Fri 12 Dec 2014
No, not the Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County but the historic Santa Rita estate in Chile. Or estates, because the winery, founded in 1880 by Domingo Fernandez in the Maipo Valley, just south of Santiago, owns vineyards in most of the narrow country’s prime grape-growing areas. Its age makes Santa Rita one of Chile’s most venerable wineries, but it really began producing important wines after it was purchased, in 1980, by Ricardo Claro, owner of the diversified Grupo Claro. (He died in 2008.) Winemaker is Andrés Ilabaca. There’s little argument with the notion that Chile’s most prominent red grapes are cabernet sauvignon and carménère, the latter long thought to be merlot until extensive DNA testing in the 1990s proved that most of the country’s merlot was actually carmenere, Bordeaux’s forgotten grape. Santa Rita treats both varieties with the respect they deserve, though what is lacking, as is the case with much of Chile’s red wines, are grace and elegance, qualities sacrificed for structure and power. Still, these red wines from Santa Rita merit attention for their highly individual approach and for their dauntless longevity. They are imported by Palm Bay International, Boca Raton, Fla. These wines were samples for review.
The color of the Santa Rita Medalla Real Gran Reserva Carménère 2008, Colchagua Valley, Chile, is opaque, dark ruby; distinct aromas of mint, tomato skin and black olive are given exotic sway by notes of cinnamon bark and sandalwood, all at the service of heady and intensely ripe, spiced and macerated blackberries, black cherries and blueberries; quite a performance there. This wild and winsome character, however, translates on the palate to a dense chewy texture and a structure freighted with dry grainy tannins that coat the mouth and lip-smacking acidity. Fruit is an afterthought that requires another couple of years to find eloquent expression, though I would not hesitate to recommend this wine with steaks, full-flavored and hearty braised dishes and rich pastas. Made from 70-year-old vines, the wine aged 10 months in French oak casks. 14.1 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to 2020. Very Good+. About $20.
The previous wine aged in oak casks, a word that implies larger barrels — though the terminology is vague — than the term “barrel” itself, which generally means the French 59-gallon barrique. The Santa Rita Medalla Real Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Maipo Valley, Chile, aged 12 months in those smaller barrels, lending the wine a spicy nature and a supple quality. The color is dark ruby; the bouquet is piquant and woodsy, with notes of mint and moss, heather and heath, along with spiced and macerated black and red currants and cherries; in the mouth, the wine is tightly-knit, dense with silken tannins, quite dry and a little austere, though if you stick with it long enough, it softens a bit in the glass and becomes more approachable. As with the previous wine, if you’re going to one of those giant meat-fests with fire-roasted beef, pigs, lambs and goats that prevail in the Southern Hemisphere, you can pop the cork on this baby. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 to 2022. Very Good+. About $20.
I like the idea behind the Santa Rita Triple C Red Wine 2008, Maipo Valley, Chile. The point is that in consists of three grape varieties that begin with the letter “C”: cabernet franc (65 percent); cabernet sauvignon (30 percent); carménère (5 percent). The possibilities are endless; Triple P, for example, with petit verdot, petite sirah and pinot noir. Or, to go white, Triple M, with marsanne, melon de bourgogne and muscat of Alexandria. Well, ha ha, enough levity, because the “C” blend of this wine works to its advantage. The color is dark ruby, opaque, almost smoldering, at the center; a highly individual bouquet features notes of cedar and tobacco, black olives and oolong tea, hints of thyme and bell pepper, and elements of macerated and slightly roasted blackberries, blueberries and black currants, with a back-tone of eucalyptus; it’s all rather dream-like and unforgettable. The wine is fresh and clean in the mouth, energized by blazing acidity and characterized by a huge structure of massive dry, grainy tannins and scintillating graphite minerality; not a lot of room for spicy black and blue fruit flavors, but they manage to endure the onslaught of size and austerity and persist in announcing their presence. 14.5 percent alcohol. I would love to pair this wine with a medium-rare, dry-aged rib-eye steak, hot and crusty from the grill. Or let it rest for a couple of years and drink through 2020 to 2024. Excellent (potential). About $40.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ I’ll say at the outset that the Santa Rita Pehuén Carménère 2007, Apalta, Colchagua Valley, Chile, is one of the best wines made from this variety that I have encountered. (It’s 95 percent carménère, 5 percent cabernet sauvignon.) The color is dark ruby with a subtle magenta cast; the complex bouquet offers a seamless layering of mint and eucalyptus, loam and graphite, cedar, tobacco and rosemary (with the latter’s hint of piny resinous quality), cloves and sandalwood and, finally, depths of black and red currants, cherries and plums. In the mouth, well, expect truckloads of dusty, palate-coating tannins granitic minerality and palate-cleansing acidity, along with brushings of briers, brambles, undergrowth and dried porcini. This is, in other words, at seven years old, still largely about structure; give it until 2016 or ’17 and drink through 2020 to 2024 or so. Alcohol content is 14 percent. Excellent (potential). About $70.