Apaltagua: Good Value Carmenère from Apalta

With vineyards located in the special terroir of Apalta in the Colchagua Valley, the Apaltagua Winery produces good wines at remarkably low prices. Apalta is a semi-circle of hills bordered by the Tinguiririca River with vineyards dating back to the 19th century. Dry-farmed old vines are found on an old riverbed, while newer, drip-irrigated and very low yielding vines are found on the hillsides. This region produces some of Chile’s most expensive and highly sought-after wines. On our trip to Apalta a couple of years ago, we tasted iconic wines costing over $100 a bottle. All the more surprising then that Apaltagua manages to produce old vineyard wines at such low prices.

Apaltagua specializes in Carmenère, a grape like Malbec that originates in Bordeaux but performs much better in the New World than the Old. It is a sensitive grape that, if not ripened fully, has a high pyrazine content that gives an off-putting green, vegetative note. It is also a vigorous vine subject to coulure—poor fruit set after flowering—and low acidity. Growers like Apaltagua have managed to conquer the grapes’ challenges through appropriate site selection and canopy management. The care required to produce good quality Carmenère, including keeping yields low, means it’s unusual to find quality wines at low prices. Kudos to winemaker Benjamin Mei and superstar winemaking consultant Alvaro Espinoza for producing some of the better wine values coming out of Chile today.

Importer: Global Vineyard Importers, Berkeley, CA

Tasting Notes and Ratings

Apaltagua 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva Colchagua ($11) 88
The 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon is a good choice to accompany grilled steak. It has good fruit and palate depth and nice firm tannins. Half the wine is aged in oak for about 6 months. An exceptional value.

Apaltagua 2011 Chardonnay Casablanca ($11) 87+
This unoaked Chardonnay is bright and fresh with crisp citrus showing on both the nose and palate. It’s unusually high in acidity for a Chardonnay, so it goes better with food than not. It would pair well with seafood or simply prepared chicken dishes.

Apaltagua 2011 Rosé Carmenère Central Valley ($11) 87
The 2011 Rosé has a light raspberry and floral rose perfume on both the nose and palate that is most attractive. There’s some residual sugar, but it’s accompanied by good balancing acidity. If you like your rosé with just a hint of sweetness, this one is for you.

Apaltagua 2010 Carmenère Reserva Colchagua ($11) 88
The Carmenère Reserva shows a rich, fresh fruit forward bouquet and palate of concentrated blueberry and Damascus plum. For the price, it’s unusually lush with good volume and length finishing with fine, firm tannins. Very good value.

Apaltagua 2011 Malbec Reserva Maule Valley ($11) 87+
The 2011 Malbec Reserva is fruit forward showing flashy blackberry aromas and flavors and a friendly, flavorful palate finishing with firm tannins and a nice violet note. Made from estate fruit grown in the Maule Valley. This wine is quite similar to the 2010 wine we tasted earlier.

Apaltagua 2009 Envero Gran Reserva Colchagua ($15) 89
This Carmenère (93%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (7%) is made from an Apalta vineyard selection of 60+ year old vines. The wine shows red fruit, cedar and leafy aromas and flavors and fine, ripe tannins on the finish. Sees several months of oak aging. Another great value wine from Apaltagua.

Apaltagua 2008 Grial Carmenère Apalta Valley Colchagua ($75) 91

This is a rich and spicy wine with black pepper, ripe plum, and toasted oak on the nose. The wine is velvet-like on the palate and nicely structured with excellent balance and firm fine tannins on the finish. Definitely New World in style with its fruit forward and vanilla oak character, but it’s an elegant and nicely crafted wine. Made from 60 year old Apalta vineyards and aged in new oak for 12 months. More impressive than the 2007 vintage we tasted last year.

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