herald

Saturday 21 October 2017

Drink a toast to our local heroes

A few years ago I was hammering it round Chile, from vine to vine, accompanied by Jorge my faithful chauffeur and his stack of Elvis cassettes.

I stopped at the Santa Rita winery in Maipo, where, in the company of the vineyard manager, I tasted the full range of wines. That evening, we were going into the dining room when our progress was arrested by a slight man whom the vineyard manager introduced as Don Ricardo Claro. Don Ricardo, with interests in shipping, transport, pharmaceuticals, ports, mining and media, was chairman of the company that not only owned Santa Rita but Vinas Carmen and Terra Andina also. Over dinner he told me "Wine represents 5pc of my fortune and 95pc of my interest."

Santa Rita's 120 wines are named for the followers of Bernardo O'Higgins, bastard son of a successful Irish chancer. Ambrose (later Ambrosio) O'Higgins quit Sligo to serve the Spanish crown. He must have been good at his job, for he wound up with a fancy title that, translated, meant he was the de facto administrator of a big chunk of South America. His liaison with a titled lady, Isabel Requelme, begat Bernardo.

To cut a long story short, O'Higgins Jr led a hugely successful military campaign against his dad's former employers; Chile gained its independence and Bernie was installed as the first president. There were a few hiccups along the way, including a defeat at the battle of Rancagua, on the foot of which O'Higgins and 120 of his followers had to skulk in the Santa Rita cellars in order to escape capture.

Today these cellars are used to age Santa Rita 120 wines, named in honour of Bernardo and his men, who regrouped to fight a campaign ultimately successful in freeing Chile from the Spanish yoke. To mark the bicentenary of the fight for independence, Santa Rita winemaker Carlos Gatica has created a Heroes Collection, comprising a 2009 malbec from Valle de Maipo and a 2009 unoaked chardonnay from Casablanca Valley, both available at independent off-licences at €9.99 and recognisable by a dramatic black label.

Spearheading the marketing effort is a 'Santa Rita 120 Local Hero campaign' asking the public to nominate someone who, in their eyes, is a true local hero. The winner will receive €10,000 to spend on their nominated piece of community activity, as well as a trip "of a lifetime" for two to Chile. Their nominator will also receive a trip for two to Chile.

If you know someone who deserves recognition for the work they do in your local community it could be worth highlighting them; pick up a nomination form in your pub or off-licence or see www.facebook.com/ santarita120.

The Heroes are a cut above the popular Santa Rita 120 wines. The chardonnay is bang on the money. From a cool zone, it isn't an overpowering tropical fruitfest, while the malbec is rounded and gutsy, with dark, sweet fruit.

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