Philippe Rolet is the estate manager of Bodegas CARO, a 20-year-old project joining Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) and the Nicolás Catena family. (Courtesy photo)

On the Vine: Bodegas CARO partnership blends iconic families, cultures and grapes

French, Argentine winemakers join forces successfully

The best outcomes are often the result of successful partnerships, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. One example is the Bodegas CARO Project, a 20-year partnership between Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) and the Nicolás Catena family, two iconic wine producers determined to meld their distinct experiences and cultures.

The Catena family has made wine in the Mendoza region of Argentina for four generations and has been at the forefront in the upswing of fine malbec releases. DBR (Lafite) has spent centuries in France’s Bordeaux and other regions perfecting the growth, vinification and blending of cabernet sauvignon. Baron Eric deRothschild called the project “an association between two cultures, two families and two noble grapes.”

Philippe Rolet, of French descent, has been employed by Bodegas CARO for 14 years and became its estate manager in 2019. Rolet’s early experience came at Domaine William Fèvre in the village of Chablis in Burgundy before relocating to Mendoza 20 years ago. Rolet boasted about the near perfect terroir in Mendoza including the warmth, the altitude and clear mountain water from the Andes. He was also quick to point out challenges to farming in the area, namely controlling ant infestation of the vines and hail.

Mendoza is located on the lee side of the Andes Mountains. As the cold ocean breezes flow over the mountains, they are met by warm air. This phenomenon often results in hail storms that can occur unexpectedly.

Bodegas CARO vineyards are located at the base of the Andes Mountains in Mendoza. (Courtesy photo)

Challenges aside, Mendoza is a great place to produce wine and Bodegas CARO has found success in their cultural experiment for two decades.

Through the wonders of zoom.com, Philippe led a tasting of Bodegas CARO’s top wines: CARO, Amancaya and Aruma. CARO is the big brother, the flagship wine produced from the original partnership. The name CARO is a simple abbreviation of Catena and Rothschild. Each vintage must meet the highest standards and be an expression of the best that they can produce. To that end, it is not made every year.

Although generally cabernet sauvignon-dominant, the CARO 2017 ($65) has a strong Argentine identity, which is characterized by 74% malbec. It is aged for 18 months in 50% new French oak.

The CARO 2017 is a medium-bodied wine with red fruit on the nose and balanced fruit and pepper spice flavors that finish with some length. It will age well.

Philippe recently opened a vintage 2000 and found it very much alive. He also recommends pairing this wine with a good rib-eye steak and decanting no more than an hour or not at all.

The first sibling of CARO is Amancaya, named for a native flower in the Andes. Amancaya is Malbec dominant at 60-70%, depending on the vintage. Sourced from high altitude vineyards, the malbec, with firm acidity and tannins, drives this blend.

Lafite Rothschild produces its own cooperage and most of the barrels used at Bodegas CARO. The 2017 Amancaya Reserve Red Blend ($20), 72% malbec, 28% cabernet sauvignon, is aged in that French oak for 12 months, 20% new.

It is an elegant wine for the price beginning with spice and floral hints on the nose. A balanced acidity, savory spice notes and fine tannins highlight the flavor profile. Philippe recommended pairing it with lamb chops or rack of lamb with herbs.

In 2009, the Project began producing Aruma, 100% Malbec, from nearby Valle de Uco. The name means “night” in the language of the Quechua native population and this deep ruby wine is a celebration of the varietal.

The grapes are grown in alluvial soil at high altitudes where cooler temperatures produce more concentrated juice.

Aged exclusively in stainless steel, the fruit-driven 2016 Aruma Malbec ($15) is meant to drink young and at slightly cooler temperatures. Despite having a short maceration process, it is a deep ruby color with aromas of raspberry, cherry, balsamic spice and hints of violets. Balanced acidity and soft tannins on the palate highlight flavors that linger. It’s an excellent value.

Philippe recommends pairing Aruma with red meat, specifically a nice juicy burger with pickles. Actually, he prefers pairing it with friends rather than food.

Bodegas CARO’s top wines are Amancaya, CARO and Aruma. (Lyle Norton/Special to S.F. Examiner)

It is common belief that the best Argentine malbec is yet to come. To that end, Bodegas CARO will continue to blend lineage, culture and wine into the next generation, now with the oversight of daughters Saskia de Rothschild and Laura Catena.

Guest columnist Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 20 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email sfewine@gmail.com.

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