Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Look at Sauvignon Blanc in Chile

Those who know me, know I love Sauvignon Blanc. And I also have a fondness for Chilean wines. Put them together and you have some expressive wines with great value. I spent the last month of summer tasting some Chilean Sauvignon Blancs to see how the flavour profiles change with each growing region in Chile.

Although winemaking in Chile dates back a couple hundred years, it was only in the 1990s that the country really landed on the viticultural map. Sauvignonasse was originally planted in some regions, a similar varietal that produces wines of lesser quality; it was mistaken for Sauvignon Blanc. Plantings are being removed with authentic vines replacing them. Chile tends to focus on producing fruit-forward Sauvignon Blancs with tropical nuances and less on the herbaceousness that old world wines tend to showcase.

Coquimbo is the northernmost wine region in Chile, and the Elqui Valley sub-region is becoming known for producing some excellent Sauvignon Blancs. This is likely because of low annual rainfall amounts, which would help control the growth of the vigorous vines. Plenty of access to sunlight and cooling mountain breezes also help to improve the quality of the grapes.

Falernia's 2012 Sauv Blanc is fresh and fruit-forward, full of passionfruit, pineapple and underripe green apple flavours. Hints of anise and a white pepper finish add complexity. The body is strong enough to handle dishes like roasted chicken and mashed potatoes.

South of the Coquimbo region and north of Santiago lies the Casablanca sub-region of the Aconcagua Valley. White varietals dominate in the vineyards due to cooling fogs and ocean breezes, ideal conditions for growing Sauvignon Blanc. Mild winters also extend the growing season by approximately one month longer than other winegrowing regions in Chile.

The Quintay Clava Sauvignon Blanc 2011 was my personal favourite of these wines, with tropical notes of passionfruit and pineapple up front and a beautiful nuance of sweet peas. Crisp acidity and a hint of minerality rounded out the palate. Well-balanced. Great for sipping on a patio with grilled salmon and mild cheeses.

The Central Valley consists of sub-regions that include the Maipo, Rapel, Curico and Maule. The Curico Valley is the southernmost region of these, with average high rainfall amounts and nutrient-rich soils. Although Curico does have the reputation for producing inexpensive blends and once was a haven for growing Sauvignonasse, some good Sauvignon Blancs have come from here of late.

One such example is the Montes Classic 2013. Notes of underripe apricots, leafiness and basil lead into a high, mouthwatering acidity that carries on through the finish. This wine has the power and structure I love about a good Sauvignon Blanc. Pairs well with seafood dishes, especially clam and bacon linguine.

Concha y Toro makes a Sauvignon Blanc on their Casillero del Diablo line that sources grapes from their vineyards in the Limari, Casablanca and Rapel Valleys. All regions are well represented here. Notes of pear, lemon and snap peas combine with a delightful hint of grilled pineapple on the finish. The zesty acidity makes this wine great with rich foods like quiches and hors d'oeuvres in puff pastry, but is also light enough to pair well with more delicate shellfish like scallops.

I was surprised to find hints of herbaceousness and leafiness in more of these bottles than I thought I would. Otherwise, each wine truly does reflect the style of Sauvignon Blanc that Chile seeks to produce, with approachable fruit flavours and crisp acidity at a good value. If Chile continues to focus on and improve quality in both the vineyard and in the winery, I truly believe their Sauvignon Blancs have potential to become world-class, like their Cabernet cousins from Puente Alto.