DFWE 2023: Discovery Tasting of Viña Santa Rita’s Casa Real

Sebastián Labbé, premium wines winemaker at Santa Rita, presenting at the DFWE

It was not hard for Sebastián Labbé to capture the attention of an audience drawn to a tasting of multiple vintages of Viña Santa Rita Casa Real, the wine that inscribed Chile in the fine wine firmament, worthy of a place among Decanter’s Wine Legends.


Scroll down to see tasting notes and scores for three vintages of Santa Rita Casa Real Reserva Especial


Born in Chile and trained in New Zealand and Australia, Labbé returned to his home country in 2005, aged 25, to join Viña Carmen as Chief Winemaker. In early 2017, he was given the outstanding opportunity of leading the Ultra-Premium Sector at sister estate Viña Santa Rita (both Viña Carmen and Viña Santa Rita are part of Santa Rita Estates, under the umbrella of the Claro Group). With such privilege came the big responsibility of becoming the custodian of some of Chile’s most recognised and highly-regarded labels, not least the flagship Casa Real Reserva Especial.

Before him, only two other winemakers – Ignacio Recabarren and Cecilia Torres – had held the Casa Real helm. Alongside owner Ricardo Claro (the mastermind behind the creation of Casa Real) they defined a recognisable and consistent style that quickly turned heads both in Chile and abroad. First released in 1989, Casa Real revealed the potential of an overlooked terroir and its ability to yield a very specific expression of premium Cabernet Sauvignon.


See all Decanter tasting notes and scores for Santa Rita’s premium wines


In 2021, to celebrate the release of the 30th vintage of Casa Real, Viña Santa Rita made the wine available, for the first time, through La Place de Bordeaux. The announcement represented yet another pivotal moment in the wine’s history, consolidating its status as an iconic and pioneering Chilean label.

So far, Labbé’s tenure has been shaped by this prestigious legacy but also, and increasingly, by viticultural challenges and ambitious expansion plans. His own personal journey served as the perfect narrative thread for the insightful masterclass at the Decanter Fine Wine Encounter.

Credit: Ellen Richardson

A very Chilean Cabernet

Key to Casa Real’s enduring success are its consistency and classic yet characterful style, both reliant on the particular expression of Cabernet Sauvignon delivered by the terroirs of Alto Jahuel. Labbé delved into the three key variables that define this idiosyncrasy: geology, climate and viticultural choices.

A complex accumulation of alluvial sediments deposited strata in different ways across the slopes of Alto Jahuel, with distinct textures dynamically layered at variable depths. This creates a great deal of diversity within each vineyard, producing interesting if minute variations in fruit character. The heavier soils of the Carneros Viejos block, planted in the 1970s, are responsible for the wine’s more structural components, while the more gravely Población, a block planted in the 1980s, adds finesse and aromatic nuance. All blocks benefit from the long dry growing season, with cooling night winds from the Andes causing a wide temperature diurnal range. Cool nights help to preserve a fine acidity, keep alcohol levels in check and, says Labbé, shape the distinct aromatic profile of Cabernet Sauvignon that has become synonymous with Alto Jahuel and Casa Real.

Combined, Carneros Viejos, Población and recently planted, smaller sites – all ungrafted – make up the nearly 20 hectares that supply fruit for Casa Real. Plans to plant another 20 are underway. These will use plant material from massal selections from the existing plots. Labbé is not sure, however, if all of them will be on their own rootstock.

Grafted experiments delivered promising results, questioning the need for orthodoxy. Although he does recognise that much of Casa Real’s aromatic definition and purity of fruit might be a byproduct of own-root systems, other considerations –…


Source : https://www.decanter.com/wine-reviews-tastings/dfwe-2023-discovery-tasting-of-vina-santa-ritas-casa-real-517653/

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