I am a firm believer that most of the time things work out. Now they may not work out exactly as I had planned, but generally speaking, I really can’t complain all that much. Such was the case back in July when I signed up to be a part of an online discussion of Montes and Kaiken wines with one of the founders’ son, Aurelio Montes, Jr. The four-week program was organized by the indefatigable Tina Morey of Wine Studio and the concept was rather straightforward: we would chat online for an hour on the four Tuesdays in July (more on Wine Studio below) while sipping on some samples from Montes and Kaiken.
Well, as fate would have it, I was only able to make a couple of the virtual “meetings” and quite frankly, I was feeling a bit guilty about it. Although it is not entirely clear what the goals are for virtual tastings in general, I am pretty sure that not showing up at all is not all that helpful in achieving those goals.
Thus, the guilt.
Well, a month later I was attending the Wine Bloggers Conference (#WBC15) in the amazingly beautiful Finger Lakes in upstate New York and I ran into none other than Aurelio Montes, Jr. himself. There was a bit of a walk around session at lunch. (If you have never been to a Wine Bloggers Conference, you must put that on your bucket list–all you need is a blog and if you are reading this, well, you obviously know it can’t be all that hard.)
By some quirky coincidence, I had Aurelio all to myself for about 5 minutes, so I decided that I should ask him a few questions for this article, to help assuage my guilt just a tad.
First off, Aurelio Jr. is a very good-looking man, with a great head of hair. Why do I mention that? Well, even though I should not complain about my crop up top (I do not yet have to resort to a comb over, but it may be in my future), I see a mane like Aurelio’s and I am instantly jealous. He can probably also grow a mean beard, which, as I have stated before I can not, and that irks me more than a tad.
I decided to put that all aside and we started to chat. The story behind Montes/Kaiken is definitely one that needs more exploring. Sure, they are huge (about a million cases produced), but Aurelio was quick with the stories, including the rather meager beginnings of the empire. It all started in 1988 when his father decided to open his own winery, but there was a small problem: he and his partner had no cash nor collateral, so they sought out a couple more partners. Unfortunately, neither of them had any funds either. As Aurelio Jr. put it: his father was great at finding partners who were talented and passionate about making wine, he just was not so great at finding some who also had money to invest in the venture.
Fortunately, one of them had a car to sell, which they did and used that as the seed money to start the empire (I asked Aurelio: “It must have been a pretty nice car, no?” He responded “Oh no, it was horrible, but it was enough.”)
Aurelio Jr. did not see much of his father growing up as he left early in the morning before they were up and came home well after they had gone to bed. There was certainly a bit of sadness associated with that memory, but the son knew that his father was doing it to provide for his family. Today, while most of his friends think he leaves a glamorous life, the son takes on much of the role that his father played, and for 3/4 of the year Junior is either at the winery or on the road selling. In fact his father sees Junior’s kids more than he does, which is a bit of an odd twist.
As I mentioned above, the four wines sampled below came from Protocol Wine Studio in San Diego. They have a wonderful wine club, Le Metro Wine, which is a monthly program where a group of sommeliers assemble a six-pack of wine around a common theme. I have participated a few times now and they always assemble a slate of wines that are delicious and often difficult to find. I highly recommend them.
2015 Montes Spring Harvest Sauvignon Blanc Leyda Valley Chile: Retail $15. I will say up front that I am not a huge Sauvignon Blanc fan, but there is something about this wine. Mango, guava, and a bit of banana on the nose leading to a very crisp wine with tons of fruit and even a bit of panache. Really well done, particularly given the price. Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2012 Montes Alpha Carmenère Colchagua Valley Chile: Retail $25. A fruity welcome of blackberry, cassis, mocha, and a bit of bacon. One of the darkest wines I have seen in a while, and rather viscous on the swirl. On the palate, whoa, this is rather big. All kinds of fruit with a bit of intrigue, but it is tucked well behind all that fruit. I am not sure if or when that depth will fully show itself, but if you have the patience, it would be worth it. In the meantime, this is a big juicy wine that is a ton of fun to drink. Very Good, maybe more. 88-90 Points.
2015 Kaiken Terroir Series Torrontés Salta Argentina: Retail $18. This started off really tropical with banana, guava, and passion fruit, so I stuck it in the fridge overnight. It calmed down considerably the next day. Still tons of tropical fruit, but the acidity peeks through and balances out all that fruit. I like this much better on day two. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2012 Kaiken Ultra Malbec Mendoza Argentina: Retail $20. Not shy in the fruit department here with mostly darker berry fruit (e.g., blackberry and cassis) predominant. Originally, this was rather austere with not much fruit coming through on the palate, but with a bit of time open, there was a rather dramatic transformation into a rich full-bodied wine with ample fruit and higher than average depth. A good hour or so decant is strongly advised here. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.