Tag Archives: Chile

BRAND TASTING – LOS VASCOS WINES

A while back, I purchased five current offerings of Los Vascos wines (LINK) from Wine.com (LINK) to do a tasting. Los Vascos is the Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) holdings (since 1988) in the Peralillo area of the Colchagua province of Northern Chile. I have blogged about Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon before (LINK).

The wines were:

2015 Sauvigon Blanc, retail $14.00

2014 Chardonnay, retail $8.99

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, retail $8.99

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Grand Reserve, retail $20.00

2012 Carmenere Grand Reserve, retail $20.00

I did not get the rosé (90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah, retail $11.99), or the LE DIX (retail $65.00), which is their highest-end Cabernet which were both available at the site, but are generally not available locally.

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The table is set for the tasting. And note those fancy spit-buckets!

For the tasting, ten of us gathered at the home of Mary Stec and Richard Clark. Richard is the winemaker for the Conejo Valley Wine Co-op (LINK). Those joining Dorianne, Richard, Mary and me were Steven and Diane Brabant, Brad Kieffer and Karen Oxrider, and Doug and Corrine Draper. All of these folks know wine very well.

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The Tasting Team hard at work at mid-tasting.

The tasting of these wines, which fall into the Everyday Wine category, was to get a sense of the product line of a South American Producer who has a couple of big sellers in the U.S. market, but also has some other wines that are a bit harder to find, but are around. I judged the two wines not included as too difficult to find in retail stores.

The red wines were opened about an hour before the tasting. All of the wines were kept at about 50 degrees Fahrenheit in Richard Clark’s wine cold room, where they have been for about 6 weeks. We served a variety of cheeses, crackers and olives with the tasting, which did affect how the wines tasted. Everyone tasted each wine and made personal notes before we all discussed the wine. The wines were tasted individually, although the Cabernets were poured at the same time to allow for comparison.

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My seat at the table.

The tasting notes and the conversations revealed what you might expect – there was some agreement and some disagreement about each of the wines. There was a rage of opinions as to the presence of tannins in the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, for example. Almost everyone noted the presence of grapefruit-citrus in the Sauvignon Blanc, but not everyone. Some found the Grand Reserve Carmenere very smooth and a couple of people found it to be harsh.

Some comments about each wine, with an attempt to capture the essence of the notes and comments from the group for each:

2015 Sauvignon Blanc: light, citrus/grapefruit with a hint of tangerine, lemon grass, high acid, crisp, New Zealand style, mineral finish; better with food than alone.

2014 Chardonnay: Minimal nose, hints of butter, crisp, light, hints of nuts, minerality, more like a Pinot Gris, pear, apricot, neutral oak, not much of a finish; improved with the cheese.

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon: Nose red fruit, alcohol, ashes, acid; thin, minerals, hint of cherry (minimal fruit), slightly astringent finish; also improved with food.

2012 Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: Inky red color; plum, ripe fruit, cassis on the nose; balanced tannin, acid, and fruit (one comment too much tannin, needs longer decanting); nice finish; needs some time – 2 to 3 years; more substantive than the 2014 Cab, but still a bit thin for a Cabernet Sauvignon. Clearly a superior wine to the 2014 (with one dissenting opinion on that).

2012 Grand Reserve Carmenere: Dark, inky color; rich bouquet of black fruit, green pepper, cloves and spice, tobacco, earthy soil on the nose; nicely balanced with light tannins, hints of currant, prune and figs; smooth finish; approachable wine; described as “smooth” and “harsh”; “pick of the litter”; would be great with lamb.

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The line-up of wines.

I asked each person to rate the five wines from 1 through 5 in terms of their impressions of the realizing this has an apples to oranges quality, but aiming at which of these would you be most likely to purchase yourself?):

1 Table

The upshot – all of these wines are drinkable and have both positive qualities and drawbacks that are largely subjective. Los Vascos wines are reliable go-tos for everyday drinking. If your budget calls for the inexpensive Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon, go for those – even though the Chardonnay was not well reviewed by the group, several people liked it very much – at $9.00 or so, you can find out for yourself; if you can upscale a bit to the Grand Reserves, you will find a good increase in value at the higher price-point. The Sauvignon Blanc is at a good price-point if you enjoy a citrusy New Zealand-style, and grab that Grand Reserve Carmenere if you can find it.

