Every bottle of wine is an opportunity to learn something.
This is why I love participating in #WineStudio, a live, 4-week long, wine tasting and education series that takes place each Tuesday evening from 9-10pm EST on Twitter. We discuss things like terroir, winemaking, grape varieties, culture, pairings, and occasionally (OK, often), there’s a smattering of tomfoolery. It’s hosted by Protocol Wine Studio, and usually focuses on a singular theme, but wines and/or wineries change each week. If you haven’t already, please join in the conversation!
That said, I haven’t participated in #WineStudio for a few months. The 9pm EST start time kills me. For a hodgepodge of reasons, that’s the Hour of Chaos and Meltdown at my house. But last month, Protocol switched the time to 8pm to accommodate our Chilean winemaker guests, so I carpe’d the diem, and decided to participate. You wouldn’t think one hour would make a difference. It does. It soooooo does.
Part of the #WineStudio experience is the opportunity to taste some sample wines from the guest wineries. And in return, participants are asked to write-up their impressions of both the wines and the evening. With so many of my fellow bloggers writing keenly about the very same thing, I wanted to come up with an angle that’s at least a little bit different. So, I decided to make a list of 11 things (because 10 is passé) I learned.
Our #WineStudio guests last month were Aurelio Montes, Sr., of Montes Wines (in Chile), and Aurelio Montes, Jr., of Kaiken Wines (in Argentina).
- Montes means mountains in Spanish. (OK, I already knew that, but it’s an interesting tie in vis-a-vis the South American terroir).
- Aurelio Montes Sr.’s philosophy is, “80% of good wine comes from the vineyards and only 20% from the cellar”. A perfect summary to one of my biggest #WineStudio takeaways: Nurture the vineyards, and the wine will follow.
- Part of taking care of the vineyards is paying attention to your terroir. Montes initiated a project in 2009 to study “the impact of different levels of irrigation in vines, the quality of the grapes and the resulting wines, under the premise that less irrigation means lower yields and higher quality.”
- Enter the farming technique, Dry Farming, where you pretty much let Mother Nature take the Rain Wheel. The vineyards are only watered when it rains. The only time Montes irrigates their vineyards is when Mother Nature doesn’t provide the minimum water needed to sustain the vines.
- By practicing Dry Farming, Montes has reduced its overall water consumption by 65%. Wow. That’s a lot of water.
- Stressed out vines make great wines. I totally get it.
- Another interesting thing they’re doing at Montes: Spring Harvest. Of course they harvest in the spring, this is the southern hemisphere, after all, but this is an early Spring Harvest. Grapes are picked a full 60 days earlier than usual (in February). To pick that early, you have to encourage ripeness — by reducing yields, removing leaves to expose the grapes to more sun, and handpicking the grapes in the morning to keep them cool.
- On to Argentina and Kaiken Wines. The name Kaiken comes from the Kaikenes (wild geese), indigenous to Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. They are the only birds that migrate (back and forth) from Chile, over the Andes Mountains, and into Argentina. The Kaikenes symbolize the Montes family’s decision to cross the Andes Mountains, and start making wines in Argentina.
- Kaiken grows grapes in some of the world’s highest-elevation vineyards. How high? Over 1,600 meters (for the metrically challenged, that’s over 5,000 feet)!!
- Kaiken’s mission is to educate and expose consumers to the diverse and distinct terroirs of Argentina. Kaiken wants consumers to start thinking about terroir over grape varieties, “because the varieties are expressed in a different way in every terroir.” I’m totally on board, but I suspect this will be an uphill shift in consumer thinking.
- My fellow #winestudio participants are really good cooks! There were soo many great pairings for all of the wines (I’ve highlighted a few of the pairings in bullet-point lists below). I really need to up my pairing game on the nights I participate in #WineStudio. I heard a rumor there might be a future #WineStudio cookbook . . . yes, please!
Here are the wines we tasted:
Montes Spring Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 2015
100% Sauvignon Blanc. From Chile’s cooler, coastal Leyda Valley, where the soils are granite and clay. Pale yellow in the glass. Nose is a cloud of citrus and minerals. Flavors of grapefruit, citrus, herbs, and minerals on the finish. Clean, crisp, and dry. Zippy, but balanced acidity. Only 12,000 cases exported to the US. 12.5% ABV. $14.
- Grilled Salmon with a Hint of Wasabi
- Sushi / Ceviche
- Goat Cheese with Herbes Fines
- Machas a la Parmesana (OK, no one really had this one, because machas are salt-water clams native to Chile, but we surmised it would be killer).
Montes Alpha Colchagua Valley 2012 Carmenère ⭐⭐⭐/88
90% Carmenère and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Ruby red in color. Loads of tobacco and funk on the nose. Well integrated tannins, with flavors of black & blue berries (the bruise berries) with some cedar and black pepper on the finish. Will only get better with more time in the bottle. 14.5% ABV. $20.
- Macaroni & Cheese
- Korean Beef
- Grass Fed Beef Strip-steaks on the Grill
- Chilean Pastel de Choclo (My girlfriend is Chilean, and her mom taught me how to make it — because naturally, she uses one of those not-really-a-recipe recipes).
Kaiken Terroir Series Torrontes 2015 ⭐⭐⭐/85
100% Torrontes. From the Cafayate Valley in the Salta Region, with vineyards at 1,600 meters above sea level. Pale, greenish gold in the glass. Whoa! Smells like something I’d get spritzed with at the perfume counter at the mall. Very tropical, very floral. Flavors of the tropics, with an edge of grapefruit. Someone said cherymoya (can’t remember who), but that was spot on. A smidge too perfumey for my palate. 13.2% ABV. $17.
- Seared Scallops on Ginger Chevre Pea Purée
- Tropical Salsa
- Seared Salmon and Mango Salsa
- Carrot Hummus
- Plain Old Watermelon (yep, my contribution, and you know what? Delicious.)
Kaiken Ultra Malbec 2012 / DNR
100% Malbec. From the Uco Valley — most of the vines here were planted prior to 1970, and they grow at 1,000 meters above sea level. Aged in French oak for 12 months. A very dark, even inky purple color in the glass. Sooooo much funk. Most of the other #WineStudio participants gushed about all the berries, but all I got was funk. And some really out of whack acids. 14.5% ABV. $20.
I started to suspect I had an off-bottle. Because . . . I tasted this same wine for a Meatball Madness pairing I did back in March. My impression was somewhat different and more in line with what the other tasters were experiencing that night:
100% Malbec. Ruby to violet color. The nose is blueberry and fire pit with a flash of black pepper. There’s a passing whiff of Opium perfume in there, too (think sandalwood and cedar). Vibrant and powerful, this wine has a bit of the tango in it. Dense and fairly tannic, but beautifully structured. Black fruit flavors, with vanilla, and rosemary on the finish. I suspect this wine get better and better as it ages.
- Basil Mustard Chicken with Braised Chard and Kale
- Grilled Flap Steak
- Shrimp Tacos
- Grilled Flank Steak with Balsamic Vinegar
- Grilled pork Chops with Sautéed Carrots and Mixed Greens
- A Hot Dog (Yep, that’s me again. In my defense, I was driving the Soccer Taxi that night, and that means no time to cook!)
Thanks to Protocol Wine Studio, and to Aurelio Montes, Sr. of Montes Wines & Aurelio Montes, Jr. of Kaiken Wines, for their time and efforts to bring all of us closer to the terroir of Chile and Argentina.