Labbé: Chile needs to impress top sommeliers

Chilean winemakers should be making quirky expressions that catch the eye of the world’s top sommeliers according to Sebastian Labbé of Santa Rita.

Sebastian Labbé of Santa Rita thinks Chile need to target somms

Speaking to the drinks business during a recent trip to Chile, Labbé, who was appointed chief winemaker of Santa Rita in June, said:

“The next big challenge for Chile is to start making wines that the world’s top sommeliers want to list. Chile need to think outside of the box and do different things that will get the sommeliers and wine bars excited.

“There is more of a sense of regionality coming through in our top whites, many of which are gastronomic and designed with food in mind. They speak more about the place than the variety now.

“I’m fired up about the potential of Chenin Blanc in Chile and have made it in six different ways to see which way it works best, from skin contact to ageing in concrete eggs.

Labbé is now in charge of making Santa Rita’s top drop Casa Real

“We need to get away from just making Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay in Chile and give other white varieties like Semillon and Chenin Blanc more attention. I really think we can build a reputation for Chenin in Chile.”

Labbé is also excited about the potential of old vine field blends in Chile. “Field blends are a pure reflection of a vineyard and you can get a lot of distinction from them,” he said.

His first effort is a blend of Semillon, Sauvignon Vert, Chasselas and Torrontés from Apalta, which he will release less than 500 cases of.

Having taken over from Andrés Ilabaca, Labbé has also been made the custodian of one of the jewels in Chile’s crown – Casa Real.

Previously nurtured by Cecilia Torres, who remains a consultant for the wine, Labbé plans to put his stamp on the revered Maipo Cabernet, albeit in a subtle way.

“I want to keep the character of Casa Real as similar as possible but the wine needs some fine tuning. I love its elegance, purity of fruit, cassis and graphite flavours and fine grain tannins, and how it represents Alto Maipo, but I want to add some viscosity and density to the palate without losing its elegance,” Labbé told db.

“Older vintages draw comparisons with Napa Cabernets and Left Bank Bordeaux, but the wine is lacking a bit of density, which will come if the grapes are at full phenolic ripeness when they’re picked,” he added.

One of the biggest risks he’s taken so far in his role is to pick half of the Carmenère destined for icon wine Pehuen six weeks earlier than usual this year, on 15 February.

The early picking is in keeping with Labbé’s vision to take Pehuen in a fresh direction. “In my opinion, all of the top Carmenères in Chile taste the same – they’re too ripe, too concentrated and are made with too much oak.

“I like tasting them but not drinking them. I know we can obtain vibrant fruit without the green character when picking early,” he said.

“The wine is vibrant and herbaceous and reveals the soul of the grape. Carmenère needs to show a different face to the world and this wine is juicy and mineral with pure fruit,” he added.

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