The Great Wine Divide
It’s often observed that the same wines, produced in geographically diverse regions, can produce disparate results in the glass and on the palate.
The truism is underscored when travelling to a different continent where not only is the terroir unique, but the wine-making heritage and practices have taken a different path to those that we in Australia are familiar with.
It’s perhaps an unfortunate reality that our individual palates become accustomed to expecting varietals to exhibit characters that our tastebuds are au fait with.
For example, why is it that if a sauvignon blanc doesn’t exhibit a passionfruit or citric nose, it isn’t likely to be commercially successful here in Australia? Why do our palates so often unfairly homogenise expectations of particular styles of wine?
Perhaps it’s because we are quite parochial wine consumers here in Australia and tend to generally buy wines from Australia or across the ditch. According to data produced by Wine Australia, Australians on average each consume about 23.9 litres of wine a year but only 16 per cent of that wine is imported. So I guess the Australasian conditioning of our expectations of wines during gustation shouldn’t be surprising.
When a motley bunch of my Australian friends recently undertook some Chilean wine master classes, the prejudices of our palates was highlighted during a class by one of the winemakers for one of Chile’s leading wine companies, Lapostolle.
The entity is owned by the Marnier Lapostolle family – creators of the iconic French liqueur, Grand Marnier.
Apart from its French-based operations, it also owns 370ha of vineyards in three different regions in central Chile. Blessed with the heritage of French cuttings planted in the 19th century, the old vines produce fruit of pronounced colour, dense flavour and generous aroma.
Given that phylloxera wiped out the European vines in the late 1800s and were subsequently re-grafted to disease-resistant root stock, it’s thought the Chilean vines are the last “truly French” vines in the world.
Lapostolle wines are said to be “French in essence, Chilean by birth” and have gained a global reputation for quality since establishing their Chilean operations in 1994.
During our master class, host Diego Durra graciously took the (largely international) group through a history of the company, the vineyards and their viticultural practices before showcasing a few of their wines.
The Lapostolle sauvignon blanc hails from their Rapel Valley site and was unlike any sauvvie that members of our Aussie tasting team had seen before.
To quote John “Turtle” Eastham, it was “unrecognisable as sauvignon blanc” (not that John would know, given he drinks only Provencal rose these days), while to self-anointed master of wines Cameron Hall, it was like “gato mear” (cat urine).
While it was true the Lapostolle sauvvie didn’t offer the characters of tropical fruit, gooseberry or citric tones that we tend to expect in Australian and Kiwi styles, it was blessed with a nose of cut grass and cucumber and there was a nice floral cascade of nashi pear characters through the middle and a creaminess to the lively but tightly constrained conclusion.
The biodynamic and certified organic viticultural practices used by the Lapostolle team, together with the unique terroir of their vineyards and old French vines, certainly result in distinctive and “un-Australian” wines – though it seems that some of our critical and unenlightened touring party need to broaden their oenological purview.