Christian CALLEC

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APRIL 2010 – PRESS TRIP TO CHILE: SANTA RITA / CARMEN

Posted by Christian Callec on maandag, mei 31st, 2010

My second visit to SANTA RITA was again a great pleasure. We slept at the very cozy hotel Casa Real, all in Hispanic colonial style. The hospitality, the service, the rooms, the food and the drinks were at least as good as during my first visit in October 2009, but the ambiance was totally different. The damages of the terrible earthquake were noticeable in the whole building. Not all has been fixed yet, and it will take a while before it can breathe again like in the past. The great restaurant ‘Doña Paula’ was badly damaged and was shut in April. The wishful thinking was to reopen it sometime between June and August. In the meantime, the whole team of the restaurant had to kill the time by working in the park, in the vineyards or, lucky us, at the hotel restaurant. Fortunately, the courage and good will of all those guys and girls is huge. Very impressive indeed!

Santa Rita hotel

The Santa Rita Casa Real Hotel

Santa Rita restaurant

The restaurant ‘Doña Paula’ in his glory times before the earthquake

I was very glad to meet the charming and so cutely smiling Maria Cecilia Pino V., a winemaker that nowadays works in the marketing and PR department of Santa Rita. We enjoyed her presentation and the tasting. ¡Muchisimas gracias, Maria!

The Santa Rita tasting:

During my visit in 2009, I tasted only the wines of Viña Santa Rita. This time in April 2010, we asked to taste also the wines of the even famous neighbors and sister (or should I say ‘daughter’) company Viña Carmen. This tasting report is a compilation of both tastings, October 2009 and April 2010. Wines with an asterisk (*) were tasted only in 2009. My tasting notes can diverge completely from the one of other tasters, but they give an honest impression of what I liked or not.

Viña Santa Rita 120 Sauvignon blanc 2009*, Central Valley: Fresh and sweetish citrus candy fruit nose with a hint of flowers. Exotic, juicy, fresh, easy drinking wine with a round finish.  Good value for money, modern wine.

Viña Santa Rita Reserva Sauvignon blanc 2009, Casablanca: Leafy green and fresh citrus in the nose, with a hint of yellow stone fruit. Very fresh, juicy, well balanced, pleasant wine with a lingering, slightly bitter finish. Good value for money.

Viña Santa Rita Medalla Real Sauvignon blanc 2009, Leyda: Fresh citrus nose with a hint of leafy/herbal green.  Fresh and elegant wine, with more concentration and backbone than the previous two sauvignon blanc. Well balanced, juicy and fresh, with some shy minerality on the back. Well made, but lacks complexity for a Leyda sauvignon blanc. Gastronomically interesting wine.

Viña Santa Rita 120 Chardonnay 2008*, Central Valley: Charming nose with plenty of ripe tropical fruit, honey and exotic flowers. It starts fresh on the tongue and turns to round and fatty on the palate, leaving a fresh feeling in the after-taste. Modern, easy drinking wine, with a good value for money.

Viña Santa Rita Reserva Chardonnay 2007, Casablanca: Was it a bad bottle or was the wine just stone dead? R.I.P.

Viña Santa Rita Medalla Real Chardonnay 2008, Casablanca: Classical nose of a ripe chardonnay aged on French oak. The wine shows better on the palate, fresh, fruity, floral and juicy. Well balanced but not really impressive. Classic New World chardonnay for an informal meal.

Viña Santa Rita Medalla Real Chardonnay 2008, Limari: Wow, that’s much better! Fresh nose with plenty of citrus and some exotic fruits, with a ‘kiss of the French oak’. Fresh, slightly mineral (aged on lees?) and elegantly creamy. Well balanced and structured, with a fresh and clean finish. A fantastic gastronomic wine with a very good value for money. Good wine!

Viña Santa Rita 120 Carmenère 2008*, Central Valley:  Spicy and fruity nose. Fresh, juicy, charming, easy drinking wine.

Viña Santa Rita Reserva Carmenère 2007*, Rapel: Spicy nose with ripe red fruit. This wine is more complex and better balanced than the one above. Good finish, fresh, juicy and spicy.

