There are lots of clichés that could be applied to Aurelio Montes Jr – ‘like father, like son’, ‘following in his father’s footsteps’ and ‘the apple never falls far from the tree’ all immediately spring to mind. Yet to just draw a simple comparison between the winemaker at Argentina’s Kaiken Winery and his famous father across the Andes mountains at Vina Montes in Chile would undermine Aurelio’s achievements in his own right, including the three stonking wines in the Kaiken Ultra range.
Aurelio visited Edinburgh late last year and I was lucky enough to grab a bite to eat with him and his colleague, Ignacio Torti, at Ecco Vino, an excellent wine bar on the city’s Cockburn Street. The pair brought with them the three Ultra wines, which are available at a number of bottle shops throughout Scotland.
But first a short history lesson – in 1987, Aurelio’s father, Aurelio Montes Sr, founded Discover Wine in Chile, which would later be renamed Montes and which has grown to become one of the best-known names in Chilean winemaking. In 2001, he visited Argentina’s Mendoza region and, spotting its potential, returned the following year to found Kaiken, a winery named – appropriately enough – after the geese that fly over the Andes between Argentina and Chile.
After a career in winemaking that took him from his native Chile to Australia and the United States, Aurelio Jr joined the family business at Montes in 2007 before moving his family to Argentina in 2011 to take over as winemaker at Kaiken. Since then he has been experimenting with the terroir in different parts of Argentina – such as Vistalba in Lujan de Cuyo, Vista Flores in the Uco Valley and Salta, which he highlights as one of the best areas for growing the Torrontes white grape – to learn about the different styles of wines that can be created by bringing the wines from each area together. He emphasises the sheer scale of Mendoza, which is often reduced to a single name on our wine bottles in the UK but which encompasses many different soils and micro-climates.
Aurelio is clearly settled in his new home in Argentina; he waxed lyrical about the fun he has hosting barbecues for friends and family and hearing about how much meat Argentinians consume when compared with us Brits made a steak-lover like me start to salivate. He also drew some interesting comparisons between Chileans and Argentinians.
‘If Chile and Argentina were playing tennis then Chile would be like Roger Federer – very efficient – while Argentina would be more like Andre Agassi, more flamboyant and colourful,’ smiled Aurelio. After tasting his wares, I can see that he is bringing the best of both worlds together to create some really interesting wines under the Ultra label – and that’s no cliché.
Kaiken Ultra Chardonnay 2013 (Aitken Wines, The Fine Wine Company)
Aurelio describes the Uco valley as the best part of Argentina’s Mendoza region for white wine and Pinot Noir and with this example it’s hard to argue. There are plenty of tropical fruit flavours – dominated by pineapple, but also some melon and ripe peach notes – which strike a nice balance against the acidity. About 40% of the wine has spent 12 months in French oak barrels to give it flavours of vanilla and to create the smooth and rounded feel in the mouth. But this is no New World oak monster – the oaky vanilla notes are well integrated into the wine, producing an ideal match for seafood such as prawns, which is what we enjoyed it with at Ecco Vino.
Kaiken Ultra Malbec 2012 (Aitken Wines, Henderson Wines, L’Art du Vin, Luvians Bottle Shop)
Malbec has put Argentina on the world’s red wine map and this is a top-notch example. It’s rich and smooth, with velvety tannins and plenty of fruity red cherry and blackcurrant flavours. There are floral hints of violets on the nose and then some notes of sweeter spices like cinnamon and cloves, which come from ageing the wine in oak barrels. Tasting the wine, you can see why it goes so well with steak and other beef dishes, thanks to the tannins and the beautifully-integrated oak.
Kaiken Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (Woodwinters)
Aurelio creates his Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon by blending wines made from grapes grown at Vistalba in the Mendoza region and at Los Arboles further south in the Uco Valley. The Vistalba grapes bring a rich mouthfeel, while the Uco wine adds a spicy note on the nose. The result is full of aromas of blackcurrants and red cherries, with deeper more stalky notes. On the palate, its dry and has very soft tannins, which are well integrated with the redcurrant fruit and the spicier white pepper notes. There’s also a long, fruity finish.