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Tasting notes from Chile

text and photographs © 2010 Tom Cannavan

These notes accompany our in-depth feature on Chile, North to South.


Like Concha y Toro, Santa Rita can boast of 130 years of history. Since 1980 it has been owned by the Claro Group, an enormous company started by Ricardo Claro, with interest in numerous industrial and business sectors including shipping and television. The group also owns or part-owns Carmen, Doña Paula and Los Vascos wineries. Ricardo Claro died suddenly in 2008, but only after establishing an extraordinary museum of Chilean and Latin American culture that opened in 2006 next door to the winery. The world-class exhibits of historical and pre-historical Chilean culture include pottery, weapons, tools, clothing, jewellery and equestrian items, and the museum is in itself now a major attraction.   

   Santa Rita's winemaker is the quiet but focused Andrés Ilabaca (left). Like so many winemaker, Andrés is a graduate of the Catholic University of Santiago's agronomy and oenology course, and after 11 years working for Viña Canepa, has been with Santa Rita since 1996, sharing the title of Chief Winemaker with Cecilia Torres.

Santa Rita's '120' range is in Majestic stores, and is named in honour of an event in 1814 when General Bernardo O'Higgins together with 120 men fighting to achieve Chile's Independence from Spain, found refuge in the Santa Rita Hacienda. After losing a fierce battle in the city of Rancagua, the 120 patriots were hidden in the basement of the Santa Rita house until they could recover and continue on their quest for Chile's independence. The Wine Society carries Santa Rita's impressive top Cabernet Sauvignon, The Casa Real.

white wines

UK distributor of Santa Rita is Cordoníu. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Santa Rita 120 Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Tank sample. Central Valley, but most of the fruit from Molina in Curico, with a granitic clay soil. All stainless steel. Nice gooseberry and gently tropical fruit with a touch of pineapple and melon, plenty of citrus. Nice juicy palate, plenty of sweet fruit and elegance. 87/100. £6.49, Majestic, Tesco Wine Club

Santa Rita Medalla Real Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Leyda. Much more grassy and crisp, but also flinty and smoky. That herbaceous punch comes through with lime and lemon fruit. Very crisp and grassy on the palate, with a big gooseberry punch of fruit, tropical overtones and lots of juicy citrus and minerality. 89/100. £9.99, Majestic.

Santa Rita 120 Chardonnay 2008
Central Valley. Stainless steel with some staves and chips, part malolactic. Quite buttery and ripe, with lots of vanilla and nectarine fruit. The palate has a sweet fruited character ( though technically dry at just 2.3g/l residual sugar). Creamy and crowd-pleasing, perhaps lacks a bit of mid-palate fruit intensity before the vanilla-touched finish comes through. 86/100.

Santa Rita Medalla Real Chardonnay 2008
Limari. 100% barrel fermented, no malolactic. Eight months in new French oak, balance in older French barrels. Lovely barrel character, with honey and cashew, a touch of honeysuckle and lovely fruit too. There's a touch of green bean and fig adding some punch. On the palate very nice wine, with a big, ripe, rich character (14.8% alcohol) . The acidity is good, a cool, pithy lemon and hint of something salty and mineral. 89/100.

red wines

Santa Rita Medalla Real Pinot Noir 2008
Leyda fruit, cropped low on a gravel and clay soil over fractured rock. Matured in 15% new French oak, the balance in older oak. Nicely gravelly, lightly roasted quality to this, with a touch of earthy beetroot and savoury red berry fruit. Has a nice edge of acidity on the palate, with lots of crisp, quite lean and juicy acidity. Tannins are fine, and the smoky warmth of the oak comes through, but this is perhaps just a touch angular. 86/100.

Santa Rita 120 Merlot 2008
Central Valley. Rich and chocolaty nose, lots of ripe, creamy black fruit. The palate has a touch of earthy, gravelly quality but the sweet fruit pushes through, with low-ish acidity and a nice roughening edge of tannin. 86/100.

Santa Rita 120 Carmenère 2008
Central Valley. Quite a creamy black fruit quality here, with a touch of nice pepperiness but greenness too. The palate has lovely fruit with a certain silkiness to the texture. Nice balance in this wine, the tannins and spice supporting juicy, but rounded fruit. 86/100.

Santa Rita 120 Syrah 2007
Central Valley. A touch of chocolate and wood smoke here, with quite plush, glossy black fruit. The palate has a drying tannin quality and a certain dustiness to the fruit, but it is very expressively Syrah with ref berries, a touch of peppery spice and a hint of chocolaty richness. Balanced and spicy. 87/100.

Santa Rita 120 Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Central Valley. A nice touch of herbaceous character here, a touch of leather and baked plum too. The palate has lots of juicy blackcurrant, that cassis and cherry skin tart edge very nice, and a fairly soft finish with smoothed-out tannins and good acidity. Tasty and drinkable this. 87/100.

Santa Rita Medalla Real Carmenère 2008
Colchagua. 85% from Marchigue, 15% from Apalta. 10 months in French oak. Big, plush, inviting nose of blueberry and black plum, but there's a delightful cedary, slightly peppery and herbal quality that is lovely. The palate has terrific fruit - velvety and lush, with a deep pool of black berries. The tannins are very supple and chocolaty, with lots of coffee and cream, the smooth spice of the oak adding to the opulent impression. A really delightful and very crowd-pleasing style, but done with panache. 91/100.

Santa Rita Medalla Real Syrah 2007
Limari. 14 months in new French oak. A hit of eucalyptus and mint chocolate here, and lots of ripe blackcurrant fruit. There's a little whiff of pepper and smoke too. The palate has a leaner quality than the Carmenère, with a juicy stripe of lean, cherry-skin giving some tension. Very nice style here again, and delicious balance. 89/100.

Santa Rita Medalla Real Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
Maipo. 5% Cabernet Franc from the home vineyard. Around one third of the oak is new. Coffee bean and leafy, brackeny qualities here, with a touch of savoury olive over the dusty blue/black fruit. The palate has Cabernet leanness and grip, with good fruit but all quite tight and structured. Very fine and food-friendly. 89/100.

Santa Rita Casa Real Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Maipo. Tiny yields here (2.5 tons per hectare). 15 months in new barrels after ferment in large wooden vats. Quite subdued, but deep and tightly-wound aromas, with black fruit and some coffee and smoky cedar. The palate has a great core of sweet fruit: it is silky and svelte, the tannins fairly massive, but they too are ripe and have a chocolaty density. There's a great sense of polish and confidence about this wine, the gravelly, orangy edges of the tannins and acidity balancing beautifully. 93/100. £29.99, Wine Society.

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