91pt Jack and the Beanstalk in Lujan de Cuyo
The writing was on the wall. As much as we wanted to think otherwise, the search for top flight under-$30 Napa Cabernet was over. Nothing quite like an economic rebound and four consecutive short harvests to straighten out the supply curve.
In the beginning of 2012, we took to the road, scouring the world's wine trails for Napa lookalikes. We'd spend three full weeks in Chile, and come up empty. South Africa was magnificent, but the Cabernets were leaner in style, lacking north coast blackberry opulence. Our trip to Bordeaux tasting the ultra-ripe 2009s and 2010s seemed promising, but with a weak dollar and all those buyers from Shanghai, under-$20 bargains proved tough to reel in.
When we left Santiago for Mendoza fifteen months ago, the pressure was on. We'd created a monster. Between 2009 and 2011, we captured the largest Cabernet audience in the country, fueled by a steady diet of Napa Valley bargains. But even as we explained why prices HAD to spike, much of our membership wanted no part of our explanation. Either we'd hit pay dirt in the high ground of the Andes, reeling in under-$20 Mendoza Cabernets of distinction, or there'd be hell to pay.
It wouldn't take long for our luck to turn.
Michel Rolland is the most revered consulting enologist on the planet. Ever since Robert Parker shined a spotlight on Michel's full throttle 1982s, Rolland has been able to pick his clients, and name his price.
In 2009, while in Mendoza, a friend asked Rolland to take a look at one of Argentina's oldest Cabernet plantings. Cordial as he is brilliant, the Flying Winemaker whose hands are all over Harlan Estate, Bryant Family, Bond, Araujo and Bon Pasteur made the trek out to the hallowed high ground of Lujan de Cuyo.
When we first laid eyes on the historic Casarena vineyard, we did a double-take. Land was dirt cheap in the 1930s, so the vineyard had been planted to unusually wide spacing, facilitating manual farming practices. The vista was magnificent, the ancient vines in the forefront, the blinding white snow-capped Andes looming behind. But far more astonishing than the view or the thick trunks of these gnarly plants were the height of the vines.
Michel Rolland stands 5'8" tall. The 80-year-old Casarena Cabernet Sauvignon towered over him, eight feet off the ground. The consulting enologist to Napa's stars purportedly took a long walk through the vineyard. Then he did what he never imagined doing. He signed up on the spot.
The 2011 Casarena Sinergy Reserve is a full throttle blend of old-vine Malbec and 80-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon. The cellar protocol was textbook. A long, cool maceration nursed out deep purple color and immense extraction, pushing the envelope on black fruit intensity. Fermented in 50% new French cooperage, bottled shortly after the 2012 harvest to preserve all the Hedonistic vibrancy of the Jack and the Beanstalk Cabernet core, this latest release from Casarena will make bargain hunters think twice before buying into Napa's inflation.
Stephen Tanzer remains the stingiest and most eloquent critic in the world. Nowhere is the New Yorker tougher than he is with his Argentine ratings. This time, Tanzer couldn't hold back, calling the 2011 Sinergy "Juicy, spicy and quite suave, with a restrained sweetness and a silky texture ... Gentle in the middle, then firmly tannic and serious on the long, broad, chocolatey back end." Then he lobbed on 91 points as high as the IWC ever goes for an under-$16 Mendoza red.