Château Lafite Rothschild is legendary for its red Bordeaux, many of them too expensive for all but special occasion meals. Fortunately, the parent company, Domaine Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) (www.lafite.com), has been spreading Lafite’s winemaking skills around the globe to create more affordable wines. And back home in Bordeaux, they’ve developed a series of soft, ready-to-drink red and white wines under the Réserve Spéciale line. We had the chance to try several of the different branches of Lafite at a wine dinner at The Palm Boston, and we’re happy to say that the Lafite junior lines show that good wine can be made at a good price.
We started by drinking the Lafite Réserve Spéciale Blanc 2013. White Bordeaux, especially from the Entre-deux-Mers district, doesn’t get a lot of respect but this Sémillon-Sauvignon Blanc combination had just enough fruit to complement its pronounced acidity. The minerality made it a fine aperitif wine while our palates were still fresh. It nicely complemented a course of seared sea scallops. Wine shop price is $13-$15.
Among the white wines, Los Vascos Chardonnay 2013 stole the show. In 1988, Lafite became the first French firm to invest heavily in Chile and the reward for their boldness are the Los Vascos wines. They are distinguished among bargain Chilean wines (about $7!) for the cleanness and clarity of the fruit. The chardonnay character is well-rounded and the full mouth feel makes it a real contender with strongly flavored seafood and even soft-rind cheeses. (Yes, it’s the perfect arts reception wine with a wheel of Camembert.) At this dinner, it more than held its own paired with a roasted beet and arugula salad that had been dressed with a quite tart champagne vinaigrette.
We also drank two reds that demonstrate Lafite’s flexibility. Lafite isn’t the only Bordeaux name to team up with a top Argentine wine producer, but Bodegas CARO (a Mendoza partnership with Nicolas Catena) is one of the most successful, at least to our taste. We drank a Bodegas CARO Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec 2010 with a powerfully beefy serving of braised beef short rib. Harvested from old vineyards at very high altitudes, the two grapes were fermented separately and underwent malolactic fermention separately (15 percent in barrel, 85 percent in stainless steel). The blended wine was aged 18 months in French oak from Lafite’s Bordeaux cooperage and allowed to mellow in the bottle for a few years before release. The resulting wine has the hairy-chested bombast of great Malbec with the tuxedo elegance of superb Cabernet—just about perfect with an intense beef dish. Retailing at $60-$65, this wine is worth planning a meal around.
We also drank a Lafite Réserve Spéciale Pauillac 2011. It was a classically balanced light Bordeaux—almost a throwback to old-style claret—redolent of nutmeg and cedar cigar box. It’s Bordeaux as winemakers used to make it for the English market. Soft Bordeaux calls for a lower-profile meat, at least to our taste. The Palm served lamb, which was a good choice, but we thought the aggressive spice rub overpowered the wine a bit. At about $40 per bottle, it’s a pleasant Bordeaux for everyday drinking—if you drink $40 bottles every day.
At the end of the night, we enjoyed a sip of Sauternes (Château Rieussec 2009) with apple strudel. It’s a classic pairing, but the wine wasn’t quite ready. Unctuously fruity, this Sauternes needs more time in the cellar to marry the intense sweetness with the full-bodied Sémillon fruit. It’s retailing around $35 for a split, $55-$70 for a full bottle. Buy it now and lay it down for five years.