Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle, whose family created the French liqueur Grand Marnier, came to Chile in 1994. She liked it so much that she launched Lapostolle Wines in Apalta, a much-praised subregion of the Colchagua Valley. In 1997, one of the first icon wines of Chile was born, Clos Apalta.
Chile has many strong points as a wine country. One is the dry and sunny summer; another is the cold South Pacific Ocean that brings freshness to many of the vineyards. Chile is a very long country, more than 2500 miles, but not very wide.
Colchagua is two hours south of Santiago, the Chilean capital. It is a warm and sunny region, famous for its red wines, but with some cooler spots where the temperature differences between day and night can be substantial. One of these cooler spots is Apalta, a 20-minute drive east from the main town of the region, Santa Cruz.
Lapostolle Wines owns a bit over 900 acres in three different Chilean regions, in Casablanca with a cooler climate, close to the Ocean, as well as in Cachapoal and Colchagua in the warmer Valle Central. But, says Andrea Leon, the winemaker of Lapostolle Wines, “Apalta is our true home”.
We met Andrea on Zoom recently to taste two new releases together, Clos Apalta 2017 and Cuvée Alexandre Syrah 2018.
There is a specific “Apalta style” that shows in all the wines, according to Andrea,. “They have good acidity”, she says, “and are more driven towards red fruit; also, they have tannins that are quite active.”
MORE FOR YOU
Apalta is cut off by the Tinguiririca River to the south and the vineyards are surrounded by mountains on the other sides. It is a well-defined and stunningly beautiful area of around 2,500 acres, made famous by Lapostolle and their neighbours Montes, Las Niñas and Neyen. As we have visited all four on our travels in Chile, we can definitely say that the wines of Apalta are of excellent quality.
Different altitudes, exposures and types of soil such as granite, alluvial, more or less organic material, give complexity in the wines, says Andrea. “Some of the vineyards have southern exposure, which means cooler as we are in the southern hemisphere.”
They start picking the lower part of the hillsides in April and the top of the hills later, not until the beginning of May in certain vintages. “This means a huge palette of tastes. We have parcels in the lower parts, in the middle and on the cooler top. The grapes from the top parts give us spiciness”.
Syrah is one of the best grapes in Apalta, according to Andrea. “It is ideally suited to the climate and amazing on different altitudes. We have Syrah on 17 different parcels on steep hills sides. These we use for blending into our Cuvée Alexandre Syrah.”
She is always looking for intensity and freshness. “I never acidify. Syrah has a lovely balance, always with notes of freshness, and peppery. The acidity level doesn’t drop dramatically when the alcohol rises. That is the beauty of Syrah.”
“Cuvée Alexandre Syrah is special”, Andrea tells us, “we make only 12,000 bottles of each vintage. We select the best syrah parcels to make this cuvée. (They also make a Cuvée Alexandre with Merlot, which is pictured below.)
Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Syrah 2018 (~25 USD) is a superb wine. It is young, of course, but already balanced with lovely aromas of fresh red fruit, hints of spices and refreshing acidity. 2018 was a balanced vintage, Andrea tells us, with sufficient winter rains and moderate temperatures during the growing season and harvest at the end of April.
We also taste two older vintages, 2014 and 2010, to see how the wine evolves.
Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Syrah 2014 feels perfectly ready to drink, smooth with ripe fruit aromas. Delicious.
Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Syrah 2010 gives the impression of being younger. It is surprisingly fresh and very peppery. 2010 was the year of the big earthquake in February. “We were lucky, says Andrea, “the winery survived. Only a few tanks fell, and we lost most of our chardonnay, but the barrels resisted well”. It took them four months to put the barrels back orderly in the cellar. They had to take out the roof and do it with a big crane.
I visited Chile in May the same year, and I remember seeing stainless-steel tanks that had imploded scattered around the countryside, looking like crushed Coca-Cola cans.
Andrea and the Lapostolle team managed to do the harvest, and, says Andrea, “the wines we made that year; they are something special.” Indeed.
Clos Apalta is the top wine, one of the first icon wines in Chile. Carmenère, the emblematic grape of Chile, is the most important ingredient, with around 50% of the blend. They have some very old vines of Carmenère for this wine, some of them planted already in 1910. “Carmenère needs sunlight”, says Andrea, “and if you plant it in the right spot, it can keep the acidity.”
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and sometimes a little bit of Petit Verdot make up the rest.
Clos Apalta 2017 (~120 USD) is delicious with refined, intense and concentrated fruit aromas and complexity. The structure is firm, with smooth tannins. The palate opens up to oak aromas, blackberries and the hallmark freshness of carmenère. “This is in the style of a classic Bordeaux”, remarks Andrea. “Our consultant, Michel Rolland [from Bordeaux], defines the blend”.
The harvest of the new vintage 2021 is now underway. How is it looking? “It’s looking good”, declares Andrea. “We have a balanced amount of fruit; it has not been that hot in the summer, and we had good rains in the winter.“
We have more great wines from Lapostolle to look forward to.