Two of us (Steven and I) who had first encountered the Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon in the 1980’s and early 1990’s noted that it seems to be a very different wine than in those days. A reading of the website (LINK) bears this out, as extensive replanting has occurred since that time. And, both of us are drinking wines at higher price-points today, which may also be a significant factor in our impressions. Perhaps we have changed along with the wine.

Comments about your experience with these wines is, of course, most welcome.

 

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

 

JIM LOCKARD ON WINE FEATURED IN THE WINE STALKER’S LATEST POST

This blog has been pretty quiet since returning from Oregon last week. But that is about to change – next week will see several posts including our full product line tasting of Chile’s Los Vascos wines, the recounting of a tasting of Paso Robles’ LXV wines and a new boutique local wine tour business serving California’s Central Coast AVAs, and Dorianne and I will be heading up to Santa Ynez and Santa Rita Hills AVAs this coming week for a bit of a tour.

In the meantime, The Wine Stalker (LINK) has included us in a really great article about wine bloggers who live a distance from wine regions.

(LINK TO ARTICLE) 

Winestalker

Here is a quote from that post:

The Rest Of Us: Wine Blogging Outside Of Wine Country ~ The Wine Stalker – A blog for WINE GEEKS & WINE LOVERS (LINK):

“How is your travel availability to actually go to wine regions or blogger conferences?
Again, my wife and I travel nearly full time, 1/2 in the US and 1/2 in Europe. I lead wine tours in France (http://deluxewinetours.com/), so I get to meet a lot of French winemakers. We also spend a lot of time in Spain. This year we will also travel in the Ukraine and Poland, so I am looking forward to seeing what’s happening there.”

So thanks to The Wine Stalker for including us in the blog.

And, since you are here already, time is running out to register for our amazing October 2016 Tour of northern Provence and the southern Côtes du Rhône where we will enjoy some of the finest wines in France. 

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We will spend seven nights in France, based in Villeneuve-les-Avignon on the banks of the Rhône River in a 5 star hotel, exploring the hidden secrets of several wine regions that meet here – The Côtes du Rhône, Languedoc-Roussillon, and the Luberon.

Hotel

Hôtel Le Prieuré

This intimate, small group tour (only eight spots available) features lodging in fine hotels, meals in chateaus, visits to the legendary vineyards, and tastings of some of the great wines of France. All the while, you will learn more about wine in the vineyard and at the chateau.

Here is the (LINK TO THE WEBSITE FOR MORE INFORMATION AND TO REGISTER) 

PREVIEW – LOS VASCOS WINE TASTING

In a few days (OK – in a month or so – we didn’t get this done before leaving for Oregon for five weeks), I will assemble a panel to taste the range of Los Vascos wines from Chile. We do not have every wine that they produce, but five will do for this purpose.

 

I have always listed the Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon as one of my go-to everyday red wines. Now we will extend out a bit an add the 2012 Grand Reserve Cabernet, the 2012 Carmenere Grand Reserve, the 2014 Chardonnay, and the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc.

Watch this space for the tasting report.

A DAY IN THE COTSWOLDS – BEAUTY, HISTORY, FOOD, FRIENDSHIP, AND WINE

Last Saturday, we took a mini tour of the Cotswolds region, a beautiful rural area of southwestern England dotted with picturesque towns. We spent a week in one of those towns, Fairford, which is very friendly and beautiful.

On Saturday, our friends, Charlie and Avril, who live in Broughton Poggs, picked us up and took us out for the day. The first stop was in Lechlade, a town between Fairford and Broughton Poggs. While Dorianne and Charlie went to the store, I spied a little wine shop called Vin Est . . .; I told them to stop on their way back and pick me up.

The Vin Est . . . shop (LINK) is very small, a front room stocked with wines on shelves, in bins, on tables, and three casks for those who want to bring their own container. In the back are a couple of more rooms, one empty on this visit – about to become a beer room and to be used for tastings, and a smaller room where the premium wines are kept. They also distribute wines to a number of restaurants and pubs in the area.

