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Reviews: Four wines from Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite)


Reviewing Cabernet Sauvignons and Bordeaux blends from around the world requires a certain juggling skill: you have to compare each wine as you judge it according to some standard, but what standard? Is a superripe Napa wine the ne plus ultra? Or a dry, elegant Bordeaux? You see the problem. I’ve given very high scores to ripe Napa Cabs, which was my tour d’horizon; but at the same time, I could always appreciate the comparatively drier, leaner charms of Bordeaux; and I never felt compelled to have to make a Solomonesque choice between them.

If anything, over the years my preferences have veered away from the superripe Napa style to a drier, more streamlined wine. I can’t explain why; it just is; palates change over time. Bordeaux teases, titillates, makes me look further. A superripe Napa Cab reveals everything right away, and can become tedious. Bordeaux keeps you searching.

I was sent the following four wines from the Domaines Barons de Rothschild for review. The DBR is the parent company of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. They make different wines from around the world. These four (three reds, one white) from DBR all would be expected to adhere to the standards of Lafite, which is to say: impeccable balance, dryness, and Old World elegance. Do the wines rise to this standard?

Caro 2016 (Mendoza); $65.This is a partnership between DBR and the Catena family of Argentina. The wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and that Argentinian specialty, Malbec. I think of it an Argentine Opus One, which of course is a Napa Valley partnership between Robert Mondavi and the Mouton Rothschilds. The most salient fact about this wine is the alcohol level: 13.5%. You almost can’t find a Napa Cab that low. This means that the blackberry-currant fruit has a definite herbal character: also that mouthwatering acidity is pronounced. The overall impression is dry, smoothly tannic, complex. I loved sipping this wine. It offers something new every time. Now it seems sweet, now austere. This yin-yang keeps you coming back. Ageworthy? I suppose so, but why bother? Drink it now and over the next six years. Score: 93.

Chateau d’Aussieres 2016 (Corbieres); $38. I drank a lot of Corbieres back in the 80s and 90s.The wines were good and affordable; not many Americans knew about them. DBR, in the person of Eric de Rothschild, invested in the area in 1999, his vision (according to DBR’s marketers) to create wines crafted in the spirit of the South of France.” The wine, true to that spirit, is a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Carignan. But it differs significantly from the memory of wines of my younger years in two respects: first, it’s much oakier, and more tannic. What I liked about those Corbieres of yesteryear was their immediate and delicious drinkability. This 2016, by contrast, is inky black and quite tannic. Yet it displays a vast depth of fruit: blackberries and blueberries at the height of summer ripeness, black licorice, a wild, animal flavor of beef teriyaki, and a sprinkling of clove and black pepper. A wine like this presents challenges. Do you drink it now, or cellar it and, if so, for how long? My own guess is to pop the cork now and over the next four years. I do have to say that this impressive wine lifts Corbieres to a new level. Score: 93.

Le Dix de Los Vascos 2015 (Colchagua); $65. Le Dix is the “grand cuvée” of Los Vascos, whose wines are widely available, at everyday prices, in American shops. My first impression, sniffing the wine, was, “Wow. Oaky.” And in fact, it was aged for 18 months in new oak, according to the Los Vasco website. The blend is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, with Syrah and Carmenere; the official alcohol reading is 14.5%. At four years old, the wine is a bit too young to drink now. The oak hasn’t yet been integrated into the fruit; all the parts (and they’re very good parts) are a bit scattered. But that fruit is considerable: a rich, ripe mélange of raspberries and cherries, not the usual, darker and heavier Cabernet blackberries and cassis. There also are spicy notes, a zippy orange zest brightness, and a refreshing, grippy minerality. The tannins are what you’d expect from a winery that can afford the highest viticultural and enological practices: thick, but ultra-smooth and sweet. It’s certainly a flashy wine, with a long finish, and quite irresistible. But as good as it is, it would really be a shame to open the bottle now. Better to store it in a good cellar and give it, say, another 4-5 years. That gorgeous fruit isn’t going away anytime soon. Score: 94.

Rieussec 2018 “R” (Bordeaux Blanc); $44. Chateau Rieussec is a 1er Grand Cru in Sauternes, and consistently produces one of the great dessert wines of the world. This is their dry white wine version, although it qualifies only for the Bordeaux Blanc appellation. Made from the same grapes (Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon) as the Sauternes, it’s a very fine wine. I was immediately struck by the dryness. You rarely if ever get this linearity in California (my old territory), where rich fruit is the name of the game. There’s subtle fruit here (tropical, citrus) but the main impression is minerality and white pepper. Streamlined, elegant and complex, it’s a delight to sip. Incidentally, I saw this wine on for $33. The price I quote, $44, is from DBR. Score: 93.

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