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Tasting notes from Chile

text and photographs © 2010 Tom Cannavan

These notes accompany our in-depth feature on Chile, North to South.


Lapostolle ('Casa' has officially been dropped from the title) declares as its motto: "French in Essence; Chilean by Birth," and indeed Lapostolle's owner is the French Marnier Lapostolle group, producer of Grand Marnier and owner of Château de Sancerre in the Loire Valley.

Head of the company is Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle, who although Swiss-based is hands-on and regularly at the winery. The French connection extends to the winemaking: although young Chilean winemaker Andrea León (right) is in charge of the premium wines, Michel Rolland is consultant winemaker (retained exclusively by Lapostolle in Chile) and Jacques Begarie of Bordeaux is chief viticulturist. I met Andrea at their beautiful new winery, which lies at the heart of Lapostolle's Apalta estate.   

The 30ha of old vines that make up the famous Clos Apalta are un-irrigated, and this is the second year the estate has been farmed biodynamically. "It's possible to farm such a large vineyard Biodynamically in Chile," says Andrea. "We have always planted at high density, used horses in the vineyard, used minimal synthetics - it was not an unnatural step for us."

Andrea sees a strong and pragmatically-led movement towards organic farming developing in Chile: "We have much better machinery available to us in Chile now, and many more people are using composts because synthetics got so expensive."

The winery is six levels deep, sunk into the hillside, and operating by gravity. The first vintage here was 2005, in a facility dedicated to Clos Apalta and now a second wine called Borobo. All grapes are hand de-stemmed by teams of 60 women, "destemming grapes one by one for Clos Apalta," says Andrea. A painstaking process, but one she thinks is worth it: "The fruit seems more defined. The expression of the fruit seems to clearer, especially with Merlot. The tannins seem a little more polished too."

Everything at the winery is basket pressed. "The press is very good, and lets us separate the different parts of the pressing very well - it also gets some air through the wine, which is good," says Andrea. The barrel cellar, immediately below the circular tank room, is a beautiful space, filled with 100% new oak barrels for every vintage.

white wines

UK distributor of Lapostolle is Berkmann Wine Cellars. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Casa Sauvignon Blanc 2009
From Rapel, with a dash of Semillon from 80-year-old vines. Tight, apple and green fruit, a hint of spice. On the palate quite fleshy and full, but vibrant too, with a great sweet core of tropical fruit, but that apple acidity and bit of grapefruit kicking in on a food friendly style. 86/100. The Casa whites are all price £7.49 to £8.49

Casa Semillon 2008
Barrel-aged Semillon from the 80-year-old vines, aged for three to six months in older French oak. Mealy, fruity, lightly toasty nose, with some sweet vanilla and a little herbal touch. Quite bold and powerful. 87/100.

Casa Chardonnay 2008
30% of blend in older oak for nine months or so. Casablanca fruit. Nutty and vegetal aromas, quite Burgundian. A touch of banana and tropical fruit. The palate has lots of fat, lemony acidity and that sweet, mouth-filling fruit. Nice and sharp in the finish. 87/100.

Cuvée Alexandre Chardonnay 2008
Very recently bottled. Would like to plant some special Sauvignon for the 'Cuvee' line in the future. A selection of best lots from their own vineyards (so everything from here on is Organic). 50% barrel fermented and aged, 50% in tank with no malolactic. Subtle nuttiness, with an orangy note and plenty of racy lemon and lime. Nicely crisp palate, the orange character coming through, and a fleshy, tangy, yellow plum skin touch. 88/100. £10.99 to £11.99 £10.99, Majestic

red wines

Cuvée Alexandre Pinot Noir 2007
Part in oak tanks at Clos Apalta, part in stainless steel for ferment, then into a mix of new and older oak. Casablanca fruit. Very low yields, around 800gm per plant. Spicy, lightly herbal and earthy, with some rhubarb notes. Quite sappy and fresh, with nice ripe, fresh strawberry fruit and some real spice in the finish. 89/100. £14.99 to £15.99

