Los Vascos: Carménère and all that jazz

We’ve written before about some of the wines from Viña Los Vascos (www.lafite.com/en/the-domaines/vina-los-vascos/), the Domaines Barons de Rothschild property in Chile’s Colchagua Valley. We tasted the whole portfolio recently at a luncheon at Les Zygomates (winebar129.com/) bistro and wine bar in Boston. It confirmed our previous impression that the wines offer tremendous value. Moreover, the values aren’t just on the bargain end. The 1,581-acre estate also produces an ultra-premium wine, Le Dix, with a depth and complexity that belies its $65 list price. Claudio Naranjo (above), the amiable general manager of Los Vascos, took us through the wines.

 Most of the Chilean wines that reach New England hail from the historic Maipo Valley, but the 22 wineries of Colchagua, about two hours south of Santiago, produce some of the country’s most celebrated reds. Colchagua is sandwiched between the Andes and the coastal mountain range. The arid Mediterranean climate—combined with good irrigation—makes the valley a natural for all kinds of fruit. Strawberries and pomegranates grow wild. The estate also produces wheat, corn, olive oil, and honey. The phylloxera-free granitic and volcanic soils make Colchagua a perfect region for organic red wines. The mountain ranges trap heat for full, even ripening.

 Carménère is the star grape. Although it originated in Bordeaux, it reaches its true potential in this part of Chile. The Bordeaux connection goes beyond the grape. The Rothschild family invested in Los Vascos in 1988, and Lafite know-how guides these wines. The entry level Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon are our favorites among the bargain wines. The white has terrific melon and pear notes with a distinct minerality. The red is classic ripe Cabernet, a tad stiff until paired with an unctuous dish like the house pâté served at Les Zyg. Both list at $10.99.

Grande Réserves would stand out at twice the price

The standout workhorse wines are the grande réserves—Carménère and Cabernet Sauvignon, each listing at $18.99. The 2015 Carménère Grande Réserve is a rich mouthful, with dark cherries and pomegranate on the nose and bitter chocolate and cherries on the palate. It’s a medium-heavy red—a great companion to everything from a garlic sauce to grilled beef to chocolate. The Cabernet Sauvignon Grande Réserve 2016 shows mint, black pepper, hazelnuts and cocoa. It’s rich and juicy now, but should age nicely.

We drank the 2016 and 2015 Cab (and a spectacular 2004) with a main course, including the steak salad shown at right. An extra year in the bottle rounded out the 2015 nicely, playing up the ripe plum flavors against the brick-y tannins.

Le Dix is a wine created in 1998 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Rothschild partnership. The Cabernet grapes in the blend (85%) come from 80-year-old vines. It’s blended with 10% Carménère and 5% Syrah to create a fabulous Bordeaux-style red with the intense dark cherry flavors and a light bitterness typical of Lafite Bordeaux. The Syrah supplies additional black fruit and licorice notes. It was nicely complemented by both a warm chocolate cake and a cheese plate.

The only thing that might be better would be to sip a big glass of Le Dix at the ColchaguaJazz festival (colchaguajazz.clhttp://colchaguajazz.cl), held at the estate each November.

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