Highlights of The Coman’s Silent Tasting Part Two

Shhhhhhh!

It’s oh so quiet.

Not really.  Continuing from part one’s look at Peter Lehmann’s Barossa offerings, we now turn to a major producer from Chile whose flagship white I am a big fan of, plus a Spanish Bodega I hadn’t heard of before making top quality traditional-style reds.

Casa Lapostolle

Going under the tagline “French in essence, Chilean by birth” the house (“casa” of course) of Lapostolle is a Chilean outfit owned by the French Lapostolle-Marnier family, famous for the Grand Marnier liqueur.  Even before founding their Chilean outpost twenty years ago, the family was heavily involved in wine, particularly in the eastern Loire.

Regular readers will know that I really rate their Cuvée Alexandre Chardonnay (in fact I made it one of my favourite whites of 2013), how does the rest of the portfolio stand up?

Casa Lapostolle Sauvignon Blanc 2012

Casa Lapostolle Sauvignon Blanc

This is not your bog-standard Chilean Sauvignon, which can sometimes even be made with the inferior Sauvignonasse (or as I like to call it, Sauvignonarse) grapes.  For me this is where the French influence really shines though, it’s a great everyday-drinking bottle but would be fine to serve to guests at the weekend too.

Casa Lapostolle Chardonnay 2012

Casa Lapostolle Chardonnay
Casa Lapostolle Chardonnay 2012

The baby brother of my favourite below, how does it compare?  Well it tastes exactly like a junior version – gently toasted oak in the background and luscious tropical fruit in the mid-palate.  Grapes are sourced from the Casablanca Valley, fermented in stainless steel and then matured for seven months in a mix of old and new French oak barrels.  Bravo!

Casa Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Chardonnay 2011

Casa Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Chardonnay
Casa Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Chardonnay 2011

Nectar of the gods!  Melon and pineapple sing but grapefruit keeps it from getting out of hand.  Plenty of acidity to keep it from getting flabby and low residual sugar giving a dry finish.  The 2011 had 75% of whole cluster pressing and 25% of maceration into the press before fermenting. 50% was fermented in French barrels and 56% was aged in French barrels for 8 month (part news and part used) and 44% in stainless steel tanks. The wine didn’t go through malolactic fermentation which accounts for the strong streak of acidity.

Casa Lapostolle Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Casa Lapostolle Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
Casa Lapostolle Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

As any wine student will tell you, wines sold in the EU have to have a minimum of 85% of the stated varieties, and therefore don’t have to tell you about the other 15%.  This Ribena-special Cabernet actually has 7% Carmenère, 3% Merlot, 3% Shiraz and 1% Cabernet Franc in the blend – and is probably all the better for it.  Cabernet can have a great attack and great finish but be a bit hollow in the middle – it sometimes gets called the “doughnut grape”.

All the grapes are harvested by hand and fermented with the native yeasts of the area (the subject of a future geeky blog post).  Maturation included six month in oak, 55% of the wine was aged in new barrels and the balance in second and third fill barrels.  If you like this style of wine (which I do), this is a steal!  Mint and chocolate really come through on the palate; tasted blind I might have guessed at my favourite red wine region of Coonawarra.

Casa Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Casa Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Cabernet Sauvignon
Casa Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Whereas the baby brother Cabernet above was made from grapes grown in the Rapel Valley, the Cuvée Alexandre Cabernet was grown in Lapostolle’s Apalta Vineyard in the Colchagua Valley. Cabernet vines were planted here from imported French clippings in 1920 – makes a mockery of the term “New World”

The assemblage for 2011 was 88% Cabernet Sauvignon; 7% Cabernet Franc and 5% Syrah.  It changes from year to year depending on how different parcels perform and hwo they work when blended together.  The vineyard is certified Organic by CERES, if you pay attention to that sort of thing.

100% of harvesting is by hand, then triage is done partially (77%) by optical sorting machines and the remainder (23% for those who can’t count) is hand de-stemmed. Only wild yeasts are used for fermentation; this, and the relatively shaded nature of the vineyard mean that alcohol is a relatively sensible (for such a warm climate) 14%.

So how does it taste?  It’s definitely a Cabernet, tannins are present and correct, but they are fine.  It’s approachable now but needs several more years to blossom.

Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta 2008

Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta
Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta 2008

This is Lapostolle’s flagship wine, one might even use the unloved term “icon wine”, with a price tag to match.  Why is it so expensive, and is it worth the money?

The idea behind the wine is to use the best quality grapes available, give them the most painstaking manual treatment, and intervene with the winemaking process as little as possible.  For example, the fruit is harvested by hand very early in the morning (so that temperatures are still fairly cool) and then stacked in small 14 kilos cases (so there’s less chance of grapes bursting and either spontaneously fermenting or spoiling.  On arrival at the winery the grapes are 100% destemmed and sorted by hand.

After pressing, French oak fermentation vessels are filled by gravity which is the gentlest way to handle the must.  The native yeast strains that arrived with the grapes are left to their own devices, apart from temperature control keeping a ceiling of 26C.  Manual punch downs (as opposed to pumping over, for example) are used to extract colour, tannin and flavour from the macerating grapes over four to five weeks.

