pedro Grand brought their expertise to the enterprise. Since that time, Viña Montes has grown tremendously, and the brand can now be found in more than 100 countries worldwide.
Starting with the creation of Viña Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon ($22.95), the winery expanded its production to include a wide array of wines through the years. They range from carmenère and malbec to pinot noir, merlot, syrah, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, late harvest wines, rosé, sparkling wines and beyond.
The winery's lineup starts with its Classic series—wines that are considered to be Montes "true ambassadors" by the winemakers. They are good values that are ripe and ready for everyday drinking, sourced from vineyards with larger yields than those used to produce their higher level Montes Alpha series. A step up from the Alpha wines is the Icons series: wines of exceptional character and age-worthy, such as Montes Alpha M ($100), Montes Folly ($70) and a wine I love but don't get to drink often enough: Purple Angel ($78), a big and bold super-carmenère.
If you're really flush, you might want to try Montes Taita, which sells for around $300 per bottle, depending upon the vintage. This is Montes' super-premium Bordeaux-style blend. In a 2013 review, The Daily Meal's wine writer Roger Morris said, "To taste the 2007 Taita is like pulling the cork on an elegant, yet assertive, cru classé Médoc, perhaps even a first growth from Pauillac or St-Éstephe." That's quite some praise. Unfortunately, I wouldn't know, since my wine budget doesn't often allow me to sip such expensive varieties.
There's good news, though. You don't have to spend $300—or even $30—to try a well-crafted bottle from this winery. Montes Classic Sauvignon Blanc ($12.95) is a deliciously ripe, fresh and crisp summer wine brimming with tropical fruit and grassy/grapefruit notes. I also enjoy Montes Classic Chardonnay ($12.95), which is fermented in both oak and stainless steel barrels, half of which undergoes malolactic fermentation. For a few more bucks, however, you can step up into a wine that I sip on a regular basis, in part because it's such a great value: Montes Alpha Chardonnay ($20.94). Full-bodied and creamy, and aged in French oak, the 1998 vintage was selected as "World Champion Chardonnay" by Slow Food Italy. I've tricked friends into thinking they were drinking French white burgundy when I've poured blind tastes in the past.
I recently sampled early releases of what Viña Montes calls their "Spring Trinity" wines. Montes Cherub 2016 ($16) is a fun, nearly neon pink rosé made of syrah (83 percent) and grenache (17 percent). It's a terrific picnic wine, versatile enough to pair with foods ranging from sushi to paella. Montes Twins 2014 ($16) is a red blend combining cabernet sauvignon, tempranillo, syrah and carmenère that would fit in well with any backyard barbecue and pair well with grilled meats and poultry.
So if the summer heat's got you down, turn to Chile!