And so cheap, so cheap, so cheap.
Santa Carolina. It’s the largest family of wines you’ll find at Canada’s largest liquor store, conveniently…or perhaps that’s inconveniently…located just two blocks from Don Day’s Toronto home. It’s also the largest family of wines you’ll find at La Europea, my liquor store of choice in San Miguel de Allende.
Why is Santa Carolina so successful? Well, yes, smart marketing has something to do with it. But so does smart winemaking. If you were to ask me what two words you should look for if you consistently want good taste and good value in wine, the first would be Santa, the second begins with a C (and it’s not Claus).
It started in Chile a long, long time ago, with a guy who, just like Don Day, had a love of wine. The Santa Carolina website calls him a “spirited business visionary”. He appears to have had the two things almost all people who get in the wine business have, a fondness for the grape and very deep pockets. Back in 1875, Senor Luis Pereyra Cotapos decided to get involved in the overly ambitious project of winemaking in Chile, a country that had very little history of employing sophisticated methods of growing grapes. He chose the name Santa Carolina as a tribute to his wife, Senora Carolina Iñiguez Vicuña. As to her attributes being worthy of the saintly segment of the name, I can only speculate. But if she tolerated a guy who drank a bottle of wine almost every night of his life, she did, like Don Day’s Wife, have some saintly qualities.
Senor Cotopos then invited Germain Bachelet, one of France’s foremost oenologists, along with two other winemakers and their families to move to Chile. They chose and imported the very best grapevines from Bordeaux. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay were all planted in the rich farmlands of the Central Valley of Chile.
At the same time, French architect Emile Doyeré was brought over to design and oversee the construction of the winery and a warehouse that would provide optimal conditions for the French oak barrels that were to be stored there.
The warehouse remains intact and functional today; and it was declared a National Monument in 1973 for its architectural beauty. It is also the only remaining industrial building in Chile that was constructed using the technique of binding bricks with a mortar using lime and egg whites.
Lime and egg whites. All I could think of was how many meringues were sacrificed for that mortar.
A lot of things have changed since those days. Including ownership of Santa Carolina. But one thing remains the same. Very good wine. Produced by very economic methods. That earns Santa Carolina the title of what I think is the very best value family of wines available.
Don Day’s wine cupboard had the Old Mother Hubbard look. It was time for a major restock. So off I went a couple of weeks ago to La Europea. I came home with two cases of wine. Seven of the bottles had Santa Carolina logos on them. Here are my notes on each of them.
Santa Carolina Chardonnay Reserva 2013
The cooling fogs from the ocean do wonderful things to the Chardonnay grapes in Chile’s Casablanca Valley.
This lightly oaked white is packed with flavors. I tasted caramel, honey, orange, butterscotch and peaches.
Outside of Mexico this wine is, for some reason, priced about 50% higher than it is here. At La Europea, it costs just 81 pesos making it possibly the best value white wine anywhere in the store. I can’t think of a better partner for poultry.
Santa Carolina Estrellas Sauvignon Blanc 2013
This one seems to get a little better every year.
I like it really cold to bring out the crispness. On the nose there’s grapefruit, melon and pineapple. A little more apple and pear on the tongue.
At 76 pesos, another best buy. And perfect for pasta with a cream sauce or just for some sipping all by its lonesome.
Santa Carolina Vistana 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot
Santa Carolina doesn’t do a lot of blending of different grape varieties so this Bordeaux style is a rare exception. Vistana is the very low end of Santa Carolina’s branding and the winery provides no info at all on the line. I’m guessing this has about 30-40% Merlot and spends no time in oak.
Not a lot of complexity but lots of jammy fruit with black cherries dominating. Good enough for prime rib and way more than you’d expect for 58 pesos.
Santa Carolina Estrellas Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
Typical blackcurrant aromas with some green pepper plus a little hint of chocolate that suggests the wine has spent some time in wood.
A good buy at 76 pesos but I’d spend 6 pesos more and get a great buy by moving up one rung to the Reserva.
Santa Carolina Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2012
I’d rank this as the best red value in the Santa Carolina stable. It spends eight months in French oak and has lots of blackcurrant and a little cherry and cedar on the nose.
Very well structured and balanced for a Cab that’s priced at a bargain basement 82 pesos. I’d rank it in the top ten red values at La Europea and I’d pair it with a juicy burger.
Santa Carolina Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva 2012
This is a big move up the price list and past my usual ceiling but, hey, you’re only old once.
The wine spends a year in a combination of new and second and third year French oak barrels. There are plums and cherry on the nose plus blackcurrants and a hint of mint on the palate.
The price of 212 pesos is very fair and I’d like to see a bottle on my table beside a rack of lamb.
Santa Carolina Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva de Familia 2011
OK, I went a little nuts with this purchase. But, honest, I don’t do it that often.
The excuse I used with Don Day’s Wife when I got home from La Europea was how much I saved on all my 80 peso purchases. Plus if you need a second excuse you can use my “This is the only way I could come close to the taste of those California Cabs you love that are impossible to get here.”
Reserva de Familia was the very first New World wine to receive Old World recognition. Way back before even Don Day was born it received the gold medal at the Exposition Internationale de Paris in 1889.
After 15 months in new French oak barrels and at least a year in the bottle there are aromas of blackcurrants, figs and chocolate. The taste adds more red fruits and dark chocolate.
And would I spend 326 pesos on Reserva de Familia again? No. Not even if I knew Don Day’s Wife wasn’t going to check the bill when I got home. I just don’t think I have a sophisticated enough palate. Some wines are created for afficionados. Most are created, thank goodness, for guys like Don Day. I enjoyed the experience but I can get a lot more pleasure from four bottles of Santa Carolina Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva than one bottle of Reserva de Familia.
Vina Santa Carolina has grown a lot in 140 years. They’ve now topped the 20 million bottle mark in annual production. That’s seven bottles down. But still a whole lot left for me.
Sweet Caroline. Good times never felt so good.