Something old and news

(by peter)

Yesterday I met up with Santa Rita winemaking stalwart Andrés Ilabaca, one of Chile’s leading wine men, and Richard Leaver, who heads up UK operations for the Claro Group (which includes Santa Rita, Carmen, Terra Andina and Doña Paula in Argentina).

Ilabaca was in town having flown in from Denmark, where he had been leading a vertical tasting of the winery’s trademark Medalla Real Cabernet Sauvignon. (“There, it’s even chillier than here!” he shivered when I found him waiting in Borough Market, clearly pining for the balmy summer heat of Chile.)

The highlight of the meeting was undoubtedly the bottle of Medalla Real Cabernet Sauvignon 1987 which Richard had brought back in cotton wool from Denmark. (It had been impeccably cellared by their importer there.)

I include my tasting note of this and the debut Triple C vintage, 1997, at the end of this piece, but suffice it to say the 1987 was a joy: still vibrant and juicy, eminently drinkable (at a notably low alcohol of 12%) and effortlessly elegant. Very Chilean, very noble – and a far cry from today’s alcoholic monsters which can prove very tough to drink.

But, said Ilabaca, in those days the vineyards were a mess, over-producing and over-irrigated, hugely vigorous…

But, I countered, the proof is in the wine. 12%. Clearly ageworthy. Not in any way faulty or astringent or lean (though it may have been hard-edged in its youth). And certainly not like the fading wallflowers of the 1970s and 1980s I’ve tasted from Chile before. This was still alive, beautifully complex and still structured.

“Perhaps,” mused Ilabaca, sagely, “we have to go back and find the middle way”.

Now that’s a challenge I like the sound of.

In a significant commercial development, Leaver also confirmed that the Claro wineries were splitting from their distributors Codorníu UK and Stevens Garnier.

In future, Santa Rita and Terra Andina off-trade distribution will be handled by Claro Group Wineries UK.

Carmen and Doña Paula will both be moved to Hallgarten Druitt. Berkmann remains as the on-trade distributor of Santa Rita and Sur Andino.

An announcement to this effect is expected in the coming weeks.

Tasting notes

Medalla Real Cabernet Sauvignon 1987, 12%, Maipo (sourced from vineyards in both Alto Jahuel and Macul) – colour is not super old, some brick; lovely nose of tobacco, dried red and black fruit, gentle dried mint, integrated cream. Palate is svelte and savoury, lovely in its age. Elegant, balanced, still very juicy and very alive. Persistent. A bit warming but this is lovely. It has aged very gracefully indeed. Still all there. Proves that, from good sites (Alto Maipo) and probably from established vines, when not made in too heavy-handed a way, these wines age beautifully. This is outstanding. Very Chilean but very beautiful. And just so damn drinkable! Not alcoholic! This is what a Chilean icon should be. Perhaps it’s not the longest and could be more complex. But it’s good. A real lesson. 8/10

Santa Rita Triple C “Premium Red Wine” 1997, DO Maipo Valley, 14% (65% Cab Franc, 25% CS, 10% Carmenère) – the debut vintage. Lovely succulent inky black fruit with a touch of mint. Pureed cassis. Elegant, lightly smoky in age. Palate is slightly sweeter fruit than the MR, a bit spicier and fuller – you feel the sweetness and heat of the alcohol on the finish. In fact, this is its major failing – the age is lovely but the alcohol sticks out. Shame! 7/10

For a “sneak preview” tasting note of the decidedly toothsome and not-yet-released Santa Rita Medalla Real Syrah from Limarí, click here.