Monday, August 18, 2014

Kaiken Wines

Kaiken Premium Wines at Primitivo Bistro
Earlier this week I had lunch with Aurelio Montes, Jr. of Montes and Kaiken Premium Wines at Primitivo Wine Bistro.  The media event was a great way to learn about and taste wines from Argentina.
So what about the name "Kaiken?" I encountered the brand name earlier this year at the Simply Wine Festival where the 2011 Kaiken Ultra Malbec won an "Exceptional Value Wine" award.  I wondered if Kaiken was a family name, a geographic name, or what? I guess it turns out that it's an or what ... it comes from "Caiquenes," the wild Patagonian geese that are the only birds that can make the journey across the Andes Mountains from Chile to Argentina.  

Aurelio Montes, Sr. (founding partner of Viña Montes in Chile) followed a similar direction in crossing the Andes when he came from Chile to Mendoza, Argentina in 2001. In Mendoza he found the people, terroir, viticulture and enology to produce Argentinean wines that would combine the great conditions of the Mendoza region with the talents of people from Argentina and Chile. 

The Kaiken Mendoza vineyards are in a region of foothills and high plains on the eastern side of the Andes. About 800 miles to the north of Mendoza is the town of Cafayate, in the Salta province, where their white Torrontés grapes are grown. 

Some other interesting aspects I learned about making wine in Argentina are:
  • Argentina is the largest producer of wine in South America and the fifth largest producer of wine in the world. 
  • The region around Greater Mendoza is the largest wine producing area in Latin America. 
  • A very small change in elevation affects the grapes dramatically.
  • Severe weather with golfball-sized-hail can destroy a vineyard, so they put up sturdy nets to protect the grapevines during growing season.
  • Kaiken only uses concrete tanks to maintain low temperatures during hot summers and to let the wine breathe during fermentation.
The Kaiken reception on the Primitivo patio started with tasty appetizers and a splash of Kaiken Brut. The sparkling wine is made from 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay using the traditional method.  I was initially skeptical of a sparkling brut from Argentina, but I found it to be very drinkable and would have had another glass if I wasn't there to taste wines.
I enjoyed meeting importers and other wine writers during the tasting. And I was surprised to be sitting next to Jonathan Cristaldi of The Tasting Panel Magazine; I’d just heard him talk about various wine certifications at the Wine Bloggers Conference last month. He looked like he knew what he was doing as he sipped and scribbled pages of notes; probably using the WSET Level 3 Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine. 
Aurelio Montes, Jr., winemaker/owner of Bodega Kaiken since 2011, gave a great overview of growing and making wine in Argentina (with nice video graphics).  We tasted flights of wine as he talked about the viticulture of each wine.
Almost looks like a party at my place.
The first tasting flight included these wines:
  • Kaiken 2012 Terroir Series Torrontés
  • Kaiken 2011 Reserva Cabernet
  • Kaiken 2011 Reserva Malbec
Kaiken 2012 Terroir Series Torrontés,  Cafayate Valley, Salta Region
I'd never experienced a wine quite like this one before. Researching the Torrontés grape I found it is a white grape that produces fresh, aromatic wines with moderate acidity, smooth texture and mouthfeel, plus peach and apricot aromas on the nose. The tasting notes from Kaiken add aromas of Muscat, fresh flowers and tropical fruits. I registered the floral nose, but the flavor characteristics were unusual to me and not my preferred style.  
This was Kaiken's first harvest from 80-year-old vines grown at an average of 6000 feet high. These older vines have a smaller yield with better fruit. The retail price is $15.

Kaiken 2011 Reserva Cabernet, Mendoza and Uco ValleyKaiken describes this wine as being made with 70% of the grapes from 50+ year old vines  in the Mendoza vineyards of Perdriel, Lunlunta and Agrelo and 30% from vineyards in the Uco Valley. The nose has intense aromas reminiscent of ripe plums and strawberries, accompanied by soft vanilla notes. It's soft and fresh in the mouth with a pleasant finish, when the fruit aromas of the wine make a comeback. The varietal mix is 96% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Malbec. I thought it was excellent and the retail price is only $12!

