20060307

Santa Rita and Saint-Romain: Chilean separated at birth from Burgundian twin?

Santa Rita Medalla Real Chardonnay 2002
The Santa Rita Medalla Real Chardonnay 2002 is a gorgeous wine. I wonder if this is the best wine I've had for the least money. With beautiful body, strong buttery tones, a delicate balance of sweetness and acidity, the 2002 is marked down from $18.50 to $15.70 (click on bottle above for more details).

It's difficult not to think of Burgundy as the touchstone for Chardonnays. They may not be everyone's cup of tea, (and Lenndevours made a valiant effort last week in defending the varietal) but I guarantee that when you spend upwards of $30 on a white wine of a better-than-average vintage from Burgundy, you'll see why Chardonnay is a stronghold in the wine world. In the right hands at the right time, the Chardonnay grape can make legendary wine. When I compare it to a recently-tasted Bertrand Ambroise Saint-Romain 2001 -- a slightly off vintage in the Côtes de Beaune that was well-handled by a reputable vintner -- this little Chilean bottle has all the makings of truly great Chardonnay. By no means as concentrated or as full-bodied as an Ambroise, you could certainly serve this several degrees colder than a top-notch Bourgogne to highlight the bracing astringency that's there. And there may not be as much luscious Burgundy sweetness in the younger Medalla Real, but there is a hint of it and I would not be surprised to see it age gracefully. Not as deft or as mineral as a Chablis, but not as oaked and overcooked as an industrially-produced New World wine, Chile's entry from the Valle de Casablanca revels in the care that clearly was put into this cuvée. Hand-picked grapes boasted on the back label may be part of the success story. And there's a nod to the Burgundian tradition when the winemaker explains his use of French oak barrels.

What food pairs with this stunning wine value?

It is a must-have with buttery broiled white fish in generously herbal cream sauce. The lush smokiness that comes through via the wood underlines why sometimes stainless steel can be a bit boring. Meatier fish like salmon would work, as would a bold chicken marinade. Red meat might not work as a pairing, but this is a wine that makes you want to give up red meat anyway.

Viña Santa Rita, Casablanca, Chili. 13.5%.

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