One question I am often asked is what is Ireland’s best selling wine and the answer — Santa Rita 120 — probably shouldn’t surprise you, writes Leslie Williams.
One in every four bottles of wine (25.6%) purchased in Ireland is from Chile; Australia comes next at 17%, France third at 12.9% and Spain at 12.3%, followed by Italy, USA and New Zealand.
Chile’s ascent to the top of the table often comes as a surprise but is easy enough to explain given the excellent value and consistency of Chile’s wines. Add in the fact that they are well branded with a few large players to drive the market and that they are easy to understand given that almost all are varietals.
Where Chile struggles a little is at the upper end of the market as it is still associated with cheap and cheerful sauvignon, merlot and cabernet. However, spending a little more (on reds in particular) definitely produces results.
Reds costing over €20 will often benefit from a few extra years in the cellar and Chile’s icon reds such as Seña (Errázuriz/ Mondavi), Concha Y Toro’s Don Melchor, and Santa Rita’s Casa Real are all worth collecting and laying down for even a decade or two.
Santa Rita is the producer I know best as I visited a few of their properties in 2014 (they also own Carmen and Doña Paula in Argentina). The company was founded in 1880 and owns 3,700 hectares of vineyards including the 16-hectare old vine cabernet vineyard used to make Casa Real.
The 2012 has just been released and is typically dense and complex but with a wonderful elegance so rare in icon New World wines. I mention Santa Rita as it has a new range of wines with beautiful National Gallery art labels that would make good gifts.
Below are a selection of wines from Chile I have not mentioned before although I do include one cheapie sauvignon for old times sake.
Chile’s first vines were planted in the 1550s and remnants of some of those vines still exist (not the vines themselves but vines with a direct ancestry via cuttings). Chile set out to give us what we wanted back (chardonnay, sauvignon and cabernet) but there are lots of old carignan, cinsault and país vineyards which are being explored and it would be foolish to ignore them.
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BEST VALUE UNDER €15
Stockists: Spar, EuroSpar, Londis, Mace
The Santa Helena range is available in all Spar shops and this inexpensive entry level sauvignon is a good example of why Chile appeals — bright gooseberry and citrus fruit aromas, crisp and clean with a tropical hint on the finish. I confess I prefer this to the reserve version which has too many over-ripe asparagus aromas for my palate.
Stockists: Dunnes, Tesco, SuperValu, Centra
Malbec is of course more associated with Argentina but a number of Chilean brands have introduced it to their range in the last year or two. This has a bright fruity style, soft damson and liquorice-tinged fruits with pleasing dark chocolate hit on the finish. The simple fruity pleasures here are typical of the 120 range.
Stockists: O’Donovans, Matsons, Jus de Vine, Martins, Fine Wines Group
Syrah from Chile is well worth seeking out and I’ve tasted a number of good examples in the past year. This is packed with dark and ripe smoky fruits, has pleasing supple tannins a soft silky palate has good complexity. Perfect for a cold winter evening.
BEST VALUE OVER €15
Stockists: Dunnes Stores, SuperValu, Tesco
Santa Rita’s new series features classic paintings from the National Gallery in London. This gorgeous Seurat label is nearly reason enough alone to feature it but I also liked the tropical fruit aromas, ripe chewy melon and soft pear fruits. Watch also for the cassis and spice cabernet with Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.
Stockists: JJ O’Driscolls, Baggot St. Wines, Blackrock Cellar, Sweeneys, Redmonds, www.wineonline.ie
From old bush vine cinsault in the Itata Valley in southern Chile. Bright purple colour, ripe red fruits, clean red currant hit on the palate followed by darker fruit, spice touches and a red-pepper confit character.
Stockists: Bradleys, World Wide Wines, Le Caveau, GreenMan Terenure
País was the grape brought to the New World by the conquistadors in the 16th century. This is a ‘natural’ wine from 100-plus-year-old vines on volcanic soil and is a delight to drink, bursting with ripe red and dark fruits and supple tannins and a (mineral) crisp finish. Best served a little chilled.
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