Tasting T3.10 South American Cabernet Sauvignon

Back to one of my favourite grape varieties. Admittedly it has only become my favourite in the last year or so due to these tastings that we have been doing. I just love the ability it has to change its fruit profile through different terroir. So here we have Cabernet blends, all wines are 80-90% Cabernet (some 100%) with either Syrah, Malbec and a smattering of others blended in.

So here comes the knowledge part. We have 6 wines here, 4 from Chile and 2 from Argentina. Both countries are extremely well-known now for producing both affordable and extremely good wines. However that was not always the case, both countries have seen a huge resurgence in the quality of wines produced. A lot of credit needs to go to Eduardo Chadwick of Errazuriz Estate in Chile who joined forces with Robert Mondavi to create Seña and to Nicolas Catena Zapata who was the mastermind behind the rebirth of Malbec and quality wines in Argentina. Many wineries have followed suit and we have picked a few that we do believe really stand out.


So, Chile has 6 main wine regions, within these wine regions are some very impressive valleys. The two main regions are Aconcagua Region and Central Valley Region. The key three valleys that are arguably the best are Colchagua Valley, Maipo Valley and Aconcagua Valley. Shockingly we have wines here that are from all three of those valleys… (it’s like we knew… 😉). It was the French who first took a real liking to the Chilean terroir and many from Bordeaux went over and planted Merlot and Cabernet. In the 1990’s however it was discovered that the country’s Merlot was in fact a grape called Carmenere. Suddenly Chile had its own grape variety. Now however, nearly all the main varieties are planted across Chile. Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay make up a high proportion, with Cabernet, Carmenere, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Noir and even Malbec making up a lot of the red varieties. Due to Chile being a thin strip of land with coast on one side and high elevation mountains from the Andes on the other, it is fair to say that Pinot Noir and Chardonnay fair very well in the cooler climates. However at high elevation Bordeaux blends fair extremely well, creating tannic and structured grapes.


So we move across the border to Argentina, we have 7 wine regions in Argentina. The most well-known and arguably best is Mendoza. Both wines that we have tonight are from Mendoza, Malbec is clearly the grape variety that everyone knows from here. However, many other varieties are planted, Torrontes and Chardonnay for white wine with Malbec, Tannat, Cabernet, Syrah and Bonarda making up a good proportion of the red varieties. Mendoza accounts for 75% of Argentina’s vineyards and the majority of the vineyards are at the base of the Andes Mountains, this brings lots of sunshine and snowmelt for good natural irrigation. Again similar to Chile there are a lot of high elevated vineyards with maintain good acidity in the wines and lengthen out the ripening period.

The Wineries are:

Viña Los Vascos

Viña Los Vascos is located in the Central Valley of Chile, in the Colchagua region. It was started in 1988 and is still owned by The Rothschild family. The winery is about 200km south of Santiago. The land covers 3,600 hectares and 640 of those are planted with vines. As it is 150m above sea level and only 40km from the coast the vineyards benefit dramatically from the Pacific ocean. The grape varieties planted are Cabernet Sauvignon at 68%, Carmenere at 9% followed closely by Syrah at 8%, then Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc make up the rest.

Viña Aquitania

In 1984 Bruno Prats and Paul Pontallier came over from Bordeaux in search of high quality terroir in Chile. In 1990 along with Felipe de Solminihac they purchased 18 hectares of vignes in Peñalolen. They planted Cabernet Sauvignon first and their cellar was completed in 1993. It is a small tight nit group of people who put quality and care above all else. The winery is currently getting organic accreditation for their wines as well.

Bodegas Caro

Another winery under the Rothschild umbrella, however with a twist. This is the forming of a partnership between DBR Lafite and the Catena family. This started in 1999. The Catena family have important knowledge from Mendoza of the regions high-altitude terroirs and their passion for Malbec. Of course DBR Lafite brings centuries old understanding of producing Cabernet Sauvignon and their understanding of blending. Planted at high altitudes the Cabernet and Malbec vineyards benefit from low temperatures at night and strong winds during the day giving good ventilation as the sun is very intense in this climate. The first vintage of Caro was produced in 2000 and due to a lot of success this winery now produces two other wines in Amancaya and Aruma.

Catena Zapata

Founded in 1902 this estate is known for pioneering wine making and resurrecting Malbec in Argentinian wines. Now run by Nicolas Catena Zapata and Laura Cantena (his daughter) they are the fourth generation of the family. Nicolas is widely credited with being the great mind behind the rise in Argentinian Malbec, he was one of the first to make an outstanding Malbec, so much so that it is now a household wine everywhere. He is also credited with creating a wine that rivals some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon wines in the world. The wine was first released in 2001 and was put up in blind tastings against the likes of Chateau Latour, Haut Brion, Opus One and more, it came either first or second in every tasting. The wine is named after Nicolas (by his daughter), Nicolas Catena Zapata which we are tasting this evening. Safe to say we were really looking forward to this one!

Viña Don Melchor

Founded in 1883 by Don Melchor Concha y Toro, he took vines from Bordeaux and was the first to plant them in Pirque. Jacques Boissenot, who was an advisor to many Chateaux in Bordeaux, in 1984 went over to Chile after trying a Cabernet Sauvignon from this estate to work closely with them in order to produce a great wine. His son Eric Boissenot took over in 2013 to continue the legacy. In 1987 Don Melchor produced its first vintage of the unique wine that we are tasting in this article. After many awards over many years this estate has become known as one of the best in Chile and is regularly in the Wine Spectator’s top 10 list of wineries around the world.


