“Come, let me show you another side of Malbec, my friend.”
Winemaker Aurelio Montes Jr. spoke the lovely quote above. What distinguishes him from many of his peers is that he makes wines for consumers rather than for winemakers, because he considers himself “a consumer first and foremost.”
Perhaps this is why both of us (Alex, the Sommelier and Priya the casual drinker) were able to enjoy the horizontal tasting of Kaiken wines in Toronto at Nota Bene restaurant last week.
Over a lunch spanning a leisurely 3 hours (a lovely Argentinian custom we wish Canadians would adopt!) we sampled an incredible, and incredibly affordable lineup of wines but more than that, we felt we’d attended a winemaking Master Class!
The Montes family already had a successful wine enterprise with Montes Wines based in Chile, when Aurelio decided to launch a new line based in the Mendoza region of Argentina. His goal was to prove that “Argentina is more than malbec”. It was a risk but a calculated one.
He chose Argentina because it has a unique combination of dry weather and high altitude i.e. hot weather balanced by cold nights. He also chooses to make his wines in a style against the norm there, aiming for freshness and easier drinkability versus heavier styles that employ more new oak and syrupy fruit.
As Aurelio says, he wants to make wine a person could drink the entire bottle in an evening without realizing – not tap out after one glass!
How does this climate affect the wines? It makes for one of the best Chardonnays that non-Chardonnay-fan-Priya has tasted, and truly exceptional torrontes and malbecs that stand apart from the rest.
Now let’s get back to those malbecs. Aurelio has certainly succeeded in showing us a different side.
We tasted 3, starting with the Kaiken Reserva Malbec 2013 ($15.95).
Priya: Smells like salami but oh, how it melts in your mouth! This packs a suckerpunch of flavor and truly is ‘easy to understand, easy to drink’ as was Aurelio’s goal. It is a very food-friendly wine as well. My mushroom pasta was on the salty side but this malbec softened that salt up and really balanced it out. “It’s a wine I’m not going to recommend you age, I recommend you drink”, he says. Happy to oblige!
Alex: It’s certainly refreshing to taste a pure style of malbec from Argentina with minimal winemaker interference and just the right amount of ripeness. This is a spicy, light and fresh wine with spades of pepper and violets framed by light vanilla and blackberries, aromatic and easy to drink the entire bottle of. The best wine with truffle/mushroom pasta.
The Kaiken Ultra Malbec 2013 ($19.95) was up next.
Alex: The antithesis to the aforementioned malbec, this one is inky, ultra-rich, and totally mouth-filling. Potent plum jam, nutmeg and vanilla slathered generously over a fruitcake is the aroma, then you’re welcomed in with full-bodied richness, supple tannin and a spicy, perfumed finish. Like being covered with a wool blanket, it was indeed cozy – but a little too thick and warm for me.
Finally, the Kaiken Terroir Series Malbec 2013 (17.95).
Priya: This one smells like truffles, the kind that are hunted by dogs, not the chocolate ones! Makes sense then that it also went very well with my mushroom dish. It’s drier than the other malbecs but the tannins aren’t too pronounced and it’s still full-bodied with lots of flavor.
Alex: Aurelio suggests to pair this one with curry, and I can see that as a successful (though avant-garde) pairing. This is the middle brother of the three weight-wise, still sporting more than enough decadence, without sacrificing elegance. Sappy and svelte with great concentration for the cost and a fine crispness to the long, spicy, creamy finish. Outstanding value and an every palate pleaser.
It’s amazing really, 3 malbecs, same vintage, same winemaker but three very different experiences.
Another of his wines that really stood out for us was his Kaiken Ultra Chardonnay 2013 ($19.95).
Priya: Now it’s no secret that I am not a chardonnay fan at all and will basically only drink it under duress. That being said, this is the best chardonnay I’ve ever had and you wouldn’t have to twist my arm to drink it either. Most chardonnays are quite oak-heavy and he only uses 30% oak. Another wine designed for drinking with food, this was excellent with my quinoa and diced vegetable salad. And at only $19 it’s a real gem.
Alex: Twas a unique style here from Aurelio, and noticed by all present. It’s amply creamy yet without malolactic fermentation, which is a trait unique to Mendoza (90% of days are a clear sky). Must be nice, eh? Lemon custard, vanilla, pear and yellow apple on the nose – as expected – but it’s the texture of this wine that sets it apart from its many chardonnay peers. It was akin to fresh cream to me, velvety, wholesome and plush, with a fine spine of acidity weaving your way to an apple and custard finish. Graceful and food friendly.
The Kaiken Terroir Series Torrontes 2015 ($15.95) was also a star wine.
Priya: It has a lovely hint of effervescence and a mild flavor of beer but also a touch of fruity sweetness. Aurelio suggests serving it with a simple pasta garnished with fresh tomatoes and basil, or with ground beef-stuffed peppers. Sounds like he tailored that meal for Alex and myself—vegan and non!
Alex: This is a food pairing hero, able to stave off the bitterness of beets – the most daunting of outlaw wine-pairing vegetables. It boasts a high-toned, aromatic nose of grass, peach watermelon and cilantro. Spritzy and exciting palate with a wallop of peaches and pears through to a crisp, zesty finish. Very good torrontes, and will match just about anything first course.
Aurelio Montes, as he does in Chile, is making top quality wines for the price in Argentina that are tough to beat. He is an incredibly passionate, infectious, and down-to-earth winemaker who lives and breathes the stuff – and prices his products so that we all can too. Overall, we had a fantastic experience with him, and leave feeling strongly compelled to make Argentina our next vinous journey…
Priya & Alex, A Vine Romance
Wine Blogger & Sommelier
Toronto-based couple Alex and Priya are not only wine lovers, but also lovers in real life and describe themselves as the “Mulder and Scully of wine.”
Alex is a Certified Sommelier who lives, breathes, and of course, drinks wine. He is very passionate about wine and is currently the in-house sommelier for celebrity chef Susur Lee’s “Lee Restaurant”.
Priya, an actor and on-camera host with top Canadian film talent, she is a casual drinker and an entertaining hostess. Together, they are the hosts of the upcoming television series, “The Drink” on Bell FIBE1.
Together they aim to make wine fun, flirty and accessible, and offer corporate and in-home wine tastings and memorable events. Visit them at www.avineromance.com.