It’s not often that you’ll meet a winemaker (and part owner) of a successful winery who is as down to earth as Aurelio Montes Jr. Here was a man that warmed to my pidgin Spanish and let loose with such enthusiasm on the subject of wine, food and Latin America that it was difficult not to immediately feel at home with him.
The first thing that came to mind in our discussion was how he, a Chilean, felt about making an iconic Malbec wine from across the mountains. Wasn’t there a rivalry to be maintained? In his eyes, the rivalry was a non-issue beyond the confines of a soccer pitch – and maybe the question of dulce de leche’s origins. He admittedly fell in love with Malbec in the early 2000’s, before the Malbec popularity explosion of 2003 (coupled with a plunging Argentinian peso). The notion of creating premium wine and focusing on quality at a reasonable price is a cornerstone of the Montes philosophy in Chile, and it was one that Montes Jr. took with him to Argentina when they founded Kaiken winery in 2002. Named for the Caiquenes (wild geese) that traverse the Andes between Chile and Argentina, it’s hard to argue that there could be a more apt moniker, especially in light of his ritual flights between Mendoza and Santiago de Chile.
While the strong wine industries in either country make them superb candidates for comparison, Aurelio Montes Jr. is quick to dismiss thoughts of many similarities, indicating that the learning curve in Mendoza was a steep (and ongoing) one. For starters, Chile’s healthy winter rainfall allows the Montes vineyards to avoid irrigation in the Spring. Mendoza, on the other hand, is usually very dry, featuring sandy and rocky soil – hardly a recipe for water retention. For this reason irrigation was very necessary at Kaiken – Mendoza’s lack of tree coverage even discounting the environmentally friendly option of using pine bark to absorb water (as they do in Chile).
With the above being the usual state of affairs, it must be noted that 2015 was an anomaly. Aurelio beams as he recalls the perfect start to summer, ensuring that the Kaiken whites will be delicious. Just as the season was developing nicely, the rains came – and continued. The elite Cabernet Sauvignon plantings were decimated by botrytis, and while there was some saving the Malbec in higher areas, there will be very small quantities available (though I am told it is outstanding).
Although Argentina is synonymous with beef, I thought I’d ask Montes Jr. for a favourite wine and food pairing. He immediately said that for him, it would be the eel and Torrontes, although he quickly qualified that statement by mentioning that the dish was essentially a Chilean one. But here was a man who certainly enjoyed his cooking, as evidenced by a mouth watering 10 minute description of varied beef dishes and their best pairings. To summarize, he would take a lovely marbled steak, barbecue it (a la parilla – wood fire please!) and pair it with the Ultra Malbec while he would pair his roast (in a magical-sounding soy sauce, oil, watercress and balsamic marinade) with the Cabernet Sauvignon.
I could have talked soccer (Messi or Sanchez), wine (Malbec or Cab) and national identity (Argentina = Italy, Chile = Switzerland) with the charming Mr Montes Jr. for a whole while longer. In amongst all of this chatter, some (much) wine was consumed, with my favourites being noted below. I left the evening
with travel plans buzzing through my head, dreaming of tango in Buenos Aires and the spectacular drive from Mendoza to Santiago, across the Andes, in the wake of those lucky, lucky geese.
My top 3 wine picks of the evening:
Starting off (as did our evening) with copious splashes of the Kaiken Sparkling Brut. I truly enjoyed this absolutely delicious wine, almost as much as I loathed the decision of the LCBO not to carry it. Made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes in a traditional method, this was so satisfyingly bone dry yet had a creamy quality to the bubbles. Absolutely fantastic and worth picking up in any forward-thinking province…like Alberta.
Another wine that I enjoyed was the terroir series Torrontes. I’ve always had a soft spot for these chameleon-like wines, with their perfumey muscat on the nose and deceptively fresh acidity on the palate.
My final spot goes to the Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon, which I personally found to be more interesting than its Malbec stablemate. What carried it for me was a great structure and lovely tannins. The berries and the vanilla were all in place, yet they were subtle, as was the dry and smooth tannic finish.