Started in 1995 by Robert Mondavi and Eduardo Chadwick, Seña was created to reach the full potential of Chile’s wine country and create an Icon-level wine. In 1997 the first vintage of Seña was released (1995 vintage). They wanted Seña to have a vineyard of its own, they spent four years searching through the entire valley until they found their terroir. Ocoa in the mid-section of the Aconcagua Valley was that terroir, 42 hectares of hillside vineyard. Today it is Eduardo Chadwick’s daughters that are helping to run everything and this small estate has a very warm family feel to it.

Tonight’s tasters are David, Harry, Tim, Kim & Jen.

Viña Los Vascos Le Dix 2018

92% Cabernet Sauvignon & 8% Syrah. Planted at high density on sand and silt soil these vines are the oldest in the vineyard roughly 50-60 years old. Aged in oak for 18 months.

Note: Purple hue with slight red colour approaching. Eucalyptus absolutely sings off the nose with soil and herbs adding complex aromas. Cherries, blue fruit and blackberry leaf are outstanding as well on the nose. Extremely warming on the palate, alcohol certainly playing a part there, however not overpowering. A very satisfying and light body with tannins really nicely integrated, great balance with high acidity. A good medium finish elongating those blue fruit and vegetal notes.

Viña Aquitania Lazuli Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Grown in the Peñalolen vineyards at the foot of the Andes mountains. The grapes are crushed then completely destemmed. Fermentation in stainless steel vats, malolactic fermentation takes place in barrels. Ageing in barrel afterward for 16 months.

Note: Dark fruit aromas here with black cherries, black raspberry and powerful herbaceous aromas. A silky smooth body with those dark fruit aromas transferring beautifully on the palate. A really smooth wine with good levels of fruit throughout, those herbaceous notes singing really well toward the finish. Great acidity and those tannins are perfectly embedded in the body of the wine. Great power and a lovely wine.

Bodegas Caro Caro 2016

83% Cabernet Sauvignon & 17% Malbec vinified in the spirit of a Bordeaux Grand Cru. Selection of grapes from the high-altitude vineyards planted at the foot of the Andes. Aged for 18 months in French Oak barrels. (We had to decant this).

Note: Dark fruits, black cherries with the Malbec aromas really strong here. Plums and blackcurrant aromas, however on the palate very brooding. Leather and graphite very prominent with hints of dark fruits and eucalyptus showing nice freshness, but this needs to shed its baby fat. This is still extremely young, lots of time ahead of it, at least 10-15 years minimum. So far however, it’s looking extremely good.

Catena Zapata Nicolas Catena Zapata 2015

83% Cabernet Sauvignon and 17% Malbec. 10% whole cluster and 90% whole berry fruit is hand-loaded into 225-500 litre first and second use French oak foudres for 100% barrel fermentation for 15 days. All fermentation happens in these foudres. The wine is then aged in French oak barrels for 18 months.

Note: Deep, intense aromas of dark fruit with leather and hints of herbaceous notes. This is an absolute powerhouse. Vanilla & leather very prominent, blue fruit, plums and cherries however taking centre stage. Extremely smooth on the body, no wonder this has won so many accolades. Balance is perfect, complexity of fruit with herbal notes nicely combining. The fruit really drives through the palate on a very silky body. Tannin and acidity perfectly matched with many years of ageing ahead. What a wine.

Viña Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

93% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Cabernet Franc. Fermentation takes places in stainless steel vats. All parcels are fermented separately, they are individually tasted and thus the parcel blend is decided. Once blended the wine is aged in old and new French barrels for 15 months.

Note: Dark fruit with powerful herbaceous and eucalyptus aromas coming back with a bang! Very concentrated and powerful on the nose. Herbs and eucalyptus very present on the palate with dark cherries, plums and pepper very concentrated as you move through the wine.  Lots of concentration and lots of power, this will continue to age for many years. The medium body combines well with high acidity and great tannins that are starting to embed. Lovely and smooth, a definite for the cellar.

Seña 2010

59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Carmenere, 12% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot. 22 months aged in French oak barrels 77% of which was new oak.

Note: Cherries, blackcurrants and lovely herbaceous aromas. Concentration of herbaceous aromas really a theme on this wine. Strong fruit notes on the palate, blue fruit, blackberry and cherry with leather and vanilla nicely balancing the wine towards the finish. Good high acidity with strong tannin that is nicely integrating, this is luscious, powerful and overall just outstanding. An extremely long finish with those fruit notes staying with you long after your last sip.


I was (again) particularly looking forward to this tasting as my love for Cabernet Sauvignon has grown massively since we started doing more and more tastings. I can absolutely say that none of us were disappointed. What I would say is that we were, I guess surprised is the best way to put it. The difference that altitude and terroir overall can make to a grapes aromas and taste is just incredible. This tasting was absolutely no different in that respect, having good concentration of dark fruit with lots of herbaceous and eucalyptus aromas and notes in particular was very interesting.

I would highly recommend any of these wines to you but as you will no doubt see there were two very clear wines that deserve special attention…

The scores:

Le Dix 2018 – 91 Points

Lazuli 2016 – 92 Points

Caro 2016 – 93 Points

Nicolas Catena Zapata 2015 – 96 Points

Don Melchor 2012 – 94 Points

Seña 2010 – 96 Points

Just to re-iterate these wines are all at the top of their game and will give immense pleasure in drinking between now and the next 10 years. Both the Seña 2010 and Don Melchor 2012 will easily make it to 2030-2033 so do not worry.

We will back next week with an Up from The Cellar tasting, there is no theme on this one. I quite literally picked up four bottles, sat down and tasted them so we’ll see you then!


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