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Kaiken Premium Wines: Argentina’s Value Proposition

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To many consumers Argentine wines are mid-level wines of good value. A decent Malbec could be $12 on the shelf. These consumers may not realize that Argentina also produces premium wine. Kaiken Premium Wines is a prime example of an Argentine wine producer to consider.

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I had a chance to judge the quality to price proposition at a tasting this last Monday at a well-known restaurant in Venice, California, called Primitivo. Here these Argentine wines were not served alone, out of context, but with food. I was presented the perfect opportunity to determine for myself whether all the hype about good value Argentine wines was correct.

We started the afternoon with a sparkling wine reception on the outside patio. Even though it was mid-August, the cool Santa Monica ocean breeze was pleasant against the face, and I was ready for some sparkling.

We started out with a “Kaiken Brut” sparkling wine, 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay.

This was a medium dry sparkling with good fruit and some yeast in the finish.

I paused between sips to ask the winemaker chatting with guests what the name “Kaiken” meant. He told me this was a distinctive “high-flying” South American goose, who was able to fly over the Andes—no mean feat, as these mountains dividing Chile form Argentina are thousands of feet hight and hundreds of miles across.

From the Patio we then moved into Primitivo’s Restaurant to sample more wine and food with a sit down lunch. I was very happy to see some delicious savory appetizers being served at the table, including creamy mozzarella with basil and balsamic glaze on a crispy toast.

We are starting three rounds of tasting at three separate price points, and presumably quality levels. The first was “Kaiken Reserva.” This included “Kaiken Reserva Malbec 2011” which had medium tannin, medium acidity and a smooth finish, followed by “Kaiken Reserva Caberet 2011”which had medium tannins and acidity with good balance.

I was pleased to taste quality cabaret sauvignon beyond the usual Malbec being produced in Argentina. In addition, we had the pleasure to taste a “Kaiken Terroir Series Torrontes 2012,” which was a rounded white with good fruit and acidity produced from from Northern Argentina in the Salta area. This would be a good Summer sipping wine enjoyable with light faire.

We then moved on to the “Ultra” series which included “Kaiken Ultra Cabernet 2011.” This wine came from 80 year old wines, had concentrated fruit with a touch of spiciness, cassis and red berry nose, moderate tannin, medium-high acidity and a medium-long finish.

I was pleased to learn that this complex wine with ripe tannin sold at $22 a bottle. This is a great value proposition, as similar wine from Napa Valley could go for $40 to $50 a bottle. What was particularly noteworthy was how well the wine was drinking even being a 2011. The wine was aging well and could be held for the next 5 years or longer.

This wine was followed by “Kaiken Ultra Malbec 2011,” and “Kaiken Terroir Series Malbec (Blend) 2012.” This wine was aged in 50% new French Oak for 10 months, had soft tannins, medium acidity, some spice, full mouth feel and a nice long finish.

The last wine we had was a great joy to drink. Primitivo’s French owner, Daniel, served “Steak Frites,” a French classic bistro dish, which was the ideal pairing for this robust wine.

The wine was “Kaiken Mai 2007.” This was a wonderful wine with smooth round elegant balance of acidity and fruit with ripe tannin and good structure. I was greatly impressed that the wine was $80 a bottle, particularly as I was comparing it with those top premium wines from Argentina going for well over $100 a bottle, mostly $150 to $200 a bottle, these being Vina Cabo or Luigi Boca.

What impressed me was at every level—-the “Reserva” at $12, the “Ultra” at $22, and now at the “Mai” at $80, a consumer would be getting tremendous value for money.

I believe the reason is the brand, “Kaiken” is newer on the Argentine wine horizon, even though this brand comes form a famous and well-know Chilean wine family “Vina Montes.”

The son of the patriarch of Vina Montes, Aurellio Montes, Sr., is Aurellio Montes, Jr.

He explained that he crossed the Andes from Chile to Argentina —-similar to the namesake bird,Kaiken, that wild goose that flies high across the Andes—to make wine in Argentina, even though he is Chilean, for one important reason.

That reason is the terrior is profoundly different in Argentina than Chile. While Chile makes excellent and wonderful wine, the Andes jump up from a relatively flat plain. On the other side of the Andes in Argentina, the mountain slope gradually down allowing many different altitudes, soil types and micro-climate growing areas. Growing premium wine at 2,000 feet is a normal practice in Argentina.

This kind of growing area provides unique conditions to allow the wines to “struggle” and have lower-yield concentrated fruit. It also provides the “sweet spot” which ever wine connoisseur wants, namely ripe tannin with good acidity and a “rounded” quality which the ultra premium French wines, such as Chateau Lafaite provide--- with 30 years of aging.

In sum, the Kaiken Premium Wines of Argentina are a fresh approach to wine drinking and deliver a value proposition at every level of purchase. They are well worth trying.

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