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A Sneak Peek at the 2006 Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Jan 28, 2009 3:29pm ET

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 …

Marchello Chacchia
Connecticut —  January 28, 2009 5:31pm ET
Thanks for the sneak peak, James. Looking forward to your report in the May issue.
Apj Powers
Dallas, TX —  January 29, 2009 2:55am ET
Ironic.One of our regulars is going to NYC for a tasting w/some big-time collectors. He's somewhat of a novice, so I wanted him to have a little ammo. I broke out a btl of the 05 Clos Apalta. Sure it could use a little more time in btl but it was tasting pretty darn good NOW too. Weird that I get home and you are blogging about it. Great wine and not just the 05. The few vintages I have tried are all delicious.
Dennis D Bishop
Shelby Twp., MI, USA —  January 29, 2009 4:18am ET
This just shows how hard it is to repeat a #1, or even a top ten WS selection. There are so many variables, many of which the wine maker or vineyard manager have no control over. Nice blog!
Johnny Espinoza Esquivel
January 29, 2009 1:40pm ET
James, thanks as usual for this sneak peek. I'll be waiting for your report since I really like Chilean wines. I haven't had the chance to taste Clos Apalta 2005. From what you wrote, it looks it's going to an outstanding wine too. And yes, Chile's other wines are also amazing and there are plenty of good values as well as top notch quality.

A little bit off Topic: As you might know, it seems 2007 was an outstanding vintage (at least that's what I've been heard and read). I'm looking forward for some classics as Don Melchor, Viu 1 and some other Top Reds from Chile. For sure these ones will come later one (I believe Don Melchor 2007 will come maybe late this year or 2010). Any thoughts on this? Thank you so much for keeping us posted on Chile.
James Molesworth
January 29, 2009 1:46pm ET
Johnny: Some top '07 reds will start to appear at the end of this year, with the bulk coming out in the Spring of 2010...the '07 vintage is shaping up nicely - it was a cool, even year with lower yields. The reds are very supple and flattering. They don't have the density of structure of the '05s, but it's still a vintage with excellent promise.
Chris Lavin
Long Beach, CA —  January 30, 2009 4:05pm ET
I'll be sitting down for dinner with a number of other Los Angeles sommeliers and Alexandra this coming Monday at XIV (LA - www.xivla.com) for a preview of the 2006 Clos Apalta and the '06 Carmenere. In fact, we will be doing a mini-vertical tasting of Clos Apalta '04, '05, and '06. Should be exciting.

As you know, vintage variation in Chile is not all that obvious - "winemaker's paradise" or "paradise for vines" as vines are spared from vineyard afflictions, phylloxera, Pierce's, mildew, and summer rain. Other than El Nino, the only real difference lie in odd/even years - the vines "push" one year, and then have a quiet year the next (odd years push, even years slumber).

When I discussed the '04 vintage of Clos Apalta - I thought this would be a lighter wine (in comparison to the '05 - with a higher percentage of Carmenere) as rains came in in March and more in April (I supposed it could have been an issue - but was not sure). I know that '05 was touted as one of the best growing seasons in Chile's memory. I find the 2006 Chilean wines to be a touch lower in acidity (for those than did not add acid). I be sure to take good notes, that is if I do not get distracted by the tasty food (my first opportunity to actually sit down as a "guest" in my own restaurant).
James Molesworth
January 30, 2009 4:33pm ET
Chris: I think going forward you'll start to see more vintage variation among wines. In the old days, a winery's vineyard base was all within a stone's throw of the winery, a range of grapes was grown and high-yielding valley floor sites were preferred. The result - lower quality wines that varied little from year to year.

But today the top Chilean wineries are more exacting with the site selection for their vineyards - cooler spots for whites and Pinot Noir versus warmer sites for Cab and Carmenere - along with better vine material, lower yields and more difficult-to-farm hillside sites. In addition, you now have development in places like Limari, Leyda and Bio-Bio that didn't exist viticulturally speaking five or 10 years ago.

Quality and diversity feed off each other - so as Chilean wines improve in general, they will also start to display more nuances from year to year.
Jean B Cyr
Edmundston, New Brunswick, Canada —  February 13, 2009 9:19pm ET
I remember vividly tasting the 2005 Clos Apalta in Ottawa, our nation's(Canada)capital before it was released by LCBO (one of our provinces monopoly as far as wine et al. is concerned),around the month of March 2008, before it was released for sale. The wine was fantastic! Merci, Madame Marnier Lapostolle, for letting us taste one of the wonders of the Chilean terroir. I remember telling some of my friends from our beautiful province of New Brunswick, when I returned home, that this particular wine was one of the best wines I tasted since the magical 1997 Opus one. Thank you, Baron Philippe, Monsieur Mondavi and Madame Marnier Lapostolle. I hope any one is as fortunate as I am to have tasted these two amazing wines.
Maximiliano Morales
Santiago, Chile —  February 14, 2009 10:08pm ET
I was in the cellar of Clos Apalta with Alexandra Marnier and the winemaker Andrea Le¿n two weeks ago while I was coordinating a visit of Alexandre Schmitt, the French Perfumist in Colchagua Valley. The most interesting moment was when we all were guided by Schmitt to smell and identify the aromas in the Clos Apalta. Definately, several details make this wine to be special like it is and we all could sense it.The Apalta area definately will give us more surprises in the next couple of years due to the high effort of several wineries to work in this amazing valley.Max MoralesCEO AndesWines.com

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