Montes and Kaiken wines from the two sides of the Andes

We don’t know how jokes start in Chile but a big chunk of them are likely to be about the Argentines. On the other hand, some Argentinians think that Chile is not a country but a long beach. These are two giant countries divided by the third longest border between two countries in the world, which runs along the 6,000-7,000 metre high spine of the Andes. Their mutual history binds them together, but it also divides them due to a number of conflicts. These famously include when the late former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, was allowed to use Chilean airfields from which to launch sorties against Argentine forces. However, the Kaiken geese couldn’t care less about borders, since just like Aurelio Montes’ grapes, they are at home on both sides of the Andes.

 
From Chile with pride
To set the record straight, we’ve never been to Chile. Therefore, when we sought South-American wines for our selection at the beginning of the 2000s, we fell back on our reading, impressions and tasting experiences. Then, after taking all the mass producers out of the equation, only a few wineries with whom we would’ve been glad to work together remained. What tipped us towards Viña Montes was the story of the four founding friends, along with the graphic designs of Ralph Steadman – who is known for his Pink Floyd illustrations – on the labels. Subsequently, when we met Aurelio Montes in person at a wine fair, the feeling that we were bringing in good wines from good people only intensified. Since then a lot of time has elapsed, and we’d now like to focus on what their wines made on the two sides of the Andes are like.

Kaiken vadlúd Kaiken borvidék Montes Montes Apalta

Chile
Even though it is a New World wine country, the history of viticulture and viniculture can be traced back to the 16th century, to the times when Spanish conquistadors brought the first Vitis vinifera grape varieties along with them. The descendants of these varieties still grow happily on the steep slopes of the Andes. Three centuries later, in the middle of the 19th century, the French varieties that nowadays continue to define Chile also appeared. Despite the influence of the Spanish crown being the strongest politically in the country, in wine – especially after the phylloxera epidemic – it was French winemakers who determined the direction of developments. It was owing to their knowledge and experience, among other things, that the use of quality oak barrels spread, along with several grape varieties that continue to thrive. Carmenére has even come to be much more famous in Chile than in its native France.
In the extremely long (4,300 km) and narrow (at places only 100 km wide) coastal country, the temperate effect of the Pacific Ocean is paired with the protecting wall of the Andes. The melting snow coming off the world’s second highest mountain range provides a stable source for the rivers, which provides drip irrigation to the vines. Furthermore, the climate is so balanced that it is almost impossible to notice the difference between the seasons. Some people find the greatness of Chilean wine regions in this, but for others it makes the wines made here less interesting.
The most important wine regions are concentrated in the middle of the country, where grapes are grown on more than 100,000 hectares in the steep valleys. They grow mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Pais. And of course, there’s Carmenére, or Grande Vidure as it is often called. This variety originates from the Medoc region of Bordeaux, where the variety almost completely fell victim to the phylloxera louse. Despite Carmenére being confused with that other Bordeaux-arrival Merlot until 1994, Chilean winemaking today defines itself by this variety that yields such distinctive wine.

 

Viña Montes
In 1987 four people: winemaker Aurelio Montes; export and marketing specialist Douglas Murray; economist Alfredo Viadurre; and handyman/engineer/winemaker Pedro Grand dreamt up a winery that is based on premium winemaking, observing – what is most unusual in Chile – drastic yield and irrigation control. They planted the vines at such altitudes and on slopes of sharp incline on which cultivation had previously been unimaginable. They cultivated those grape varieties in such places as the now iconic Apalta Valley, and grew Syrah, neither of which the locals thought very much of. It was also here where really good quality Carmenére was born – and the name of Purple Angel has since become the synonym of the variety.
Based on the European-wide success of their first wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon in 1987, another brand known as the Alpha family grew and it became a worldwide hit immediately. Beside Cabernet, another five French varieties – Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – age in the French barrique barrels of the cellar, before they make it into the bottles under the Alpha name.
Their outstanding quality “mid category” is represented by the Limited Selection Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet – Carmenére. They are varietally pure and nicely balanced. Meanwhile, their entry wines are made complete by the perfectly made, impressively priced wines of the Classic Series. On the top of the cellar, as well as at the pinnacle of world winemaking, are the three wines of the premium category: Montes Alpha M (Cabernet Sauvignon), Montes Folly (Syrah) and Purple Angel (Carmenére). They are incredibly complex, exciting and extremely delicious. Robert Parker keeps rating them over 90 points.

 
Parker’s points from the Wine Advocate, December, 2012:
Montes Alpha M 2009 – 93 points
Montes Purple Angel 2010 – 90 points
Montes Folly 2008 – 92 points
Montes Alpha Syrah 2010 – 90 points
Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 – 91 points

 

Argentina
For the South-American country that has by today become the world’s fifth biggest wine producer, it was also Spanish colonists who brought the first grape vines right after they overpowered the local population here as well. Their first winery was founded in 1556 by Priest Juan Cedron in today’s Mendoza, to where he brought the first vines. These were supposedly of the Spanish Pais grape, which he brought in from the other side of the hill, from Chile’s Central Valley. Even though Argentina was long associated with large scale winemaking among wine consumers, with the help of international wineries and grape growers who moved here, they also swiftly and effectively turned to quality winemaking.
In protective surroundings on high lying areas with little rain, the grapes grow on their own roots without American rootstocks. Therefore, this soil escaped not only phylloxera but other vine diseases. On the terraced slopes the soil is mainly alluvial, sandy with clay in some places. Regarding grape varieties, this country shows a wider diversity than its neighbour across the Andes. In addition to the well-known international varieties, Italy’s Bonarda and Spain’s Torrontés are significant, but the region found its own real identity with the French Malbec. This variety was first planted in Mendoza in 1994, at a height of 1,500 meters above sea level.

 
Kaiken
Chilean Aurelio Montes founded the winery in Mendoza’s best area, the so-called First Zone, and in the Uco Valley, on terraces situated at an average height of 900 meters above sea level. The choice of name was also due to this dual dwelling and the relationship between the two countries: the Patagonian wild geese, or Kaikens as they are known locally, live happily on both sides of the Andes, in Chile and Argentina. The sun always shines here, the wind always blows and there is always snow melt available for irrigation, and the significant daily temperature change is constantly discernable – so the conditions are ideal for the grapes. The most important varieties are Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, which they bottle in two categories – Reserva and the French oak-aged Ultra – at the cellar. These are complemented with the blend, which was earlier called Corte and is now the Terroir Series, and comes from the best areas of Mendoza. The aim of the wine is to represent the colourfulness of the country – and Bonarda and Petit Verdot make this wine more colourful, alongside Malbec.