The kaiken goose is the only bird strong enough to fly over the Andes Mountains, which soar to more than 7,000 metres. Each year this goose, whose name comes from the Mapuche Indian language, flies from Chile to Argentina. It has a wingspan of two metres, needed for powering across the mountains.
Aurelio Montes senior, the noted Chilean winemaker and president of the international arm of Wines of Chile, was impressed by the terroir and ecology of the Mendoza region in Argentina after visiting in 2001. Montes and his son, who share the same name, set up Kaiken in Mendoza in 2002.
It takes strong men to take on the Argentines. The winery’s symbol is a stylised image of the Andes. The Kaiken non-vintage sparkling features the goose on the label.
The Montes have always been pioneers. Since Kaiken’s launch the number of wine estates in the Mendoza region has soared from a handful to more than 1,000. Mendoza is about a quarter of the size of France. Despite being only one of Argentina’s 54 provinces it makes 80 per cent of the country’s wine.
Aurelio Montes junior graduated with an honours degree in winemaking from the Catholic University of Chile in 1999. He worked vintages in Australia and the USA before returning to Chile. He left winemaking in 2005 to spend a year with the Maria Ayuda foundation, dedicated to helping Chile’s poorest children.
In 2011 he moved his family to Mendoza to head the Kaiken project. In an interview at the estate this week he said he had come to love the terroir and the people. “Mendoza is a great place to grow grapes because of the long hours of sunshine and the lack of pests. Being organic is very easy here.”
The main vineyard at Vistalba has been bio-dynamic since 2007. Montes junior aims to introduce bio-dynamic methods to the company’s three other vineyards in Mendoza. Asked if he understood bio-dynamic principles, he answered: “Sometimes we must trust our heart rather than science.” He believes these methods are “kind to the vineyard, and also kind to the people who work in the vineyard”. He aims to respect the environment and “work in harmony with the local people”. The estate feels and smells healthy, with more flowers, birdlife and butterflies than most vineyards.
Argentina and Chile have the same number of hectares under vine – 140,000 – but Montes junior points out major differences. “The biggest influence on winemaking in Chile is the ocean, whereas in Argentina the biggest factor is the large amount of sunshine.” Both countries focus on red. Seven out of 10 bottles are red.
Argentine vineyards export to an average of 10 countries. Kaiken exports to 65 — a reflection of the esteem in which the estate is held. A tasting at the estate confirmed this esteem.
Montes junior said he was always thinking about food when making wine, and he aims to be consistent. “Making a good wine one year is easy. But making great wine every year is much more difficult.”
The non-vintage Kaiken brut is made in “metodo tradicional” style using the classic grapes of Champagne: pinot noir and chardonnay. It is zingy and suggests grapefruit in the mouth. It spends two years in bottle to develop complexity before being released. The key to success, Montes said, was the quality of the grapes. The wine receives no malolactic fermentation and is picked early to ensure acidity.
The 2014 Kaiken torrontes has a marvellous floral and acacia nose with excellent acidity in the mouth and an aftertaste that lingers with a bitter almond tang, plus a slightly salty minerality that is most attractive. Anther great food wine.
The 2013 Ultra chardonnay receives no malolactic fermentation and a third is aged in older French oak. It has a mango and pineapple nose followed by fresh acid in the mouth. Another great food wine. “I never follow recipes when it comes to winemaking,” Montes said.
The 2014 rose made from 100 per cent malbec is a mass of ripe raspberries on the nose followed by pleasant acids and red fruits in the mouth, and a sour tang on the aftertaste. Montes uses leaf cover and irrigation to get big, juicy berries, and picks early to ensure freshness. It’s another lovely wine.
The flagship red called mAi (subs: Note spelling) means “first” in the language of the tribes that cultivated the Mendoza region. It’s Kaiken’s first icon wine, a blend of mostly malbec from its three oldest vineyards, some more than 100 years old. Montes said it was called the mAi “because hopefully [it’s] the first of many great wines”. The current edition (2009) spends 18 months in new French oak and then two years in bottle. The tsunami of black fruits is astounding, yet the tannins are soft and supple. It has delicious aromas of mint, rosemary and dried herbs plus an array of intense black fruits.
Other wines that impressed during the Chile trip were the Outer Limits range. Winemaker Jorge Gutierrez said Montes senior gave him permission to experiment. The 2014 sauvignon blanc had only been in the bottle a month yet offered profound flavours of lime, grapefruit and passion-fruit with a mineral backbone.
The 2012 pinot noir offers a cascade of savoury fresh red berries combined with an attractive earthiness and lively acidity. The 2014 cinsault is made by encouraging fermentation inside individual berries, followed by gentle pigeage and three months in old barrels. Pigeage is the process of plunging the cap into the wine to develop flavours. The result is a wine that tastes and smells like wild strawberries with a bright pink colour.
The 2012 CGM is a blend of cinsault (50 per cent) and grenache (30 per cent) with the balance mouvedre. It smells of lavender and red berries. The setting for this tasting — the Aconcagua Costa area 180km north of the capital Santiago — was blissful. Birds sang as the sun set in a pink haze and souls rejoiced at the beauty of the surroundings.
Disclosure: Vina Errazuriz paid for Stephen Quinn’s airfare and accommodation while in Chile.
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