Monday, November 13, 2017

Montes & Kaiken...and a bit on climate

Let’s talk for a second about climate change. The planet is warming. One immediate impact is going to be on terroir. 

Tour any winemaking region, and a grower will tell you about the particular “microclimates” in certain valleys that make the grapes grow just so. A growing season’s weather largely determines the success of an individual season’s harvest.

While some regions are doing well, many of the major grape growing regions have been smacked simultaneously with some climate-driven calamities. Wildfires in California chewing through vineyards, huge hailstorms in France, abnormally hot weather in Italy and Spain – all these things are combining to produce, on average, one of the worst yielding harvests in memory across the Northern hemisphere.

The result? Well, aside from many boutique wineries shuttering permanently and vineyards that may take decades to recover from the damage – the immediate impact likely will be a steady increase in the price you’ll pay at the store for your vino, especially from regions in our half of the planet.

So, what to do? Well, grit our teeth and bear it, mostly, but it doesn't hurt to peek into some other regions to get the best bang for your wine buck. And our friends South of parallel zero will be happy to fill the need.

I recently had the chance to sample four bottles from Montes, a major Chilean wine producer. Montes began producing wine in 1987, and their Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon was, according to their website, the first “premium” wine to be exported from Chile. They followed that with Chardonnay, Syrah, and Merlot – then began producing an “Icon” series of higher-end wines as well as some more affordable options. Eventually, the Montes operation expanded across the Andes into neighboring Argentina, where they began producing wines under the “Kaiken” label (“Kaiken” is a wild goose, native to the area, often seen flying over the Andes…)

Here were my thoughts about these reds and whites:

Kaiken 2016 Terroir Series Torrontes – The nose on this wine is striking and powerfully floral. Peach blossoms practically explode from the glass here, reminiscent of many Viognier. My first taste impressions of this medium-bodied white reminded me a lot of a Dreamsicle, if you dial the sweetness way back. The finish, however, is quite dry and slightly alkaline, which for me detracted a bit from the wine’s overall balance on the palate. I liked it well enough, but it would be better with the right food pairing, like sushi – even grocery store sushi – with which it worked nicely. Around $15.

Montes Alpha 2014 Colchagua Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – The tech notes for this wine include the statement “Recommend decanting for 30 minutes.” In all honesty, I was surprised to see this on a Chilean cab, many of which – especially in our regular price range – tend to be more of the “pop and pour” variety. This bottle, however, definitely needs to breathe a bit. And I’d recommend full-on decanting, rather than just opening the bottle. Even after an hour, this wine was extremely tight – I got little but tannin and a little dark fruit to go with the steak I’d made. The fruit was still emerging after a day or two – plums and blackberries with a fair amount of lingering pepper on the finish, to go with some pretty robust coffee and leather. A “beef and chocolate” wine, certainly. Around $20-23.

Montes 2017 Spring Harvest Sauvignon Blanc – If you’re a fan of citrusy, grassy Sauvignon Blanc, this is going to be a good choice for you. Fragrant nose of grapefruit and lemon leads into a crisp, acidic body of lemons and melons. Finish is tart, with a streak of minerality to go along with a lemon custard aftertaste. A very refreshing, lighter bodied Sauvignon Blanc that would pair nicely with harvest salads and the like. Let the wine’s acidity cut through heavier cheeses and fruits. $15-17.


Kaiken 2014 “Ultra” Malbec – The ol’ Argentinean champ, Malbec, is going to be a great alternative if you’re trying to find some richer flavors. This “Ultra” line from Kaiken is the complement to the “Icon” line from Montes which I mentioned earlier – these being wines of some complexity and depth. With this Malbec, I found raspberry and cherry on the fragrant nose. The mouthfeel is big bodied at first sip and lives up to the “Ultra” name. It’s quite tarry and mouth coating. The flavor runs to berries and dark, chewy tannins that lead to a leather and charcoal run at the end. It’s a big honkin’ wine — maybe too big for sipping solo – but with something that has a little fat, like a good chop or ribeye, alongside, it’s a quality choice. $18-21.

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