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Some of the Good Stuff.
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Fill Your Own Bottle.
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Nice Wine Shop in Lechlade.
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The Main Shop Floor

I spoke with Rachel Jenkins, who owns the place with her husband Mike. They moved out from London to this idyllic spot and noticed a hole where a premium wine shop should be. The shop is inviting and intimate, and the Jenkins’ know their wine. If you are in the area sometime, this is the go-to wine shop once you get away from Oxford. I bought a nice bottle of Pouilly Gris that is sitting comfortably in the fridge now.

Back in the car to Charlie and Avril’s beautiful home in Broughton Poggs. A cup of tea or coffee and some conversation, then we are off to The Plough Inn (LINK) in Kelmscott for a hearty lunch. Sauvignon Blanc for Dorianne, grapefruit soda for Avril, and the local Buttcombe Bitters for Charlie and me. Great food in a really nice spot – and you can book a room if you like.

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The Plough Inn Barroom.
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Some Wine Choices at the Plough Inn

Then a walk down the lane to Kelmscott Manor (LINK), the former home of the great arts and crafts movement’s William Morris and his family.

After a tour of the stately home and grounds, we headed back to Broughton Poggs, where we examined a very old stone barn that Charlie and Avril are reconditioning into a home. A remarkable transformation is done with these old buildings, keeping the historic charm while remaking them with all the current conveniences.

Then to their home, which is in a converted 15th Century mill, with about an acre plus of gardens on the property – truly a remarkable place. We toured the gardens with a nice glass of Crémant (my fault in not noting the maker) from near Macon in France.

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Glasses of Crémant for our Garden tour.
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Jim, Avril, Dorianne and Charlie. Well into a Very Good Day.

Then more tea and conversation before heading out to dinner at The Five Alls (LINK), a pub about 50 meters from Charlie and Avril’s home. The same management as The Plough Inn, it is a nicely appointed pub with a barroom and several dining rooms. We were seated in short order and I perused the menu and the wine list. The list is interesting, mostly French, of course, but with a number of New World wines from South Africa, New Zealand, Chile, and Argentina. And, the wines are sourced thought our friends at Vin Est . . ., mentioned earlier. The only U.S. wine is a (cringe) White Zinfandel. But, we’re in England after all.

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Door to the Gents Room at The Five Alls.

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Charlie asked me to select the wines, so I chose a 2014 Picpoul de Pinet from Racine (LINK) in the Languedoc, France. Charlie cringed a bit at my choice, noting that the Picpouls had been pushed in England as an alternative to Pinot Grigio and that he found most of them lacking in any complexity. So we would see. At the same time, I also ordered a 2012 Crozes-Hermitage from Domaine du Colombier (LINK), to go with the venison that we had all chosen for our main course. This rich Syrah with a peppery, dark fruit, favor and good structure proved a success with the venison. I had asked that the second wine be decanted when I ordered it, however, this did not happen, so it took some time to open up nicely.

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But back to the Picpoul de Pinet. When it arrived, I was wondering if Charlie would be right, and we would be getting a vin ordinaire with little to no character. Right off the bat, it had a strong minerality on the nose, with hints of pear, citrus and lemongrass – similar, except for the heavy minerality to a New Zealand Sauvingnon Blanc. The taste was strongly earthy with hints of floral notes, pear, and a saltiness around the edges. It opened up a bit more after about ten minutes in the glass – it smoothed out and the complexity showed through. Charlie approved.

This is a beautiful region, becoming more gentrified by the minute due to its proximity to London, but retaining much of its charm – and getting some very good restaurants in the bargain. We have thus far not had an English wine – we plan to do that next week in London, but we have stuck pretty much with the French, with a couple of forays into South America and New Zealand at the supermarket. I would love to hear comments about your wine experiences in the U.K., and any recommendations for London would be appreciated as well.

