When I received an email about a LaPostolle Chilean wine dinner on January 28 at Pierre Gourmet in the Peninsula Hotel in Chicago, my curiosity was peeked. I had been to wine dinners at Pierre Gourmet before and knew that the food would be delicious and the winemakers that beverage director Erik Boyd chose would be high quality. Although my preference is for old world wines, I always love branching out and not making generalizations about wine regions. So I signed up for the dinner, always excited to learn about a new wine maker and some of the wine regions in Chile that I had studied.
Chile is a very long country, approximately 2600 miles, which is roughly a little more than the distance from New York City to San Francisco. Width-wise it is only 210 miles at its widest point which corresponds roughly to the width of the state of Nebraska. Now I had been to Chile years ago, to Patagonia which is in the very far south and off of this map because it is basically at the very southern end of Chile.
I had been in the land of the Grey Glacier and Paine National Park, trekking and camping and then had gone even further south to Puntes Arenas, where I had plates of steaming shellfish and toured the penguin hatchery. But, I will say, that we drank great boxed wine on the camping trip from Concha y Toro and I remember people saying that this was not your usual boxed wine, it was good wine! From that trip on, I had it in my brain that Chile makes good wine. Although over the course of the years, I have sometimes had very fruity wines or highly oaked wines from Chile which overly generalizing are sometimes the hallmarks of New World winemaking. But knowing that LaPostolle had french roots got me interested which to me implied restraint in terms of fruit and oak.
I went to the LaPostolle wine dinner, with thoughts, of my Patagonia trip in my mind. The winery was founded by Alexandra Marnier LaPostolle and her husband Cyril de Bournet in 1994. The Marnier LaPostolle family, founders and owners of the world-renowned liqueur Grand Marnier, is famous for producing spirits and liqueurs, but the family has also been involved in wiemaking for generations. Their goal was to create world class wines using French expertise and the unique terroirs of Chile. Today, they own 380 hectares in three different vineyards in Casablanca (the furthest north and known for cool climate grapes sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir), Cachapoal and Colchagua Valley (both part of the Rapel Valley wine region and known for cabernet sauvignon, syrah and carmenere grapes, Colchagua in particular is known for producing some of Chile’s highest quality wines)
Their winemaking beliefs are: that it is important to protect the purity of the fruit in the wines, the environment, and the people that work in LaPostolle’s vineyards. All of LaPostolle Vineyards were certified organic by CERES, the world-wide standard. All of LaPostolle properties are farmed under Biodynamic Vineyard Management, certified by DEMETER. LaPostolle exports all of its wines via the Carbon Neutral Company and the company is focused on reducing waste at its wineries utilizing the SGS protocols.
Between, the French orientation and the concern about the environment and knowing first hand the beauty of Chile, LaPostolle had my attention.
I unfortunately did not capture a photo of the delicious plates prepared for us by Chef Jose and since it was a dinner and not a tasting, the wines sometimes flew by as I started chatting with my dining companions and drinking and eating, but that is what conviviality is all about, right?
My two “aha moments” of the evening were the LaPostolle Cuvee Alexandre Carmenere 2011 paired with grilled “mole spice” pork tenderloin, black bean puree, pickled baby corn, orange gastrique and creme fraiche and then the Clos Apalta 2011 paired with a warm chocolate tart, raspberry lime sorbet, and milk foam.
The reasons for my “ahas” were 1) the grapes and 2) the terroir or location in the Apalta wine sub-region within the province of Colchagua. First, the grapes, in brief. I had just been studying the carmenere grape in the Bordeaux section of the Wine Scholar Guild course. Carmenere, according to the WSG, produces a rich, velvety red with an indescribable melange of indian spices. It is native to Bordeaux but more successful in drier climates. Chilean winemakers imported the grape from Bordeaux but overtime it was frequently confused with merlot. The grape is susceptible to mildew and fell out of favor in Bordeaux but took much better to the drier climate of Chile. The LaPostolle Carmenere paired incredibly well with the mole spice. I would have never thought to pair Mexican spices with a red wine, but the spice in the carmenere stood up real well to the spice in pork. This was probably the best pairing of the evening. From now on I will know to think of carmenere when it comes to spicy food. It was one of those things that once I started looking for the flavors I sensed it, and the food and wine became a great match.
Secondly, the location. The Apalta wine zone has a mediterrean climate and the soils are granitic on the sunny slopes. The Colchagua region is known for quality wines and the Apalta zone within this region produces some of the best and this is where the grapes for our last wine the Clos Apalta are grown. As an aside, LaPostolle has a beautiful Relais and Chateaux residence you can book to stay in right near the vineyards.
As mentioned, the Apalta has an exceptional semi-arid and mesa-climate, different from the rest of the Colchagua Valley. Coastal mountains, which partially block the cold influence of the Pacific Ocean, keep the growing season days long and dry, while the nights are cold enough to make temperature a key quality factor for color and tannins Clos Apalta is hand-harvested at night, enhancing the fruit, and reducing energy use at the winery, since there is no need for additional cooling in the cellar. The wine is 57% Carmenere, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Merlot. It has aromas of plum, red cherry and dried fig and paired quite well with the chocolate dessert. The round mouthfeel with the velvety tannins fit quite well as the last wine and delicious wine of the night.
I may have been to Chile once already but it goes back on the “To Go” list. The pictures of the Colchagua Valley which the Chileans like to think of as their “Napa” are just too gorgeous and LaPostolle’s wines were absolutely delicious!! Cheers!