I have roughly a dozen really nice bottles of Malbec in the cellar that my wife and I brought back from our trip to Argentina a few years ago. I believe they’ll all improve with another decade of careful maturation, but nonetheless I did pick out one to open a couple of months back. As fate would have it, before I had the chance, we received the good news that another child is on the way. My wife suspended her drinking and that bottle, among others, went back into the cellar for safe keeping. While I’m happy to reserve the best bottles of our collection until we can share them, that doesn’t mean I have to abstain entirely, and so this more recently and locally purchased wine fits the bill without making my wife too jealous. Today’s wine is the Kaiken Mendoza Malbec 2009.
This is the fourth Malbec dominated wine this blog has seen, and I described the grape with a decent level of detail when I covered the Majestic Plough on Malbec World Day. However, to quickly review it’s a red grape, originally from and part of the classic red Bordeaux blend, but it’s more recent French home is in Cahors. In the New World, it is widely planted, particularly in the Southern Hemisphere, and Argentina is the country where is has become the national grape. We hit upon Mendoza when I wrote about the Zuccardi Aglianico but to recap it’s an arid region of Argentina in the rain shadow of the Andes, and vine cultivation is only possible through irrigation based on the annual melt of the snow cap. Malbec is the most widely planted, and indeed signature grape of the region.
So having written previously and separately about both the grape and the region, it’s worth spending some time on Malbec specifically in the context of Mendoza. In the vineyard, the region mitigates some of the weakness of the grape. Malbec is prone to downy mildew and rot which are most commonly problems under wet conditions, but since Mendoza is essentially high desert, neither is so much of an issue. Likewise in Bordeaux Malbec ripens after Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon as it needs more sunshine, but in Mendoza the combination of clear skies and altitude allows the grape to not just ripen consistently, but also to develop a fruitiness not found in French Malbecs . Apparently the higher ultraviolet component at altitude also encourages thicker skin development, which provides more and softer tannins.
In terms of picking a producer that is typical of Mendoza, I must admit I am more than slightly off the mark. While Kaiken produces wines in Argentina, it is actually a label in the family of wines from Montes, a multinational producer originally from Chile. Fittingly this branch of the company is named for a species of wild goose that regularly crosses the Andes between the two countries. Under the Kaiken label, Montes produces varietal wines and blends largely based on Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon at different quality levels, as well as a Malbec rosé and a traditional method sparkling wine from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Founded in 1987, Montes, the parent company, produces several lines of wines in Chile, from vineyards in the Colchagua Valley (including one in Apalta), Aconcagua Valley and Curico Valley. They were one of the first large exporters of Chilean wine, and have branched out not just to Mendoza, but also to Napa and Paso Robles in California.
This wine is in the Kaiken Reserva line, which is worth a quick note. The term “reserva” is legally defined in Spain with respect to how a wine has been matured, and such treatment is generally applied only to wines of higher than typical quality. Within the New World, “reserve” is used more broadly, and without legal definition, often by producers to indicate a range of wines that are of higher quality than their standard range. However, some producers use “reserve” or “reserva” for even their most modest wines, which has devalued the term to a large extent, and as the Kaiken Reserva line is their most affordable, that could well be the case in this instance. Even more confusingly, some Grands Crus Classés producers in Bordeaux incorporate the term “reserve” into the names of their second wines, such as Réserve Léoville Barton. In short, if you see the term “reserva” or “reserve” it can indicate very different things (or nothing at all) depending on the context.
And as much as I like to pick nits about how wines are labelled or positioned in the market, the real judgement of a wine is in the tasting. In the glass, this wine is dark ruby with quick legs. On the nose, it’s clean and developing, with sweet spice, plum, cinnamon, and raspberries, not to mention a bit of oak and cedar. On the palate it’s dry with medium acidity, medium plus alcohol, medium plus fine tannins, medium plus body, medium plus intensity, and a medium length. There are notes of red meat, chocolate, simple red fruit, brambles, and a mocha finish.
This wine is good, but I can’t go any higher than that. It has a granular texture – not because there are bits floating in it but just because that’s how it’s hitting my palate. I don’t know if it’s just not well integrated yet, but it’s perceptible in the mouth in a somewhat negative way. Also, there were no violets or perfume on the nose, which to me are essential for a Malbec experience, particularly one that’s only three years old. Beyond that though, there was some complexity on the nose and palate that showed some development, it was in balance as far as the intensity, tannins and body, though could have used more acidity, and the flavour profile was pleasant enough even if it was missing some of the varietal characters I wanted. I don’t normally go into price in my analysis, but as the theme for this week is “cheap and cheerful” it should be known that this was not an expensive wine, and as such delivered good value for money.