Ever wake up thinking, “I wonder what’s going on with coastal Chilean Sauvignon Blanc these days?”
Me, neither, but I’m not one to turn down virtual samples tastings that provide deep-dives into the unfamiliar, and so I found myself recently taking part in a round-up tasting of Sauv Blancs from Chile’s coastal areas, guided by of Vinous.com’s Joaquín Hidalgo, and Julio Alonso (Executive Director of Wines of Chile US).
Despite multiple visits to said areas over the years, there’s much about Chilean Sauv Blanc that I found surprising, if not downright shocking. SB Landed in Chile in the 1800s (ok, I did know that part). It’s now Chile’s second most widely planted variety (behind Cabernet Sauvignon – didn’t know that), accounting for roughly 40% of the white grapes grown in the country. SB joins Cabernet as grape pair that makes up the highest volume of Chilean wine exports to the USA (SB in general above $11/bottle is growing in sales in the U.S., by the way).
The SB grown in Chile’s coastal area is influenced by both the Humboldt current and the Coastal Range, promoting the development of more herbal, floral, and zestier sides of the variety’s expression. Morning mists filter sunlight until the afternoon, and the current cools the air up to 50km inland (until the Coastal Range effectively shuts down the influence). Summer temperatures average around 77F, with few “peaks.” Ripening is gradual, so freshness is more easily preserved in the grapes. Coastal Range soils (which are even older than the nearby Andes) contain clay, quartz, schist, and iron, making for a complex mix in which the vines take root.
The results? Pleasantly unexpected…
Fermented in French oak, and sourced from a single vineyard. Mineral, intense, assertive, grassy, and citric, this SB has nice roundness on the palate, with spices, herbs, peppers, and a long freshness. A great call for white fish and/or scallops with lots of butter. LOTS of bang for the buck happening here. BAM!
Grapes for this little elegant gem are sourced from organic/Biodynamic vineyards in Rosario Valley, just five miles from the ocean, in low fertility soils (so vigor is naturally lower). Flinty and herbal, it stays a bit smoky, mineral, salty and spicy throughout. Fresh, and long, with plenty of jalapeno, under-ripe papaya, and lemon rind action.
From the La Cantera vineyard, situated in a natural depression that collects the ample cooling influence from the sea. You get lime and lime blossom, green herbs, and pepper on the nose. Plenty of punch on the palate, but also some nice roundness and good length. Refreshing, this one really ‘pops’ in the mouth, with textural, interesting acidic verve.
Leyda enjoys direct sea breezes, often with a line-of-sight right to the ocean. This one comes off as a very cool-climate SB on the nose—herbal, citric, and floral, with plenty of green notes. It isn’t deep, but it cuts like a knife with great acidity and a lively, almost lighthearted feel. Hope you like jalapeno, though!
From San Antonio Valley, made from organically grown grapes, this white comes off a bit understated on the nose—but the spices, herbs, and exotic touches are all there. Nice palate balance here, with smoothness (thanks to some four months on the lees) and vivacity. Tangy lemon is the dominant force , and it’s tasty (if not super long).
Also sourced San Antonio Valley, this sultry SB is definitely more tropical and floral on the nose than its tasting lineup counterparts. The palate is richer, rounder, but has a very nice sense of minerality that adds texture to the broadness. Bigger, for sure, but also quite bright.
Herbs, apples, chilies, and minerals hit fast and hard on the nose on this aggressive white. Sourced near the Atacama dessert, from calcareous soils, it’s supple, with saline, freshness, and big tropical fruit flavors. I loved the texture, it feels more substantial than its 13% abv might suggest.
The high proportion of Calcium carbonate in the soils (which are drier in general) seems to imbue this SB with something extra. Wet stones, white flowers, green pees, green chili, limes, flint, saline… it’s sporting a quite complex nose. The palate gets exotic with starfruit, papaya, citrus, and mandarin. And it is absolutely JUMPING in the mouth. Talk about mineral… and the tension is fantastic. Elegant stuff that’s worth seeking out.