WHAT: The calendar might say spring, but the weather still says winter, with many cold, wet days. So before you break out all the nice warm-weather white wines, you still have plenty of time to sip those powerful reds that warm you from the inside out.
Some of the best reds for this late-season sipping are the Cabernet Sauvignons from Chile. The Los Vascos Grande Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 is a perfect example of Chilean cabs that are soft, round and warm, but powerful enough to stand up to just about any meal.
Perhaps it is the valley and foothill soils, or the cooling ocean breezes, but nearly every Chilean cab I have tasted has been marked by a rich, velvety mouthfeel. There is plenty of punch behind the Cabs, but each one has a rounded, smooth element that makes you smile.
The Los Vascos is a beautiful ruby red, with aromas of plum and cherry. Primary tastes are blackberry, cocoa and a bit of spice. This wine is much more elegant and complex than I would expect at this price point.
The grapes are 75 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 percent Carmenère, 10 percent Syrah and 5 percent Malbec. They come from the Caneten Valley in the Colchagua region in the center of the country.
After fermenting in stainless steel vats, the wine spent 12 months in French oak barrels, of which 20 percent were new.
For comparison, I broke out a bottle of Nativa Terra Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2009 (about $15), from the Rapel Valley. It was another incredible cab that got better sip after sip.
Rapel also is in the Central Valley. It features a wide swing in temperatures from day to night, which delivers intense fruit flavors in the wines.
The Nativa nose features ripe red fruit, chocolate and vanilla with flavors of plum, blackberry and cinnamon. The tannins are firm, but well integrated. This is another complex, elegant wine composed of 90 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 5 percent Carmenere and 5 percent Syrah.
WINERY: Vina Los Vascos is in the Central Valley in one of the oldest vineyards in South America.
Grapevines were planted in northern Chile in the 16th century, in the wake of Spanish conquistadors. In 1750, the Echenique family, of Basque origin, planted grapevines in the Colchagua Region.
The first French grapes were planted there in 1850, when phylloxera destroyed most of Europe’s vineyards. By 1877, wines were exported to Europe.
The French powerhouse Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) took over the Los Vascos estate (Los Vascos means The Basques, in honour of its Basque origins) in 1988.
The family chose Los Vascos because of its location near the ocean and its exceptional soil. Along with ideal weather conditions, Los Vascos benefits from intense exposure to the sun, adequate water sources, semi-arid soils and little risk of frost.
The estate’s 1,455 acres are planted primarily in Cabernet Sauvignon (85 percent) but also include Carménère (5 percent), Syrah (4 percent), Malbec (1 percent) and Chardonnay (5 percent). The winery also produces Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc from vineyards under long-term contracts in cooler Pacific areas such as the Casablanca Valley and Leyda and in the foothill region of Colchauga Andes.
The label’s top-of-the-line wine is called Le Dix de Los Vascos, a predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon blend from 70-year-old vines. It is aged 18 months in 100 percent new French oak barrels. Other Cab blends include Brisandes, Las Huertas and a Rose.
GOES WITH: My wife, Teri, and I had the Los Vascos with appetizers from a Chinese restaurant: chicken wings and spring rolls. It was a wonderful match. The warm, fruity flavors were a nice balance to the sharp tastes of the wings and spring rolls. The wine even was good with the watermelon pieces we had for dessert.
I had the Nativa with chili and it was another great pairing. The spiciness of the chili was smoothed out by the mellow wine.
I decanted both wines about an hour before drinking, and that really helped the aromas to open. Both of these wines also would go well with red meats on the grill, pasta with tomato sauce and firm cheeses. These are hearty wines that can handle bold flavors.