Viña Santa Rita Reserva Carmenère 2008, Rapel: A galore of spices and ripe red fruit with a toasty oaky background. Quite old-fashioned style carmenère wine, not bad but lacking complexity. It starts round and pleasant, but finishes with quite a lot of chocolate, licorice and greenish oak.

Viña Santa Rita Medalla Real Carmenère 2008, Colchagua:  Quite earthy nose, lots of choco-oaky toast and vanillin. After a while, we actually discovered some fruit on the back. In the mouth, the wine starts fresh and juicy, goes on warm and round, but finishes much too choco-oaky toasty with bitter and dryish tannins.

Viña Santa Rita 120 Merlot 2008*, Central Valley: Very spicy nose, a bit ‘overdone’, with a mixture of exotic spices, cinnamon, clove and pepper in nose and mouth and a sweetish finish. Strange wine or bad bottle? R.I.P.

Viña Santa Rita Reserva Merlot 2008, Maipo: Like above, the nose really strange, quite ‘overdone’, with loads of spices, oak, eucalyptus (?), pepper, leather, vanillin, toast and licorice, with some reminiscence of sun dried plums on the back. The wine behind this aromatic extravaganza is very round and nearly sweetish (alcohol!), but the tannins are too green and the finish is dryish.

Viña Santa Rita 120 Cabernet sauvignon 2008*, Central Valley: Fresh and fruity nose. Well made, with ripe fruit and a juicy finish. Commercial wine, easy drinking type cabernet sauvignon. Good value for money.

Viña Santa Rita Reserva Cabernet sauvignon 2008, Maipo: Fresh and fruity nose, with some toffee on the back. Well made, with ripe fruit, round taste, good and soft structure, but the finish of this wine is again a little bit too green and dryish and too much choky-toasty.

Viña Santa Rita Medalla Real Cabernet sauvignon 2007, Maipo: Better than the one above. The style is commercial and round, not bad at all, even enjoyable. But I would expect much more complexity from a Maipo wine. The finish is less dryish than above but still a little bit green and bitter.

Viña Santa Rita 120 Syrah 2007*, Central Valley: Fresh, fruity, spicy… Ripe and pleasant wine, very commercial, not bad at all, but lacks too much complexity and character. But can we expect more for this price?

Viña Santa Rita Medalla Real Syrah 2006*, Limari: This is much better! Slightly animal in the nose, fresh and fruity, with lot of juice and a hint of minerality. This will become a good wine within a few years, if the vineyards are a bit older.

Viña Santa Rita Medalla Real Pinot noir 2008, Leyda: Elegant and sensual nose, with ripe fruit and spices. Well integrated oak, well balanced, lacks a little bit concentration and complexity, and the finish is too short. But yet, this is a very promising wine for the future, if the vineyards are a bit older.

Viña Santa Rita Triple C 2005, Maipo: (Triple C stands for 55% Cabernet franc, 30% Cabernet sauvignon and 15% Carmenère, all coming from the Apalta vineyards in Colchagua. The wines are made and aged separately in new French oak barrels (17 months in average) and blended just before the bottling.) Wow, THIS is wine, very good wine! Beautiful, deep and intense color. Sensual nose, elegant, spicy, fruity, with a hint of smoky minerality. Very well balanced, great concentration but despite the high alcohol percentage, not too heavy! Lingering after-taste, fresh and juicy, with well integrated quality oak, good fruit and elegant spiciness. Very good wine!

Viña Santa Rita Triple C 2006, Maipo: (65% Cabernet franc, 30% Cabernet sauvignon, and 5% Carmenère) The 2006 version of this premium wine is for me even better than the 2005! More complexity, more freshness, more fruit, more elegancy. Great wine!

Viña Santa Rita Pehuén Apalta Carmenère 2005, Apalta: Beautiful color and very intense nose. For the lovers of wines with a nearly extreme extraction, quite old-fashioned style for the US market (and some people in Chile love it too, they even dare to call it ‘modern’ style…). Loads of chocolate, mocha, vanillin, toast, spices etc. and some very ripe fruit.  The wine is full bodied, with a strong structure, complex but a little bit too much ‘overdone’. This is not a wine everybody will like, not a wine that you can serve everyday and with every single dish. This wine demands heavy dishes, like whole roasted wild boar with fruit sauce. It is a warm, sensual and intense wine. Not at all my style, but even being a very controversial wine, I might enjoy it in the right circumstances.

