We arrived early giving us ample time to marvel at the expansive wine cellar, which in addition to four private dining rooms, houses a swank wine bar and lounge displaying a gorgeous waterfall statue within the spiral staircase. Each dining room boasts extensive floor to ceiling glass wine vaults showcasing a part of the collection, among cherry paneling, stone stacked walls and mahogany tables. Much to Leah and my surprise, we were seated at the head table with prestigious men in business suits - among them winemaker Carlos Gatica, Legal Sea Foods VP of Beverage Operations, Sandy Block, and a number of Event Directors and Marketing Managers of both Palm Bay International (the importers) and Ruby Wines Inc. (the distributors.) Tonight I was in the company of some serious wine experts, who warmly embraced our presence. Founded in 1880 in the Alto Jahuel area of Chile, Viña Santa Rita is named for the catholic Saint of Impossible Dreams, the name pays homage to the "impossible dream" of exporting wine from Chile. 130 years later, Santa Rita is the second largest winery in Chile, exporting to 40 countries worldwide. They pride themselves on sustainable agriculture and the geographic diversity of their vineyards, which allows them to create a wide range of high quality wine, a number of which have earned major awards and distinctions in Chile and abroad.
Our server started us right away with the first wine, a young and fruity Santa Rita "Reserva" Sauvignon Blanc, Casablanca Valley, 2010. Casablanca Valley has a semi-arid Mediterranean climate, an ideal ecosystem for the growing Sauvignon Blanc. This wine is firm and fresh on the palate, it makes for an excellent paring with seafood, which began in the form of passed hors d'oeuvres including a Maryland Crabmeat Tartlet with lemon aioli, Ostras a la parmesana and a Wild Mushroom Crustini with lemon thyme sauce. All were excellent bites to segway into the main courses, the Crab Tartlet was my favorite of the three. We transitioned to a more elegant and complex Santa Rita "Medalla Real" Sauvignon Blanc, Leyda Valley, 2009 for the first course. Located 8km from the Pacific Ocean, the warm temperatures and cool marine breezes of the Leyda Valley also lend perfect growing conditions for Sauvignon Blanc. As a result, the wine has a distinct minerality, (much more so when compared to the Reserva) and a vibrant acidity giving way to a long fruity finish. The wine was paired with a cold Seafood Salad Al Aji Amarillo. An inviting bowl of the freshest scallops, mussels, calamari, shrimp and flaky mackerel mingled with julienned red, yellow and green peppers and onions in a dynamic citrus broth with cilantro and fresh squeezed lime, accompanied by exotic crispy yuca chips. The grapefruit and lemony citrus notes of the wine complimented the citrus broth which additionally gave off a slight heat. The generous addition of fresh cilantro atop the seafood lent contrasting bright flavors. The next wine was perhaps my favorite of the white grape variety, a Santa Rita "Medalla Real" Chardonnay, Limari, 2008. This chardonnay was extraordinary in color with bright and intense hues, it looked like liquid gold. It is soft and round on the palate, with a creamy texture and a persistent finish. Notes of oak, vanilla and even some coconut can be detected. It was paired with Empanadas Two Ways in a grilled corn poblano sauce; a generous portion, one stuffed with shrimp and the other with tender shredded chicken and both baked until golden brown. The sauce notably achieved a nice balance of sweet to spice, and there was plenty of it to pair with the hearty empanadas. Dinner progressed at a smooth pace with continued spot on service, as we transitioned to the red wines and our third course. We tasted two from the Carménère variety to start, produced from 80 year old vines that originated in France. Chile produces the vast majority of Carménère available today. The first, Santa Rita "Medalla Real" Carménère, Colchagua Valley, 2008 is an extremely well balanced, flavorful wine with notes of black cherry, spices and chocolate. The second is a limited production that represents the best expression of the variety, Santa Rita "Pehuen" Carménère, Apalta, 2004. The Apalta Valley cultivates vines that need a higher temperature to mature, producing a distinctive, superb wine that is both powerful and elegant, earthy and complex, characterized by the fresh black fruit and spices typical of the variety. The Carménère stood up to the meaty seared Yellowfin Tuna Steak with an exciting Spanish olive tapenade and an arugula lentil salad dotted with cabrales blue cheese crumbles. I thought the olive tapenade particularly worked well in this paring, serving to enhance the connection between the intense wines and the delicate preparation of the tuna. As dinner came to an end, we finished with an exceptional vintage, Santa Rita "Casa Real" Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipp Valley, 2005. A bouquet of blueberries and blackberries lend freshness, while persistant notes of vanilla, oak and tobacco are warm and comforting, making this a perfect wine to end the meal with. The paring was a cheese course that included Lamb Chopper a sheep milk cheese from California, Smith's Aged Gouda from Vermont and a Two-Year Aged California Cheddar, accompanied by brioche toast points, a mission fig compote and fresh figs.
The thoughtfully prepared menu was executed in harmony with the best of what Viña Santa Rita has to offer. I'm tremendously grateful for the exposure to these premium Chilean wines and for the experience to dine in Legal Sea Food's state-of-the art wine cellar among such wonderful company. Santa Rita's mission statement, is simply stated "making people's moments enjoyable". This dinner was a shining example of just that.