Kaiken 2011 Reserva Malbec
A combination of 70% of the grapes from 40+ year old vines in the Agrelo and Vistalba vineyards and 30% from vineyards in the Uco Valley. The nose has mature red fruits and some spiciness, accompanied by vanilla aromas.  The mouth has a nice acidity with velvety, round and elegant tannins. The varietal blend is 96% Malbec and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. I found this wine to be a very rich with a black fruit flavor and a slight essence of leather. Very good and the retail price is only $12!
The second tasting flight included these red wines:
  • Kaiken 2012 Terroir Series Malbec
  • Kaiken 2011 Ultra Cabernet 
  • Kaiken 2011 Ultra Malbec
Kaiken 2012 Terroir Series Malbec
Described as having a nose of blueberries, blackberries and floral aromas, this wine is backed by the structure and freshness of Petit Verdot, ending with a mineral finish provided by Bonarda (aka Douce noir, a red French wine grape variety). The unique combination of Bonarda and Petit Verdot contribute a freshness and structure to the Malbec characteristics. I thought it tasted very good. The retail price is $22.

Kaiken 2011 Ultra Cabernet  
According to Kaiken's technical data this wine is 96% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Malbec. It has hints of mature red berries, tobacco and spices accompanied by vanilla notes. On the mouth it is a dense, mouth filling wine showing plum, redcurrant and mocha flavors, good structure with ripe, round and soft tannins. 
Well, I found it to be very tannic, but I suppose it can mellow out over time. The Kaiken food pairing notes made sense to me. I'm sure this Cabernet pairs well with red meats and spicy sauces, becaue it went very well with the spicy pizza appetizer that was served. Just what I like--a rich red wine that pairs well with spicy food! This wine is well worth the $23 retail price.
Kaiken 2011 Ultra Malbec
Kaiken's notes describe this wine as having a nose that's flowery with mineral notes, plus spicy touches. On the mouth it has a flavor of sweet plum, mocha and black cherry plus tannins that are both soft and present. Well balanced with a very long and polished finish, where fruits like blueberry and boysenberry are evident.  I definitely got big a black cherry flavor characteristic. Yummy! Now I know why the 2011 Ultra Malbec won an "Exceptional Value Wine" award--at the low price of $14-$19 it's a winner!
 This guy is really into his wine!
Kaiken 2007 Mai
Kaiken explains that “Mai” means “First” in the language of the indigenous Pehuenches, which is why it was selected for the name of their first icon wine. Mai is a combination of Malbec grapes from the from 80-year-old vines in Agrelo, Vistalba, and Vista Flores regions of Mendoza. The wine has ripe fruit and spicy aromas, and a silky, sensuous palate with smooth, ripe tannins. It is produced in limited quantities of about 500 cases per year.

I found it to be an excellent red wine and the 18 months in new French oak barrels, plus 5 1/2 years in the bottle, produced a very mellow wine. A very nice pairing of Mai with steak and pommes frites was a wonderful way to finish the wine tasting.  
I'm sure a bottle of 2007 Mai is worth the $80 retail price with 91 point ratings from both Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator, although my budget may have a little trouble with the $80 price.  I suppose I could rationalize buying a few bottles if I save about $200 (or more, depending on the prices you're comparing) by buying just one case of 2011 Reserva Cabernet and one case of 2011 Ultra Malbec. Wine Searcher lists Kaiken 2007 Mai at a few Southern California locations:
  • Vino Paraiso, Murrieta $69.95
  • Wine House, Los Angeles $79.99
Aurelio Montes, Jr. with a bottle of 2007 Mai
The Kaiken wines were great, very inexpensive overall, and now I know that good wines from Argentina include Cabernet Sauvignon as well as Malbec. I think I'm going to be buying a lot more red wine from Argentina, and maybe even taste Torrontés another time.

What's your favorite wine from Argentina?

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