In 2001, Aurelio Montes senior, winemaker and founding partner of Viña Montes in Chile, made the short hop across the Andes to Mendoza in Argentina. There he says he saw “The tremendous potential of the region and of Argentinean wines around the world.” Following further exploratory trips, Aurelio Montes founded Kaiken of Argentina in 2002. This is not the only cross-Andes project in South American winemaking, most noticeably Chilean giant Concha y Toro’s outpost in Mendoza called Trivento. But Montes playfully named Kaiken after the Caiquenes (wild geese) that make the same journey across the mountains between Argentina and Chile. Like Trivento, the Kaiken project does not simply employ Chilean winemaking on Argentine soil, but is an attempt to fuse the two with winemaking and ancillary staff from both countries engaged in the project. Montes says “The Montes team crossed the Andes with the intention of learning, experimenting, and forming a team of professionals whose innovative spirit and dedication to excellence would produce great wines.” Today Kaiken is headed up by the dynamic Aurelio Montes junior, and I was recently sent samples of the three wines from their ‘Ultra’ range to try for myself, each coming from very specific terroirs, and each aged in French oak. The wines are all bottled under cork, and each has 14.5% alcohol.
The wines are distributed in the UK by Liberty Wines. Some of the wines reviewed below are available in large retailers, including Tesco’s online ‘by the case’ service, but all are available through many independent retailers. I have included a wine-searcher link for each wine.
Kaiken, Ultra Chardonnay 2013, Argentina
From vineyards sited at 1,200 metres in the hip and happening Gualtallary sub-region of the Mendoza’s Uco Valley, one third was aged in French oak. There’s honey, almond and mealiness to spare in an attractive aromatic profile that is also about sweet apple fruit. On the palate it is powerfully nutty and concentrated, a big, dry and enveloping style of Chardonnay that is carefully oaked and retains plenty of biting acidity. Mouth-filling with a rolling texture, it might be an interesting wine to taste again after five years or so, to see if it has eased out just a little, allowing the fruit to come further forward. 89/100. £13.99, see all UK stockists on wine-searcher.
Kaiken, Ultra Malbec 2012, Argentina
Twelve months ageing in French oak for this Malbec, sourced from premium vineyards in three of Mendoza’s sub-zones. What a delightfully fragrant nose, with Sandalwood and burning incense, the tobacco and toast of the oak melting into the floral-edged black fruits of the Malbec, touches of chocolate and menthol, but savoury. In the mouth it is pretty sumptuous stuff, fairly big, velvety and soft with its ripe fruit, plush tannins and chocolate density of texture, but there is a lively cherry and blackcurrant-skin acidity too, in a long and simply delicious wine. Montes reckon this will have 10-years ageing potential. 92/100. £13.99, see all UK stockists on wine-searcher.
Kaiken, Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Argentina
With 5% Malbec in the blend, 80% of this spends a year in French oak. Fruit is mostly from vines that are over 50 years old in selected Mendoza regions. Less overtly plush than the Malbec, but with a tight, blackcurrant fruit and again that incense-like quality coming through, a touch of olive or herbs adding signature Cabernet notes. Though a little more structured than the Malbec on the palate – slightly tighter tannins, slightly keener acidity – there is some plush enjoyment in the mouth, enough coffee and chocolate to add smoothing richness, in a wine that Montes reckon has 10 year plus of cellaring potential. 90/100. £13.99, see all UK stockists on wine-searcher.