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THANKSGIVING DINNER WINES – ALWAYS A CHALLENGE

As we plan for the US Thanksgiving next week, the topic of what wines to drink is always a challenge. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, Thanksgiving Dinner tends to last for hours of prep time, appetizers and snacking, football, the dinner itself, then desserts, etc. Eric Asimov of the NYTimes recommends going with wines that have less alcohol, given that you may be imbibing over a longer period of time.

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You never know who might show up for Thanksgiving Dinner!

Second, the kinds of foods served in many American homes runs a much wider gamut than on a normal day. I mean, how may other days do you serve sweet potatoes with marshmallows? So there are sweet and savory dishes on the table, plus whatever else has been laid out during the day. In Maryland, where I grew up, there was usually a bushel of fresh oysters in the garage or on the back porch from mid-morning on. By the time you get to the fruit and pumpkin pies, you have eaten a variety of foods.

So here are some ideas for wines – not specific wines, but varietals that will tend to serve you well with the chaos and wide variety of foods that you are likely to be served (or are serving). I also recommend less expensive wines for this day, unless you are having a relatively simple meal. Good wines can get lost in the mix of everything from those sweet potatoes to sauerkraut, to green bean casserole to well, whatever.

You will want red, white, and some bubbly for the day. Bubbly? Well, why not? Sparkling wines can be great for earlier in the day (like with those oysters) and for a toast to begin the main meal. Some of your guests may well prefer to have sparkling wine with dinner as well. I recommend Spanish Cava – very accessible both in terms of price and it’s flexibility to go with a variety of dishes. There are also some great California sparklers if you want to stick to American wines on this most American of holidays. Sparkling wine is great with dessert, as you do not want to add more sweetness to the end of a meal like this one!

As for whites, I think that this is a day for Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Torrontes, and Albarino. All of these are light, low in alcohol, and versatile. There are dozens of Sauvignon Blancs from California, France, and New Zealand that will fit your budget. The New Zealand wines will tend more to citrus notes, while the French produce wines with more floral notes. The Americans can be either – so ask you wine merchant if you have a preference for one style or another. Chenin Blanc is a French gem that is also becoming more and more popular  with US growers up and down the west coast. Torrontes is the top white wine of Argentina, light and crisp and affordable. Albarino is a Spanish beauty that translates well with anything from fish to poultry. I think that you will be happy with any of these varietals on your holiday table.

Looking at reds, we want to keep the alcohol on the low side, which makes it tough to purchase most California wines that are in the affordable range (under $25 a bottle). You can find some Pinot Noirs and Merlots that fit the bill, but you may have to do some searching. Actually, I think that your best answers are France and Argentina or Chile. French Beaujolais is an excellent choice. The wines tend to be lighter, lower in alcohol, and there are a number of good wines in this category that are priced right. Malbec from Argentina can range from lighter to heavier; the lighter versions are great for the holiday table, as are some of the Malbecs being produced in California’s Central Coast reason. Chilean Merlot is a great bargain, just watch that alcohol level. I recommend a variety of reds and whites – let your guests explore.

I would figure a bottle per person, plus any other beverages that you will be serving. Of course, you can also have a similar approach for your Christmas Dinner, which in the US is often a repeat of Thanksgiving. If you are having a beef or pork roast, you may still want white and sparkling wines for earlier in the day or with dessert.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Holiday and let me know you Holiday wine recommendations.

MY GO-TO EVERYDAY RED WINES

As noted in my Philosophy of Wine entry, I drink wine almost every day with dinner. Dorianne and I drink 3 or 4 reds to every white or rosé, except in summer, when that ratio tends to be reversed.

I put reds into three basic categories – everyday, special dinner, and very special occasion. Everyday wines would run about $20 and under, special dinner from $20 to $50, and very special occasion from $50 and up. A bottle with a great story or one that is hard to obtain may put it up a category or two even though the price point is lower.

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Sharing some Wine with Friends.

Everyday wines are the mainstay of our consumption. These are generally wines that we buy from local retailers or online at sites like WTSO.com. Occasionally, they come from a winery. We also have our wine co-op wines that fall into the everyday category. We get about 8 cases from our co-op share each year, 6 of red and 2 of white. I will not include the co-op wines in these reviews, because you cannot obtain them. We had a 2010 Petit Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon on Monday night from the co-op.

