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Rothschild for the rest of us

Mention Baron de Rothschild in wine circles and a reverential hush often prevails — not only for its princely Pauillacs but also for its alliance with Robert Mondavi, which produced the classy commoner, Opus One. But in classic, noblesse-oblige fashion, the Domaines Barons de Rothschild have also been dabbling (diligently, it must be said) in properties far from the vaunted vineyards of Bordeaux.

Rothschild first put down roots in Los Vascos, Chile, in 1988. Los Vascos, however, had been producing wine grapes since the mid-18th century, all on pre-phyloxera root stock, so this was hardly a marriage of prince and pauper. The 10th anniversary release of the resultant wine, the cabernet-driven 1999 Le Dix de los Vascos, was shown at last year’s New World Wine & Food Festival as a prestige product, but the “regular” bottling of Los Vascos, retailing at around $12, is also worthy of consideration. The recently tasted ’04 vintage Cabernet Sauvignon Colchagua — bold menthol, cedar, and green peppercorn on the nose, and long-lasting big cedar and black cherry with hints of vanilla and caramel on the palate — particularly pleased a panel of persnickety tasters gathered around my kitchen island.

“Blueberry: I'm emphatic about that,” professed one panelist of the 2004 Amancaya Malbec-Cabernet Mendoza, a product of Rothschild's alliance with Argentina’s prestigious Catena family. Caro, the first issue of that alliance, attracted enough attention to inspire a second label. The ’04 Amancaya is only the second release in that Bodegas Caro program and, on the shelf for around $18, it was praised by our tenacious tasters for its integrated power and silky finesse — black cherry, vanilla, and a little buttery quality all part of the picture. Its 14 percent alcohol content came as a surprise; the wine did not exhibit the “hotness” that often accompanies such a figure.

The New World is not Rothschild’s only area of outreach, however. Portugal has been a partner since a 2002 agreement with the Quinta do Carmo estate in the Alentejo, its biggest wine-making region. The premium Quinta do Carmo bottling was a personal favorite at last year's NWWFF, so the cork was popped on the 2002 Dom Martinho Vinho Regional Alentejano (about $12) with much anticipation. The grape blend isn’t specified, so we must assume the typical grapes of the region, among them aragonez, known as tempranillo across the border in Spain. We immediately discovered a brilliant ruby color, aromas that suggested plum and cherry accented with a spicy quality, and a little tannic dryness on the palate. The fruit seemed to fade quickly, however, and we decided the wine needed a brief chilling to smooth out the alcohol component, which at 13.5 percent was apparent. It worked, bringing the fruit forward and emphasizing a pleasant pruny quality. (A second bottle, opened later, appeared to be much brighter and less alcoholic.) A confession: We also tried a new toy, an “oxygenating” bottle insert that purports to smooth out rambunctious reds, which worked well. Sacrilege on a Chateau Mouton Rothschild, some tricks are just fine for wines with good bones but less patrician upbringing.

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