When it comes to wine, like father, like son

From left, Aurelio Montes Sr. and Jr. in Manhattan recently. Photograph by Doug Paulding.

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting with winemakers Aurelio Montes Sr. and Jr. It was a special occasion.

Aurelio, the elder, was born in Santiago, Chile, and educated there with an agronomy degree. He is an active man, enjoying sailing, skiing, golfing and flying both planes and helicopters. He helped usher in Chilean wines, from base-level bulk to boutique style, inspirationally made, quality wines that could stand up to (or exceed) many of the famous wines of the world. Aurelio the junior, was also born in Santiago and also studied agronomy with a big emphasis on winemaking. He enjoys endurance racing and skydiving. (I kiddingly asked him if his interest in parachuting had anything to do with any lack of confidence in Senior’s flying abilities.) When he was a teenager, father and son went to the Napa Valley to see what a fully established wine region looks like and what it has to offer. This trip “lit the fire” in Junior and he traveled extensively throughout the wine regions of the world to pick up what he could from grape growers and winemakers internationally.

Aurelio the elder was thrilled when Junior joined the Montes Wines team. He studied the soil of their vineyards with Pedro Parra, a PhD in terroir and quite possibly (probably) the world’s leading expert on the influence soil and rock composition and weather conditions have on the final product. Junior and Parra traveled over the Andes to Argentina to research some vineyard plots for the family. Excited about their finds, the family bought, developed and then named their new operation Kaiken winery.

In New York City, father and son addressed a small gathering of media folks with a PowerPoint presentation illustrating both wineries and their massive vineyard holdings. The wines in front of us were paired to compare father’s wine from Chile to son’s wine in Argentina and each would explain what they were trying to accomplish with each wine. Both of the Monteses are gregarious with near perfect English, a passion for life and a disposition toward social and ecological beneficence, including donations to developing local libraries and scholarships and moving toward biodynamic and organic vineyard and winery practices.

Chile’s vineyards have a maritime atmosphere while Argentina’s are totally continental, which creates, by necessity, a different style and approach to their management. The wines we tasted are all available in the New York metro market and are priced from $20 to $249 for the Montes Taita, composed of 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 15 percent mystery, that is, Winemaker’s Secret Choice. Both of their Chardonnays showed a lovely, silky mouthfeel with Junior’s offering a bit more sharply pleasant citrus. 

Kaiken’s Cabernet Sauvignon Ultra was mostly Cab with a touch of Malbec. Junior told us “In Argentina, we don’t get the spiciness of Chile.” The wine had a forward oakiness with dark cherry and hints of licorice. Senior’s wine was 90 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and, he adds, “10 percent Merlot for femininity.” It showed dark cherry fruit, fresh leather and black pepper.

We then tasted a Malbec from each of them. The Montes Alpha offered dark fruit, blackberry and spice. The Kaiken Ultra showed a lovely, silky mouthfeel that lingered with blackberry and pepper influence. The wines were getting better and more expensive. Said Senior:  “In Chile, I wanted to prove I could make a Bordeaux blend as good, or better, than in Bordeaux.” 

We tasted three vintages of Montes flagship wine Taita, 2007, 2009 and 2010. These wines each spend two years in French oak and then four years in bottle prior to release. Each shows varying amounts of inky dark fruit and concentrated spiciness with a full mouthfeel. Obviously, this is a special occasion wine for most of us, but all along the father’s and son’s inventories, everything was worthy and over-delivered for the price. 

Hmmm: Could be a great Father’s Day gift.

Write doug at doug@dougpaulding.com.

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