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World-Class Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 18, 2014
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Viña Santa Rita, Maipo (Chile) Cabernet Sauvignon “Casa Real” 2010 (Palm Bay International, $85):  Many of us use the expression “world-class” in describing an admirable wine.  But apart from wine competitions, we rarely have the chance to taste a world-class wine against the peers that comprise its class. 

On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Chile’s world-class Casa Real Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Rita winery orchestrated just such an opportunity.  It presented the 2008 and 2010 Casa Real alongside ten other Cabernet-based wines from Pauillac, Napa Valley, Columbia Valley, Margaret River in Western Australia, Hawkes Bay in New Zealand, Bolgheri and Paarl in South Africa.  This was not one of those “gotcha” tastings designed to prove that an improbable wine can beat the giants.  The event was instead an appreciation of the outstanding quality that Cabernet Sauvignon can deliver across gifted terroirs; it involved an in-depth discussion of Cabernet Sauvignon’s attributes and how that grape performs under varying growing conditions.  The tasters shared impressions of the blind wines, but did not vote for favorites:  All the wines were excellent.

Casa Real Cabernet Sauvignon is the iconic wine of Santa Rita, one of Chile’s most historic and acclaimed wineries.  It is made entirely from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown on the Alta Jahuel estate situated at an altitude of 1800 feet in the Alto Maipo region, close to the Andes Mountains.  Casa Real is the product of warm days and very cool nights (warmer than Bordeaux by day, but cooler at night), well-drained clay and sandy soils, and low humidity.  Both the low humidity and wide diurnal temperature range slow the ripening of the grapes and result in a long growing season with full flavor development in the grapes.  The vines were planted as long ago as the 1960s.

Although Casa Real Cabernet Sauvignon generally has what winemaker Cecilia Torres calls a “very classic vinification,” with skin contact averaging about 25 days, vintage variation is evident in the finished wines.  The 2008 and 2010 vintages experienced different heat patterns during their growing seasons: 2008 was warmer than typical and 2010 was cooler than the norm.  The cooler temperatures in 2010 slowed the ripening all along the way, resulting in more freshness in the wine, Torres explained.  Both wines show lovely softness, suppleness and fleshy texture but the 2008 flaunts its beautiful fruit while the 2010 seems slightly lighter in weight and particularly refined in flavor expression.

The 2010 Casa Real shows notes of red fruit, dark fruit, savory mineral notes and sweet, spicy aromas of oak on the nose.  In the mouth, it is a dry, full-bodied Cabernet but far too reserved and refined to be labeled “powerhouse.”  It has lovely depth and silky, compact tannins.  Dark berry fruit flavors combine with an inky-like mineral taste and notes of dark chocolate to create an impression of richness within a frame of understatement.  Beautiful ripe fruit remains through the long finish and promises a good future for the wine.

The first vintage of Casa Real was 1989, and I have been following the wine personally since the 1999 vintage.  The wines have evolved, as Chile’s own viticultural and winemaking acumen have evolved, but the signature of the vineyard -- abundant but concentrated fruit expression with soft and ripe tannins -- is a constant.

93 Points