Santa Rita is Ireland’s best-selling wine brand and while I like to champion small producers in this slot, sometimes big can be very good too.
I visited Chile in December last year (their summer) and spent a good amount of time in the vineyards of Santa Rita and their sister wine Carmen.
What impressed me most was the commitment to getting the very best from every inch of ground they own while equally committing to sustainability (both social and environmental).
Vines are planted on different rootstock metre by metre depending on the soil structure which means massive amounts of soil testing.
Chile has an enviable climate with consistent dry summers, cool Atlantic breezes, snow-melt water from the Andes and few vine pests — but careful management of resources (especially water) has become crucial now that the climate is warming.
One pest we did encounter in one of the many vineyard holes we visited was margarodes vitis (viticulturists love to dig deep holes to show you the soil).
Santa Rita’s approach has actually been to work with the bug so that it reduces vigour in the vines and increases berry quality.
One highlight of the trip was drinking some old vintages of Santa Rita’s iconic wine Casa Real in the company of its quiet spoken but steely winemaker Cecilia Torres who has been in charge since its first vintage in 1989.
It is always good to drink a wine in the vineyard it comes from and this happened a few times, most memorably with Pehuén — arguably one of Chile’s best Carménère based wines — from a single vineyard in Apalta in the Colchagua valley.
Bloom in the Phoenix Park is on next weekend and Santa Rita will have a large garden entitled “Living La Vida 120” inspired by Santa Rita wines and the landscape of Chile — it should be a highlight of the show.
Also of course make sure to visit the Bord Bia area where there will be lots of Irish craft beer, cider, and whiskey to taste.
Dunnes Stores, Tesco
The 120 range is named for the 120 Chilean patriots led by Bernardo O’Higgins who hid in Santa Rita’s cellars during the war of independence in 1814.
Cabernet Franc is always a little fresher than its daughter grape Cab Sauvignon, this has lots of bright black cherry and berry fruits and good concentration and a supple fruity finish.
Tesco, Spar, Dunnes Stores, SuperValu
Carmen winemaker Sebastián Labbé created this wine from vineyards near his holiday home on the Pacific coast partly as a tribute to his love of surfing.
Leyda’s cool climate is helped by fresh sea breezes and suits the grape well — this has bright grapefruit and green gooseberry fruit, citrus touches and a clean and slightly herbal finish.
Tesco, Spar, Dunnes Stores, SuperValu
Pinot Noir also likes the cool breezes in Leyda and the grapes are hand-picked, de-stemmed and given a cold maceration for five days before their relatively gentle pressing.
This is a bright fruity style of Pinot with juicy raspberry and strawberry fruits and a strong hint of earthiness at the core. Try with some barbecued salmon.
Tesco, SuperValu, Molloys Liquor Stores
The Santa Rita Reserva range is very good for reds with the carménère particularly recommended (although sometimes difficult to find), as is the cabernet sauvignon.
This has lots of plum and chocolate-tinged black fruits with a soft fruity palate and lingering cocoa and blackcurrant. Try with barbecued steak or lamb.
Yes I am recommending a Chilean chardonnay with some oak in it but please don’t be put off!
This does have vanilla and toasted aromas but the oak is perfectly integrated and actually seems to shine a light on the citrus, dried fruits and minerality in the wine rather than mask it. Try with seafood pasta.
Maipo is the home of cabernet sauvignon in Chile and this is like a mini Casa Real at a third of the price. Santa Rita is investing €18m in vineyard regeneration in Maipo such is its confidence.
Packed with ripe blackcurrants and blackberries, this is beautifully soft and ripe with lingering sweet fruit and touches of mint.