Viña Santa Rita Casa Real Cabernet sauvignon 2005, Maipo:  Lots of my colleagues seem to love this wine, a monument in the history of the Chilean wine culture. It is a single vineyard wine with a beautiful color, a very elegant nose, unfortunately here again with those very old fashioned choky and mocha toasty tones, reflecting much more the oak aging than the character of the wine itself and its origins. The basic wine behind the oak extravaganza is actually quite interesting, fresh, well balanced, juicy, round and mouth filling, with a lingering finish. Some American wine writers give this wine very high mark, even Chilean colleagues do it. It is surely not a bad wine, not a common wine, and absolutely an interesting wine. But I am afraid to confess that I think this wine is representing the past of the Chilean wine industry, not the present, not the future. For me, it is too much monolithic and lacks real complexity, considering the relative old age of the vines (60+ y.o.). It should be much better, and I am sure it might become it with a different winemaker, who dares to go for real terroir minerality and less for over-extraction and heavy oak… Good wine, but should be better.

Once again, this is only my opinion. Everyone is free to think differently. But I certainly hope that Santa Rita will go further on and not rest on the past successes. The world is evolving very fast. Once was Santa Rita a great, trendy winery. They still deserve a lot of respect for the great achievements and what they have done for the Chilean wine industry. But now, they are no longer trendy and may lose their old advantage if they don’t act quickly and wisely.

Of course, I might be mistaking…

The Carmen tasting:

Because we – really – insisted, we could at least taste the CARMEN wines, but very quickly, as we had to be on time for the next visit, at Concha y Toro in Pirque. We were expecting to be able to taste younger wines made under the new chief winemaker Stefano Gandolini. Unfortunately most (all?) of the reds we tasted were still from the old school… It was not our lucky day for Santa Rita wines, and the Carmen tasting was not so convincing.

Carmen Sauvignon blanc Reserve 2009, Casablanca: Fresh, mouth filling, mineral, juicy. OK.

Carmen Gold Reserve Chardonnay 2008, Casablanca: Fresh, mineral, juicy, very gastronomic, beautiful! Good wine!

Carmen Wine Maker’s Reserve Chardonnay 2007, Casablanca: Very fresh and mineral, with lovely citrus aromas and well integrated oak. But this bottle had a problem, too much free SO2… No second bottle. A pity…

Carmen Gold Reserve Merlot 2007, Maipo: Nice color, quite aromatic, well balanced, soft structure, good fruit. Really enjoyable!

Carmen Reserve Cabernet sauvignon 2008, Colchagua: Bad luck again… Corked… No second bottle. A pity.

Carmen Gold Reserve Syrah Apalta 2008: Very promising, good fruit and minerality, quite concentrated but still elegant. Good wine!

Carmen Gold Reserve Cabernet sauvignon 2008, Maipo Alto: Very elegant, fresh, with ripe tannins and well integrated oak. Good wine!

Carmen Wine Maker’s Reserve Syrah 2005, Maipo: Definitely a wine of the old school… Overripe fruit, sundried plums, raspberry and mulberry jam, packed in too much and too toasty oak. The mouth feeling is round, warm and velvety, but the wine lacks minerality, freshness and elegance. I can’t wait to taste it again, but then, made by the new winemaker!

Unfortunately, we could not taste the Nativa organic wines.

Carmen did react wisely to the changes in the wine world, outside but also a lot inside Chile. The new winemaker has a great responsibility on his shoulders. I am pretty confident Carmen will come back soon to the top.

¡Comprar vinos chilenos ayuda a las víctimas del terremoto!

Buy Chilean wines to help the victims of the earthquake!

Achetez du vin chilien pour aider les victimes du tremblement de terre !

Koop Chileense wijnen om de slachtoffers van de aardbeving te helpen!

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