Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Report from ... Montes Dinner at Splendido - September 26, 2011

It struck me on the way home, sitting on a bench at Union Station (downtown Toronto), that Aurelio Montes is making wines in the three most advantageous places in the world of wine: California, Argentina and Chile, all he needs to make the quad-fecta is a winery operation in Australia and he's working all 4 hip hot climates.  What I'd like to see is how he'd fare in one of the world's cool climate regions: Bordeaux, New Zealand, Oregon, Ontario, just to see if he could spin his usual gold there.  But I don't think these regions are on his radar for the future, sure he admits Europe seems a great place to conquer, but I suspect that depends where.  All these thoughts run through my hazy noggin as I am returning from the Splendido Montes tasting on this Monday evening, where we tasted 8 Montes wines in a structured tasting (4 Alpha M's and 4 Folly) as well as another 8 with dinner plus 2 extras for the reception (sparkling and Chardonnay) - all told 18 wines were sampled.

Aurelio ...
Mr. Montes proved to be a really eloquent and enthusiastic speaker.  After apologizing for his "rudimentary" English (having been born and raised in Chile) he went on to speak (in English) for a good half-hour about wines, his history, etc. with nary a linguistic mistake - now granted he doesn't have a proper British accent but with his Chilean-patter he did exceptionally well.

We learned that Montes wines are sold in 110 countries and that their wines are the only Chilean wines on 20 Bordeaux restaurants wine lists.  That Montes was started as a "retirement project" that has become more full time than most full time jobs he has had.

Started in 1987, Montes was the brainchild of Aurelio Montes and Douglas Murray, who wanted to set a new standard "of excellence for Chilean wine".  From there the Montes name has expanded into Argentina (2001) under the brand Kaiken and now as a Californian Angel (2006) with wines being made with both Napa and Paso Robles fruit; "I was just looking for a new challenge," Aurelio admitted in his talk.

Memorable Quotes ...
"In the beginning things were planted everywhere and anywhere, watermelons were beside Cabernet Sauvignon and carrots were beside Pinot Noir, in the same piece of land."

"People ask me about the music I play in the barrel rooms, they say: "what does music do for the wines?"  I have no idea, but I love it."  Said with a sly smile.

Kaiken means wild goose in local language of Argentina, "I'm just like the wild goose," Aurelio explains, "flying over the Andes, except I am not trying to propagate or feed, I'm just trying to make good wine." 

And on this night we tried a boat load, along with some tasty food whipped up by Victor Barry, executive chef at Splendido.

Structured Tasting ...
Four vintages of Alpha M, named for the partners of Montes: Montes and Murray, Aurelio also joked it stood for money - referring to what the pair was hoping to make.  Wines started at $89.00 and rose to $129.00 - so maybe not as jokey as originally believed.  We tried the 1997, 2003, 2005 and 2007.  "You'll notice you're having all odd vintages," Aurelio pointed out, "that's because the odd vintages just seem to be better than the even ones."

Alpha M is the Montes version of a Bordeaux-style blend with Cabernet Sauvignon being the dominant grape (left bank style) to the tune of 80%, with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, which Aurelio calls his "wild partner" because it's the wild card of the blend - some years taking up to 5% while in others being only 2-3.

There was something interesting about each year's wine but the 2005 Alpha M ($99.00) just had everything going for it.  Nicely balanced with great fruit, chocolate, black cherry and soft, silky tannins.  This was a lush, plush sexy and smooth wine. (**** 1/2)

Montes Alpha M 1997 (***+)
Montes Alpha M 2003 (*** 1/2+)
Montes Alpha M 2007 (*** 1/2+)

The Folly Syrah is a different story: 100% Syrah from cuttings taken from the Rhone Valley in France.  Folly is a silly wine with serious undercurrents, but this silliness has to do with how it came into being.  We tried Folly from 4 vintages: 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2006.

While the Folly 2005 was layered with aromas: mint, blackberry and chocolate; and flavours: mint, cherry, white pepper, sweet fruit with a touch of smoked meat (**** 1/2) and was my highest scoring Syrah - there was a little something to the Folly 2006, which showed a degree of finesse and elegance not found in the '05.  So really it was a tough call dependent on what kind of Syrah you are looking for (****+).  Aurelio called the '05 masculine and the '06 more feminine.  Which stands to reason, since he had to work harder on the '06 than the '05 (his comment not mine).

Montes Folly 2001 (****)
Montes Folly 2003 (****)

Reception ...
Kaiken Brut - ****
The inaugural Canadian tasting of the Kaiken Brut (Argentina, $19.95) a 70/30 Pinot Noir to Chardonnay sparkler that has lovely toastiness, baked apple with a touch of pear, especially on the palate ... there's a slightly sweet note to the palate and a long luxurious finish that makes this quite a steal for $19.95 (****+).  When they ran out of bubbles they poured the Montes 2009 Alpha Chardonnay ($19.95 - Vintages Now), which had vanilla, almond and a hint of coconut (****).

Dinner ...
Four courses, 8 wines ... below are the best of each pairing

Chile ...
Montes Purple Angel 2007 ($49.95) - blackberry and cherry with an elegance and structure that's goes far beyond its 50 dollar price tag - a palate of blueberry, cassis and mocha; juicy front leads to a peppery finish. (**** 1/2)
Other wine:  Montes Alpha 2009 Carmenere ($19.95 - ****)

Argentine ...
Kaiken 2009 Ultra Malbec ($19.95) - same star score for each but price wins out here.  Juicy red and black fruit with pepper, spice and really good structure for 5 years worth of ageing. (****)
Other wine: Kaiken 2007 Mai Malbec ($89.95 - ****)

California - Napa ...
Napa Angel 2007 Aurelio's Selection ($89.00) - a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and picked from the best grapes / best parcels of the 15-18 year vines where they buy their grapes from.  Red licorice, cherry, vanilla with juicy red fruit, chocolate-strawberries and a dusty finish. (*** 1/2+)
Other wine: Napa Angel 2007 ($49.00 - *** 1/2)

California - Paso Robles ...
Star Angel 2008 Aurelio Selection ($59.00) - a mainly Syrah based blend with mere hints of Grenache and Mourvedre added for additional structure.  This wine was full of both red and black fruit. (****)
Other wine: Star Angel 2008 ($29.00 - *** 1/2)

Thanks to Stephen Marentette for inviting me to the event.

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