So how do you choose your favorite everyday wines? I would begin with trial and error then move out from there based on a certain level of awareness that develops as to what to look for – certain varietals, wine makers, and price points. The trial and error comes first – you sample some wines. This can happen by purchasing at a retailer, or you can be a bit more creative.

When you are invited to a party, if they have lower priced wines, try some. See if you find any that you like and note the brand and varietal. In a restaurant, especially some chain restaurants, they will have inexpensive wines (at a markup no doubt) that you can try. Many wines under $15 is that they will stay very constant from year to year, so you are less likely to be surprised by a new vintage.

I like a variety of wines, so when I look for everyday wines, I am looking at a broad spectrum of wines, both domestic and international. You may be a Merlot or a Cabernet Sauvignon drinker, which narrows the field quite a bit. I like some variety and some signs of craftsmanship, even in my everyday wines. If you look around, you can find wines under $15, and definitely under $20 that have this quality. Here, you will find some variation from vintage to vintage, but that adds to the variety!

So let me start with two red wines that have, for me, been very reliable over time. They are under $15, both are imported, and each has a bit more to offer than the standard-brand or bulk wine product. The vintage will be whatever is currently available – it is unlikely that wine merchants are holding these for aging.

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A Good One from Australia.

Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz/Cabernet: I began drinking this wine in 2003. Penfolds is the flagship wine brand of Australia, makers of the legendary Penfolds Grange (which is near the very top of my bucket list) Shiraz wine. The Koonunga Hill label is second from the bottom in the Penfolds hierarchy – above the very pedestrian Rawson’s Retreat label. I have tried the Koonunga Hill Shiraz and the Cabernet as separate varietals, and find that the blending of these two grapes creates the most satisfying experience. The 2011 vintage is the most likely on to be on your retailer’s shelf. It is a 62% Shiraz 38% Cabernet blend (this will vary from year to year) and is 13.5% alcohol, which I prefer to the heavier levels of alcohol in may California everyday wines, which are usually just hot and not very well balanced. The Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet is great with red meat and will hold up to BBQ sauces and spiced foods as well. The wine will age for 8 to 10 years, but this wine is not made to age, so drink it right from the shelf.

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From Chateau LaFite Rothschild in Chile.

Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon: I came across Los Vascos when I was living in South Florida and it came with a great story. A friend was the supervising flight attendant on a private Boeing 727 belonging to the CEO of a South American subsidy of a large US corporation. The CEO was really into wine – he would send my friend on the plane to Paris to load on first growth Bordeaux’s and Burgundies – you get the idea. At the time, the Los Vascos (from Chile) was retailing for about $7. My friend gave her boss a glass on a flight and he really liked it (probably a good thing for her career). He then began to serve it on his plane to his high-roller friends and did not tell them what it was. Pretty much everyone took it for a premium wine.

So what is this wine? Well, it is a large production wine from the Chateau Lafite Rothchild vineyards in Chile. There are a couple of reserve versions of the wine that come in at higher prices – from about $20 up to $65. Today, the basic Los Vascos Cabernet retails for $14 but can usually be had for $10 to $12 or less from a variety of retailers. The website recommends decanting for about an hour before drinking this wine, although I have never done this. You will find notes of ripe fruit, good structure, and hints of a variety of mineral notes – which most of us experience differently. This is a great wine with roasted and grilled meats.

All three of these wines are what I like in an everyday wine. A few others that I imbibe fairly regularly are Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel ($9 to $12); Norton Reserve Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($14 to $20); Luigi Pira Dolcetto d’Alba, Piedmont, Italy ($12 to $18); plus many more. You have probably noted that most of the wines listed here are imported. For some reason, producers around the globe seem to be able to get well-crafted wines made and shipped to the US at everyday wine prices. It’s a paradox.

There are lots of decent wines in this price range – ask your wine retailer to guide you to those undiscovered gems in the shop – everyplace has some of these wines. As always, once you find what you like, begin to branch out and explore wines like those.