Casa Merlot 2007
With 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. Rapel, as this level is a mix of estate and bought-in fruit from growers around the district. All stainless steel fermentation, with 50% going into used French oak. Quite a ripe red fruit nose, with lots of spice and some herbal, fresh notes. That sappy, fresh and earthy character continues, with plenty of spice and crisp acidity. More of a food-wine style than some Merlots. 87/100. The Casa reds are all £8.49 to £9.49

Casa Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
With 8% Syrah, 5% Carmenère, 2% Cabernet Franc. A bit more oak on this. Quite creamy, with more powerful, structured black fruit and gravelly quality. 88/100.

Casa Carmenère 2008
With 15% Merlot. New wine, not yet on the market. 75% of the blend spent 10 months in oak. Quite meaty, with a touch of herbal, dry, almost dusty quality. Something coffeeish too, with a big, sour cherry bite of acidity on the palate and plenty of juicy, black and red fruit. A really nice Carmenère this, with lots of substance and fine, grippy tannic balance. 90/100.

Cuvée Alexandre Merlot 1999
Poured from magnum. Probably had much more oak, and more new oak than the 2007 cuvee. Lovely creamy, bold black fruit, with a certain density and sense of plush sweetness. The palate has maybe just lost a little bit of the mid-palate fruit depth and plushness it once had, but spicy and chocolaty tannins are fine and ripe, and this has terrific length still with the fruit lasting through. 91/100.

Cuvée Alexandre Merlot 2007
With 15% Carmenère. Savoury, chestnutty, quite spicy too, and the plushness of thick black fruit comes through. There's a touch of briar and sweet damp earth. Delicious palate, with a savoury edge to the black fruit on the palate. Plenty of grippy tannin here, quite a sinewy, muscular character. Plenty of power and concentration. 90/100. £11.99 to £12.99.

Cuvée Alexandre Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
With 15% Merlot. From very old vines on un-irrigated sandy soils near the entrance to the Apalta property, which is also the Cabernet that goes into Clos Apalta. There's masses of cedar and pencil-filling fragrance to the tight black fruit on the nose. The palate has a really nice grip of liquorice and keen, tart, black cherry skin fruit. Good acidity here, the whole picture ripe and quite plush, but grippy and fresh too. 91/100. £10.99 - £11.99

Cuvée Alexandre Syrah 2007
3,000 cases of this from Cachapoal. Old Chardonnay and Merlot rootstocks re-grafted to two clones of Syrah. Very low yields from pebbly soil. Over two years in oak. A bit of meat stock and black fruit, a touch of coffee, but it has subtle lifted notes and smokiness too. The palate has some roasted coffee flavour, with that meatiness again, and a big, chewy, dark and savoury finish. Delicious, big and powerful. 91/100. £14.99 to £15.99

Borobo 2006
26% Pinot Noir, 26% Syrah, 20% Carmenère, 16% Merlot, 10% Cabernet, 2% Petit Verdot. Fine coffee fragrance, with a touch of smoky bacon and at the same time a violet fragrance comes through. Very fine black fruit. Onto the palate the sweet black fruit is fine and pure, with a certain delicacy, with lots of cherry and orange tang and acidity, and a leaner, more savoury and fresh finish. There is something fine about this unusual wine, with an elegant smokiness and refined, but spicy fruit. 93/100. £40-£50

Clos Apalta 2007
61% Carmenère, 24% Cabernet, 12% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot. 24 months in oak. Lots of tight, creamy, pure blackcurrant fruit. There is some meatiness here, with a muscularity to the wine, but the fruit has a silky depth. On the palate plenty of ripe, sweet, quite juicy and deep blackcurrant. The palate weight is good, and the balance here of tannins and excellent acidity. This is a wine with really good length and structure. It seems much less full-on than some earlier vintages, and that is a good thing. 94/100. £50 or so.

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