I sat down today with Alexandra Marnier-Lapostolle, the owner of Chile's Casa Lapostolle winery. At this point, her winery needs little introduction, having garnered our 2008 Wine of The Year honor for its 2005 Clos Apalta cuvée.
She afforded me a sneak peek at the 2006 version, which is slated for release in the spring. The good news is that quality remains high; the bad news is there's half the amount of wine as usual, as Marnier-Lapostolle insisted on a severe selection following the slightly cooler than normal 2006 vintage.
The 2006 Clos Apalta is a blend of 43 percent Carmenère, 30 percent Merlot, 21 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 6 percent Petit Verdot (note that the Petit Verdot increases a touch over the '05, when the variety first appeared in the blend). The wine is still very young and a bit tight, showing its oak influence now, though the core of black and purple fruits the wine is known for is waiting in reserve. I really like the crème de cassis note that the Petit Verdot lends to the blend, while the aged tobacco and sweet earthy side of the Carmenère still rings true. The 2006 version is a shade less concentrated than the powerful 2005, but not by much.
There's also a new wine in the works at Casa Lapostolle—consumers who love the bang for the buck that the winery's Cuvée Alexandre line delivers may be pleased to know that a Carmenère bottling is set to debut this spring as well. One of the keys to producing good Carmenère is yields. The grape shows thin, green, weedy notes quickly when it is overcropped, and so Marnier-Lapostolle has directed her team to keep the crop levels in the vineyards low. But rather than keeping the average yield of a particular parcel within a pre-set parameter, she makes sure that each individual vine is in balance—stronger vines that can carry a few more bunches are allowed to do so, while weaker vines are trimmed back accordingly.
It's that level of attention to detail that sets apart good wineries from great wineries. One need only taste the results of Marnier-Lapostolle's efforts to figure out which category her winery belongs to.
My annual report on Chile is slated as usual for the May issue. You may be surprised by some of the results (I've tasted over 500 wines since the last report). Here's a hint: Chile isn't just for red wine anymore …