8.24.2012

Wine column no. 38: The French are everywhere

It goes without saying that wine is one of France's strong suits. But what our readers may not know is that there are many wines that French residents have had a hand in making that are not, in fact, produced in France.
Oregon brings us Domaine Drouhin, known for its Pinot Noir. In California, there is Clos du Val, located in the Stags Leap District, and Chalone Wine Group, which is headquartered in Napa. Casa
Lapostolle, in Chile, produces both red and white wines. And then there is Los Vascos, a Chilean estate that was purchased by Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) in 1988.
Now, there are lots of well-known families in the wine world, but the de Rothschilds are probably the most famous, and not just because of wine. James Mayer de Rothschild, for instance, was an influential banker who was an advisor to two French kings, and he played a major role in making France an industrial powerhouse. But it was his purchase of Chateau Lafite, located in Bordeaux, in 1868 that brought the family the most prestige in the wine world. After all, wine from this estate had once been referred to as "the King's wine," and even America's own Thomas Jefferson visited the estate, which to this day produces expensive, highly sought after bottles. (If you want a sense of how much a single bottle of the 1982 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild from Pauillac, France, is selling for, it's about $2,000.)
Meanwhile, fast forward past lots of European history to 2012. These days, the Rothschild family owns multiple wineries producing unique bottles that are all over the flavor and price spectrum in France, California, Portugal, South America and South Africa. And one wine in particular that is both tasty and affordable is the 2009 Los Vascos Chardonnay from the Colchagua Valley.
This Schnucks purchase was less than $15, but don't let that low price point dissuade you, because this smooth, soothing wine with minor citrus flavors and hardly any butter is very easy to drink. We paired it with some blue gill that Greg's father had caught in a pond and that we later fried with slightly spicy Cajun seasoning. The crunchy textures of the fish were a wonderful contrast to this wine's slightly creamy feel. 14 percent alcohol.
Here's another bottle that has been influenced by the Rothschilds. Chalone Vineyards produces a 2007 Syrah from California that is robust, earthy and mellow, with ending tannins, for about $12 at
Winetree. Whether Domaines Barons de Rothschilds (Lafite) is still involved in the ownership of the Chalone Wine Group is a bit murky -- the company is now owned by beverage giant Diageo, but some sources say DBR still owns stock in the company. Meanwhile, what is clear is that this Syrah is a quality wine that's also very affordable. 14.7 percent alcohol.
All that said, don't just take our word for it. We've presented you with two wines that have been guided by some very firm and knowledgeable hands, but what it really comes down to is whether these bottles are something you'd want to share at your table. And if you do, keep in mind that not everything French is made in France.
Sometimes it can be made -- and individualized -- somewhere else.

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