The juice is then racked into 100% new medium toast French oak barrels and left to go through malolactic fermentation.  After 22 months maturation the wine is bottled by gravity “without any treatment or filtration” – I don’t know if this precludes a dose of sulphur at bottling or not, but it does mean no cold stabilisation.

You might have noticed that the grape variety is absent from the front of the bottle.  The blend for 2008 was 73% Carmenère (Chile’s signature grape), 17% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot.  This is significantly different from year to year (another good reason not to put it on the front) – for example 2011 has only 57% Carmenère, 2009 has a dash of Petit Verdot (another minor Bordeaux grape).

And what is the result from all this care and expense?  It’s a monumental wine, huge, powerful and packed with flavour.  Keen tasters will notice the results of the heavy extraction process.  Although we are now over six years from the 2008 harvest, this still needs a long time to unfurl and even out.  If you want to try it now then I’d suggest several hours in a big decanter ahead of serving.  Personally, I’d buy a case and forget about it for five years!

Ochoa

Still in the Spanish speaking world, we now head to Navarre in northern Spain.  At one time considered part of the Basque Country, Navarre is now a separate autonomous community from an administrative point of view, sandwiched between the Basque country and La Rioja.

From a vinous point of view, it’s slightly more complicated as DOCa Rioja wine can include grapes from some parts of Navarre and the Basque province of Álava.  DO Navarra is for wines made in the southern part of the autonomous community, principally in the foothills of the Pyrenees.  Navarre used to be well known for its rosado wines, but now whites and especially reds are more common.  With slightly more relaxed regulations than Rioja next door, international grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are fairly common.

Ochoa are a crowd I hadn’t heard of before, but when looking at their website I learned that they are a family business who have been making wine for over six centuries – not newcomers then!  They make three distinct ranges:

The following three wines are from the latter range.

Ochoa Tempranillo Crianza DO Navarra 2010

Ochoa Crianza 2010
Ochoa Tempranillo Crianza 2010

Made from 100% of the early-ripening Tempranillo, this has spent twelve months in 225 litre American oak barrels (the same size as Bordeaux’s barrique) – double the minimum of 6 months for a Crianza.  The grapes come from the Santa Cruz estate in Traibuenas.

It’s full of voluptuous red fruit – cherry, strawberry, redcurrant, plus delicious vanilla from the oak.  Ochoa give food matching suggestions of grilled meat, stews and cured cheeses, but to be honest it’s might fine drinking on its own.

Ochoa Reserva DO Navarra 2007

Ochoa Gran Reserva 2005
Ochoa Reserva 2007

Now we have the Reserva level which means wines have to be aged for at least three years before release, of which at least one has to be in barrel.  Ochoa go a little further and have a minimum of fifteen months in oak. As there’s a step up in quality and price, they also use more expensive French oak along with the American oak.

Rather than being a single varietal, the Reserva is a blend of Tempranillo (55%), Cabernet Sauvignon (30%) and Merlot (15%).  The palate moves on from just red fruit to a blend of red and black – this makes perfect sense when it contains Cabernet.  There’s also a touch of mocha which I reckon comes from the toasted French oak.

Ochoa Gran Reserva DO Navarra 2005

Ochoa Gran Reserva 2005
Ochoa Gran Reserva 2005

I tend to steer clear of Gran Reservas.  I often find them far too woody and far too dry – a result of being aged for far too long in oak.  Don’t get me wrong, I like oak if it’s done well – but if there isn’t the fruit to support it in the first place I will happily leave it to others.

The general rules for Spanish Gran Reservas require a total ageing of five years before release, of which at least eighteen months has to be in barrel, and thirty six years in bottle.  Ochoa mature theirs in French and American oak for two years, and don’t filter, fine or cold stablilise to preserve as much of the flavour as possible.

The Gran Reserva is a Tempranillo – Cabernet – Merlot blend just as the Reserva was.  It’s a step-up in intensity of flavour and body.  Black fruit has almost totally replaced red fruit, and the mocha tones are right up front.  It’s a gorgeous drop, and I don’t find it in the slightest bit “woody” – hurrah!

Update: Stockists

In Ireland, Lapostolle wines are stocked by (amongst others)

Ochoa wines are currently only sold to the on-trade (i.e. restaurants) but in future are quite likely to be listed by:

Keep your eyes out for Part 3 which will include lots of savvy Sauvignons!

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6 thoughts on “Highlights of The Coman’s Silent Tasting Part Two

    1. Merlot is used as Jam in the Medoc!

      Both Cabernets and all the Ochoa reds great value for money…though the Cuvée Alexandre Chardonnay gets my vote overall, as usual!

      Like

    1. Thanks Cara! You don’t need the geek facts to enjoy wine, but I think it does give the wines a bit of context.

      The whole Lapostolle range is great IMO, I just picked out the ones I liked best. I haven’t noticed Ochoa around in the shops but they are great fun!

      Like

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