For many years, Sauvignon Blanc in Chile has been synonymous with the Casablanca Valley–that foggy valley off of Route 68 on the road to Valparaiso and Viña del Mar. Mostly dairy farms until 1982, winemaker Pablo Morandé was the first to pioneer and plant wines here, finding the climate very similar to Sonoma in California with sufficient sun but also cooler temperatures. He guessed right; and Chile ’s first major white wine valley was born.
Fast forward 20 years. Casablanca is consolidated and booming with plastic, flashy-looking wineries alongside the highway like Veramonte or the faux bright white castle Indomita (which can, by the way, be seen from outer space). The wines are solid with their tutti frutti, kiwi aromas and nice acidity. They are a pleasant drink but something about them is too conforming, too predictable. I want something edgy. I want some tongue-dazzling acidity. I want dry mineral, flint, and rock notes. Okay, I will be up front. What I really want is a Sancerre-style SB or new world-wise, a Kiwi-style one. Give me some personality–and that acidity to rock your palate. A group of adventuresome boutique wineries have headed from the Casablanca valley further south and west heading for the coast in the newest wine appellation in Chile : San Antonio . An area that is appropriately called the “Chilean Outback” by Matetic Vineyard’s sommelier, Bruno Kuster , because of vast expanses of overbush, thistles, pines, eucalyptus, rugged coast, and an overall rustic feel, is producing Chile ’s current showstopping Sauvignon Blancs; with vibrant acidity, concentration of fruit and mineral notes, and most importantly, unique expressions. Although most border on an alcohol level of 14.5, the high acidity and low pH let it come, go, and it is never an issue–until maybe you have kicked a bottle.
Here’s a round-up of my personal favorites (in their respective order). If you can get your hands on these in the States, by all means do. They are worth finding.
1. Casa Marin: Los Cipreses Vineyard 2006 : Maria Luz Marin, the winemaker of Casa Marin, is serious about her whites. A boutique winery only 4 kilometers from the sea, this Sauvignon Blanc comes from a high, cold, and windy hill with poor, sandy soils. The result? An elegant, long, tingling wine with high acidity and low pH. On the nose it has citric and mineral notes, rocks, almost a hint of the sea. In the mouth: acidity RULES. It dances and struts its stuff pulling up more of the lemon peel and minerality. Long finish and the glass is back at your mouth before you know. I am spitting this stuff? No way. This is pure lovin’.Ideal pairing: oysters from Chiloe ; or sashimi .
2. Ventolero 2005 : A pet project of winemaker extraordinaire Ignacio Recaubarren (does everything he touch turn to gold?) located in the micro valley slightly inland known as Leyda. This was last summer’s discovery. The 2005 is still out and drinking now BETTER than last year. Why? High acidity and low pH means these Sauvignon Blancs can hold for easily a couple years and continue to get better. On the nose: I always smell flint or gun powder and lemon zest. In the mouth: d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s. it is an elegant wine. it has a lot to say but is not flashy. Medium length finish. Seconds?. Ideal pairing: Chilean razor clams; gazpacho.
3. Kingston Family Vineyards: Cariblanco 2006 : Okay, technically this is the cold far southwest corner of Casablanca but its climate, and wines, are similar in style to San Antonio. The investment of a Chilean-American family, the head winemaker, Bryon Kosuge (ex-winemaker at Saintbury in Carneros), definitely made a quantum leap with the 2006 Cariblanco (2004 had a LOT of residual sugar for my taste). Kingston is one of the few wineries in Chile making Sauvignon Blanc in stainless steel barrels which adds some body and complexity due to the stirring of the lees. The wine is very, very pale in color. On the nose: very citrusy, some floral and mineral notes. Very aromatic and inviting. In the mouth: the wine came to life with bright fruit and acidity. Elegant but understated. You can buy this in the US from them directly as they export everything (the irony!!! boohoo!!). To get on their mailing list go to: http://www.kingstonvineyards.com . Ideal pairing: ceviche or chevre-style goat chese.
4. Matetic Vineyards: EQ Sauvignon Blanc 2005 : This Sauvignon Blanc is dear to my heart as it is a style and taste I know very well. With our wine tours, we frequently visit Matetic so this Sauvignon Blanc and its personality have come one of our favorite house wines. Everyone simply loves it. The key? They kept it simple, honest, and fresh. On the nose you have lush fruit that ranges from ripe kiwis to grapefruit and some rocks (think of standing in their zen garden and grating a lemon). In the mouth: vibrant acidity with good volume (body) and a long, long, LONG finish. This is another example of a Sauvignon Blanc that can hold and combine with nearly any food (we have tried…). Ideal pairing: any seafood, goat cheese with apricot chutney, salad, anything really!.
5. Garcés Silva: Amayna 2006 : This Sauvignon Blanc style is quite atypical with the rest of the bunch because of its volume (body) in the mouth. It fills and rounds it out completely almost like viognier. On the nose, this year has concentrated fruit like pears, grapefruit, and kiwi with (a little more swishing) a distinct gun powder (flint) smell. In the mouth, it characteristic dense texture with concentrated with fruit and mineral notes. This is a “big” Sauvignon Blanc so bring on the appropriate food. Ideal pairing: seared bay scallops (with or without gratin)
6. Casa Marin: Laurel Vineyard 2006: The sister vineyard on the bottom part of the hill, this wine is made exactly the same as Los Cipreses but is totally different. Ask Maria Luz why and she will give you on answer: “Terroir”. It’s not as cold, windy, the fruit expresses itself differently. The result? In the nose: really ripe fruit like white peaches or lychees that gets mixed up with mineral notes. In the mouth: that dazzling acidity that for me characterizes Casa Marin (mostly terroir but also Maria Luz’s talent) and intense fruit and mineral concentration. Long and delicious. Not the “younger” sister at all of Los Cipreses–we find that people either like one or the other. You can see where my first and foremost loyalty is though!.Ideal pairing: oysters; or tiradito (Peruvian sashimi laced with key limes and chilies).
7. Catralá: Sauvignon Blanc 2006: Another Casablanca candidate that is wedged into a cold outpost on the last ridge before Valparaiso , since they fit the boutique producer profile, I decided to include it. It also shares many of the characteristics that I look for in the above Sauvignon Blancs. It is straight forward, fresh, clean, and easy to drink. On the nose: lemon, grapefruit and minerality–it smells “clean” and vitalizing. In the mouth: it has crisp acidity and is refreshing. It goes down easily and is drinkable with food. Ideal pairing: mussels with saffron-tomato broth and fresh herbs.