Hello friends. Today we have the new vintage of what was a surprise hit for us when we offered it in late 2013 – a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon – and the debut vintage of an important new wine from the same winery.
That winery would be Los Vascos, which is the great Bordeaux house Domaines Barons de Rothschild-Lafite’s ambitious project in Chile, inaugurated in 1988. The vineyard they purchased (located here) is 640 hectares, planted to Cabernet Sauvignon (85%), Carménère (5%), Syrah (4%), Malbec (1%) and Chardonnay (5%). The oldest vines are more than 70 years old, but most of the blocks are 40-50 years old, interspersed with younger blocks planted out in the ‘90s post-Lafite purchase.
As you’d expect from Lafite (they of the $200+ BDX bottle), these are polished wines that punch well above their price class. Let’s dig into them:
The 2011 vintage of this was a hugely popular reorder target, and I suspect the ’12 will be equally well-received. A Cab-dominant (75%) blend of all four red varieties planted at Los Vascos, it was aged for a year in Lafite’s French oak barrels (50% new), and it clocks in at 14% listed alc. The nose has a wonderful earthy/soil component, shaded by cassis and bay leaf and a dark/exotic spice note, like star anise. Fleshy from front to back, this has an especially supple/polished mid-palate, and a lovely sense of savory succulence (likely from the 10% Carmenere). It’s decidedly new world in style (especially for Lafite!), but there are sneaky earth tones and plenty of Lafite polish. It’s a classy glass of Cabernet indeed, and an interesting reference point for Washington Cab lovers.
JamesSuckling.com (James Suckling): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 91pts.”
For an obscure grape, it’s weird how often I get asked about Carmenere. I think there’s something about “the lost grape of Bordeaux” that tickles peoples’ fancy. The story on Carmenere: up until a phylloxera outbreak in the mid-1800s, Carmenere was one of the six red varieties used regularly in Bordeaux (along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot). Post-phylloxera, Carmenere was thought for a time to have gone extinct, but it resurfaced many years later in Chile, where it had long been confused with Merlot (the grapes look nearly identical). While some Carmenere has since been reintroduced in Bordeaux (and Washington, among other places), it is far more widely planted in Chile, and it could be argued that it’s their national or flagship variety.
Now a wine trade cynic (I know a few) would say that there’s a reason the Bordelaise lost this variety and didn’t find it again. It’s a late ripener, and perhaps even more than Cabernet Sauvignon is prone to some serious meanie/greenie notes when under-ripe. But come on; this is Lafite! Do you really think they’re going to make some rustic can of green beans? Not going to happen. In fact, they waited like 25 vintages before deciding they had Carmenere figured out enough to bottle it on its own (a huge advancement was changing out from flood irrigation to the more tightly-controlled drip irrigation).
So yes, this 2012 is the first ever Grande Reserve Carmenere for Los Vascos, and it’s a beauty, showcasing the grape’s varietal character (and it has plenty). Raised for a year in 20% new French oak (the remainder once-used and tank), it comes roaring out of the glass with violets, black fruit, flinty minerals, and a terrific exotic spicy note. It’s a little like a roasted chile pepper, a little like Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton agridulce; this stuff, that turns roasted potatoes into nirvana). Anyway, it’s an unusual note; I can’t think of another variety that possesses it. In the mouth, it is a total palate-stainer (again 14% alc), with plush, mint-tinged black fruit, and a lovely, lingering, bergamot finish. This is one hell of an ambassador for Chilean Carmenere.
JamesSuckling.com (James Suckling): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 90pts.”
First come first served up to 48 bottles total, and the wines should arrive in the next week or two, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.