French connection lifts Chilean wine

Although Chile is located in the New World, its wine industry is rooted in France. During the prosperity of the mid-19th century, Chilean families who had acquired great wealth, often from mining, imported vines and sometimes winemakers from Bordeaux.

Over 100 years later, in the late-20th century, another emigration of Bordeaux wine talent has reinvigorated the Chilean wine industry. The French connection, both originally and now, explains the appealing style of so many Chilean wines made from cabernet sauvignon, a principle grape variety of Bordeaux.

These wines have an engaging combination of fruitiness characteristic of California and other New World locations, beautifully intertwined with structure and elegance that epitomizes great Bordeaux. Prominent Bordelais such as Paul Pontallier, from the famed Bordeaux property Chateau Margaux, and Michel Rolland, perhaps Bordeaux’s most famous consulting winemaker, are involved deeply in Chilean winemaking projects.

Both branches of the famous Rothschilds have invested in vineyards and wineries as well.

In 1988, Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) invested in Los Vascos in the Colchagua Valley, another prime area for grapes. Now, after over a decade of reinvigoration, modernization, and winemaking, Christophe Salin, president of Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite), says the vineyards are making wines of which they can be proud.

The Los Vascos 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon is a splendid $10 wine. With refinement and suppleness, it is an excellent everyday choice. What may be a better value, despite the higher price, is their 2001 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Richer with more layers of flavor, it has the signature Lafite smoothness and grace.

Los Vascos, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2003 (about $10) and Los Vascos, Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, 2001 (about $16).

November 25, 2004.