In preparation for our Argentina Flight Club on 20th August (still a few tickets available folks – follow the link!) the lovely Charlotte has been helping us review our South American wines. I confess that we’ve not paid as much attention to this section as we perhaps should have, so when our very own Parisian wine-buff (who’s spent four years in Argentina) offered to help overhaul our Argentinian range there was only one answer.
Among the wines we tasted was this stand-out blend of Malbec (96%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (4%) from Mendoza. If you like big…if you like bold…if you like soft…if you like easy drinking then this approachable BBQ suitable red will be right up your street. Deep purple in colour, rich fruity aromas, lip-smacking flavours of strawberry and cherries, a hint of spice on the finish and really supple, soft tannins. Adding this to the range and selecting it as a wine to show at Flight Club was one of the easier decisions of the year. But the ace up its sleeve is the note of vanilla which hits you from first sip right through to the end of the finish. Very, very appealing and very, very moreish; I couldn’t put it down.
This vanilla element perfectly illustrates what can be achieved with judicious use of oak. After fermentation the Kaiken Reserve spends six months in French Oak barrels. 10% goes into new oak barrels and 90% into new. Why does this matter… I’m glad you asked. The tight grain of French oak (as compared to looser grained American oak) is good for longer ageing as it allows controlled interaction between the wine and a small amount of oxygen during the ageing process. French barrels are valued by wine-makers for adding flavour with more subtlety; American oak tends to add more flavour, more quickly (typically vanilla and nutty notes) which makes it suitable for shorter ageing of some big, bold, heavily-flavoured reds.
So as it’s the new oak that adds most flavour, wine-makers tend to use it carefully to ensure that it doesn’t over-power the wine (hence the 90/10 split with the ageing of the Kaiken). After three to four fills barrels have imparted all of their flavour and are then used for further ageing. It’s this ageing, and the continual controlled interaction with oxygen through the barrel, that helps tone down the tannins that might otherwise have you puckering up your lips and scrubbing that furry feeling from your teeth – it’s what makes a big red like the Kaiken feel oh-so-silky in the mouth.
So oak is what makes wine smooth and silky and is also what brings along those lovely vanilla flavours and toasty, spicy notes that make a wine more interesting. And just to prove that rules are made to be broken, you’ll have spotted that the pronounced vanilla notes I raved about in the Kaiken would normally be associated with American oak. How have they achieved that effect from French barrels? no idea I’m afraid! Let’s put it down to artisinal magic. And before we leave the topic of oak…that buttery mouth feel that you love your white Burgundies for – that’s oak at work too. But that’s a story for another time. Clever stuff indeed. Wine-makers in France will tell you that the properties of oak grown in different regions impart different characteristics into their wine – who are we to disagree.
Anyway – back to the Kaiken. It’s lovely and ridiculous value at £12.50 (just £11.25 to wine club members). It’s reminded me to dip into the South American section more often when I’m grabbing a bottle to enjoy at home and it’s reminded me that a well made Malbec can be so much more than just “BIG!” – Enjoy!