Passing Michel Rolland's Torch at Antucura
When we met with Michel Rolland at his offices in Bordeaux three years ago, the world's most sought-after Flying Winemaker and Robert Parker's Winemaker of the Year led us on a blitzkrieg tasting tour. Rolland's résumé includes consultancies in thirteen countries, highlighted by groundbreaking 95-100pt gigs at Harlan Estate, Bryant Family, Dalla Valle, Staglin, Chateau Valandraud, Troplong Mondot, Pape Clément and Angelus. But it would be in the last half hour of our degustation that Rolland would become most animated as the tasting turned to Mendoza's Uco Valley.
"Argentina is like Napa 20 years ago, but it's progressing much more quickly." The charming Bordelais told us. "It's a spectacular region for Cabernet Sauvignon, with hot days and very cool nights. I don't take viticultural risks lightly, but when first saw Uco Valley, I knew this was a gamble I had to take."
Set at over 3,000 feet in elevation, irrigated by the melting snow that runs off the Andes, Rolland's own Clos de los Siete sets the standard as Mendoza's posterchild property. A stone's throw away lies another estate, owned and operated by Michel's friend and neighbor, Anne-Caroline Biancheri. Up until 2010, the Flying Winemaker to the stars, whose services fetch six figures per year elsewhere, had helped author a stable of Antucura Cabernets that brought both Robert Parker and Stephen Tanzer to their knees.
But in 2010, Anne-Caroline decided that she'd taken her friendship as far as politesse would allow her to go. Biancheri knew that she was paying a fraction of Michel's going rates. It was time to let her friend off the hook. She conducted an extensive search for a winemaker who seemed capable of following Rolland's full-throttle winegrowing protocol. The search would take a year, but just before the superb harvest of 2011, she hit pay dirt, luring the talented Hervé Chagneau away from the top-rated Bodega Poesia.
Chagneau's résumé included stints at Haut Brion, Malartic-Lagravière, and La Croix de Gay in Rolland's Pomerol, before a superstar stint at Bodega Poesia in Mendoza. In his first vintage at Antucura, Hervé would again follow Rolland's script, albeit in a vintage that ranks among the finest in a dozen years in Mendoza.
In the dry, unusually-mild growing season of 2011 where daytime highs were in the 80s, but where nights tumbled into the low 40s, Chagneau brought in a small harvest of tiny berry, thick-skinned clusters -- high in sugar AND natural acidity. Following Rolland's cellar regime to the "T," Chagneau pulled out all the stops, turning out a 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon that would surely put a broad smile on the master's face.
The 2011 Antucura Cabernet Sauvignon Vista Flores is deep purple in color with luscious aromas of ripe cassis and bitter chocolate. Rich, powerful and voluminous on the attack, packed with Napa-like blackberry intensity, laced with juicy creme-de-cassis, this is an unusually massive Cabernet Sauvignon, buttressed by fine, dusty tannins that belie its price tag.
In a world where top-pedigree Cabernet Sauvignon prices are spiking like never before, it's now clear that Rolland's early take on the future of the Uco Valley was prescient. It's equally clear that Hervé Chagneau's inaugural release from Antucura, so true to the Flying Winemaker's script, ranks high among the top Cabernet bargains of the year.