Famed football coach, Vince Lombardi, once stated, “perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can achieve excellence.” It’s a statement that so accurately embodies Carlos Lee’s relentless pursuit of the perfect wine. He wowed the wine world with the release of the 2008 The Referènce, a wine so exquisite that it was literally the reference point for the highest quality wines in Canada, scoring an impressive 97 out of 100!
Chasing Perfection, Achieving Excellence
The Art and Science of 98
Most winemakers would be satisfied with the smashing success of the 2008 release, but Carlos is not most winemakers. He’s got the number 98 in his sights and the 2009 The Referènce is on track to hit the mark! Getting to 98, however, takes skill, knowledge, patience, and above all, a passion and deep abiding love for the art and science of winemaking.
A More Serious Wine
Carlos explains that in the making of the 2009 The Referènce, he let it rest for 1 year longer than the 2008, which was more tannic. He contends that “the 2009 vintage is a more serious wine, truer to how a right bank wine should taste.”
A River Runs Through It
For the uninitiated, Carlos explains that the main river in Bordeaux is the Gironde. Two smaller rivers, the Dordogne and the Garonne, feed into it, separating Bordeaux into the left bank and the right bank. This seemingly innocuous fact is highly important in the wine world:
“When people say it’s left bank, that means it’s heavy on the Cabernet Sauvignon, and if it’s right bank, it’s more Merlot and Cabernet Franc. My taste leans more towards the right bank. It’s a friendlier wine, more fruit-forward, while left bank wine is firmer and more solid.”
You Can’t Improve Upon a Masterpiece
Carlos is not one to reinvent the wheel. Indeed, one could say that the aphorism “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” best applies to his winemaking philosophy.
Much like you wouldn’t try to improve upon a Stradivarius violin, add words to a Shakespearian sonnet or change the colours of a Chagall, Carlos does not seek to change or alter the right bank masterpieces, but instead – with great respect and reverence – endeavours to replicate them.
Carlos explains, “to create the best wine, we drink the best Premier Grand Cru Classé wines and memorize them. They become my target, and I have the luxury of being able to replicate them most times because in Canada, we are allowed to water, crop the varietals according to the particular year, and add up to 5 percent cross-vintage, while the Premier Grand Cru Classé wineries can’t. It is for these reasons we can nail them most of the time.”
The Saints of The Referènce
When Carlos talks about the town of Saint-Émilion, situated on the right bank of the Bordeaux wine region, it’s clear that winemaking is not just about the numbers and rankings. As Padma Lakshmi says, “Wine, like food, is so emotional. If you think about it, so much of the courting ritual is surrounded by wine and food. There’s a built-in romance to wine.” This is evident as Carlos describes the town from where he derived the inspiration for The Referènce:
“Saint-Émilion is an old town in France and is considered a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s virtually unchanged by time. When I’m there, I can feel the ghosts of the Chevaliers; I can hear the horses’ hooves on the cobblestones.”
An Inspired Wine
It’s this little ancient town in Bordeaux, this small hamlet whose vineyards have survived the ravages of time, weather and war, where Carlos derives his inspiration to reproduce a wine that “is every bit as good as the Premier Grand Cru Classé of Saint-Émilion.” Indeed, when you open a bottle of 2009 The Referènce, take in its aromas, and slowly imbibe of the magical elixir, you too may swear you can hear the distant sound of hooves on time-worn cobblestones.
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