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Jenny Mackenzie reports from Santa Rita's latest tasting

Published:  17 June, 2013

"Chile has changed beyond all recognition," according to Hector Torres, director of luxury wines at Santa Rita Estates, at a tasting in London last week to showcase top wines from Santa Rita and Carmen in Chile, and Doña Paula in Argentina.


While "it takes years to change minds", Torres believes that "Chile now has something to offer at the higher tier". He added that "red wines are associated with the luxury end of the wine market, however, Chilean whites are now top quality too".


Torres further explained that it was "a chicken-and-egg situation: Chile needs to create the demand for its high-end wines, not just do the job well of supplying the existing fine wine market". He added that "availability of top-end Chilean wine was not a problem".


At the tasting, Torres emphasised Chile's long winemaking history and old vines: Carmen, the oldest winery is from 1850. He also explained the terroirs of the Andes, contrasting the steep Chilean aspect and its Pacific Ocean influence with the comparatively gentle Argentinian terraces.


Santa Rita Estates is releasing a new wine at Vinexpo in Bordeaux this week.


Bougainvillea, named after the flower bush (aka Santa Rita), is a Petite Sirah (Durif), Syrah bend. Torres explained it "aimed to be something different" and came about from Petite Sirah trial plantings on three different training systems: VSP, Lyre and Pergola, the latter producing the most successful results. The 2010 vintage tasted was an appealing, lightly spiced, approachable wine.


Other wines at the tasting were from Santa Rita in Alto Jahuel, Santiago and Carmen in Maipo and Doña Paula in Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza. The high quality and elegance of all the wines shown was notable, in the single varietals and the blends. Just three highlights were:


Santa Rita Casa Real Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 (£23 for 2008 vintage at The Wine Society; distributed in the UK by Berkmann)

The 2010 was a silver medal winner at the International Wine Challenge. The 2002 demonstrated the ageability of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon from high-quality regions such as here, Alta Jahuel in Maipo. An impressively refined wine, with a ripe Bordeaux-like Cabernet character and a lightness of touch in the winemaking.


Doña Paula Selección de Bodega Malbec 2008 (Distributed in UK by Santa Rita Estates)

Well known now is that altitude equals elegance, especially true of hardy Malbec. A blend of fruit from acclaimed Altamira giving "dark fruit character" Gualtallary for "structure and minerality" and Ugarteche, this was a dense, earthy and complex Malbec with the trademark dusty aromas and concentrated dried fruit flavours that make Argentina's signature red wine so popular.


Doña Paula El Alto Malbec 2010 (Distributed in UK by Santa Rita Estates)

Just 300 cases were made of this 1,000m altitude, "micro terroir" Malbec. It had an interesting winemaking method: the fruit was pressed and went straight into barrel to ferment "from March to June" then racked off and put back into oak to age. The result is vibrant, juicy, spicy, very well integrated licorice and coffee flavours. This lovely wine showed the versatility and adaptability of the likeable Malbec grape.