When it comes to crisp, fresh Sauvignon Blanc, it’s not just New Zealand that delivers.
| Chile’s long, cool coast provides the perfect conditions for refreshing Sauvignon Blanc.
To make a great Sauvignon Blanc requires cool temperatures, so it helps to be away from the equator and have a long coastline.
Obviously, this describes New Zealand, which dominates the premium Sauvignon Blanc market in the United States. But it also describes our #3 source of Sauvignon Blanc – Chili. At the western end of South America, Chile is cooled by the oceanic Humboldt Current, with temperatures rarely exceeding 25 Celsius (77 Farenheit.) Gradual maturation under these conditions maintains the wines’ freshness and complexity.
However, you probably haven’t given Chilean Sauvignon Blanc much thought, as most of the ones sold here are really cheap.
So it’s a common story these days: a country or region that has made a name for itself on cheap wine trying to get people to spend more. In this case, I’m going to help, because I really like Chilean Sauvignon Blanc and think it’s one of the most underrated wines in the world.
A good Chilean Sauvignon Blanc sits between iconic examples from France’s Loire region and New Zealand. They can be more expressive than the French versions, which are often models of sobriety and elegance. But they’re not as herbal as the New Zealand wines that have stolen America’s heart.
Incidentally, it’s amazing how minimal a role France plays in the U.S. Sauvignon Blanc market: just 0.9%, according to data from SipSource, which tracks distributor burnouts in retail stores. and restaurants. New Zealand supplies 43.6% of our Sauvignon Blanc, followed by domestic producers at 41.9% and Chile at 10.6%.
The reason we’re not buying much from France these days is price: nearly 90% of Sauvignon Blanc sold in the United States costs less than $15, said SipSource analyst Dale Stratton. France accounts for 14.5% of the Sauvignon Blanc market over $25: still not as high as one might think. So Chile’s competition here is not Sancerre and Quincy, but Marlborough and California.
Joaquin Hidalgo, the South American editor of Vinous, recently hosted a Zoom tasting of Chilean coastal Sauvignon Blancs. All were between $15 and $25, and to me most tasted like they were selling for more. Chile has some price advantages, including the fact that labor is cheaper there. I’ve put some production notes along with the tasting notes: you don’t usually see things like concrete egg fermentation on wines in this price range. Hidalgo said the intensity of the sun in western Chile eliminates the cat pee aromas that can develop in New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
Before summer ends, here are some coastal Chilean Sauvignon Blancs to keep you cool.
Taut but elegant and long, with citrus in the top, then a long, stony finish. From a vineyard 14 km from the Pacific Ocean. The wine was aged on lees for six months to add intensity.
Comes from a vineyard with decomposed granite soil just 10 km from the Pacific Ocean. Portions of the wine were fermented in stainless steel, large used French oak barrels and concrete eggs. The result is a wine with good freshness, restraint and balance. There is a slight salinity that reveals the juicy center of the tart fruit. Elegant and sober.
The vineyard for this wine is just four miles from the Pacific Ocean, on a slope of yellow granite with quartz. You can smell the sea air, accompanied by fresh citrus fruits. It’s first greedy with fresh citrus fruits, before finishing salty. It is a perfect wine for shellfish.
This tropical yet understated wine feels like a vacation: like a fine wine you might have with dinner at a beautiful resort in French Polynesia. You mostly taste tropical fruits: ripe passion fruit. It was fermented in large French oak casks, and there is a slight hint of oak. It feels like it could unleash its intensity, but instead holds back and slides through a long finish.
There’s been a TikTok trend lately of drinking rosé wine with freshly sliced jalapeños. I haven’t tried this, but if you like the idea, you would like this wine. The nose smells of ripe jalapeños. It is a tense, fresh and linear wine with lime notes and a nice minerality. Try it with spicy food.
The back label presents a concise map that all of these wines should emulate, placing the vineyard in relation to the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains. This wine is very pale: almost the color of granite. And it’s also very stony on the palate, because the vineyard is grown on porous and fractured limestone: a French winemaker’s dream. Chewy lemon fruit with a terrific texture.
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