By Celia Strong
Sometimes, the pieces and parts of a wine just come together. Everything in the right place at the right time. It seems that we have just such a situation with our wine for this week. Lucky us. This week, we are going to visit Chile. For a Sauvignon Blanc. Logically, since we know Chilean soil and climate are great for Cabernet Sauvignon, then it makes perfect sense that the white parent grape of Cabernet should also be successful in the same soil and climate. But, wait, since it’s been a while since the last time we looked at a Chilean wine, we have a bit of reviewing to do. Let’s hurry.
Spanish conquistadors brought vines and winemaking to Chile around 1554. Probably, the first grapes planted in Chile came from Peru. The Spanish had gone there after Mexico, before Chile. These first vineyards were planted, most likely, with ancestors of the País, a black variety, that was used for years in South America to make bland wines and brandies. It was the most widely planted variety in Chile until the 21st century. More than four centuries of mediocre wine. Why? Because, under Spanish rule, Chile had to buy the majority of their wines from Spain. Politics, economics, transportation, tax laws and fair trade agreements, finally, all worked out to make better wine production possible in Chile. Phew!
Geographically, Chile is a long, narrow country. The vineyards are mostly in an 800 miles stretch from the Atacama region southward to the Bio Bio region. The climate is dominated by the Andes Mountains in the east and the Pacific Ocean on the west. The climate is extremely dry, with only about 15 inches of rain every year in the vineyards. That means grape growing is dependent on irrigation. Melting snow running down from the mountains. The temperatures in the vineyards are comparable to those in California and Bordeaux. It is basically a Mediterranean climate. Interesting, and good for us, is the fact that there is not much variation between vintages. The weather is consistently favorable. (See, things can just work out.)
Some Chilean wine producers are proud to point out that their vines are not grafted. Chile claims to be the only wine producing country that was not affected by the Phylloxera epidemic of the 19th century. Their vines are “pure,” and without the cost of grafting, their wines can be less expensive.
Wine laws in Chile are different for wines that are consumed locally as opposed to those that are exported. Exports must be a minimum 85% of the grape named on the label. And, they must be at least 85% from the vintage date on the label. White wines must be at least 12% alcohol, red wines must be at least 11.5%. There are legally designated wine regions in Chile that were initiated in 1994. Our wine comes from the Colchagua Valley – one of the best known of their regions. Colchagua vineyards are known for their full bodied Malbecs, Cabernets, Carmeneres and Syrahs. They get about 23 inches of rain each year and the vineyards soils are clay, sand and decomposed granite.
So, if things work out the way they are supposed to work out, Sauvignon Blanc wines should be good from Colchaqua, too. In fact, it is true. For many styles of Sauvignon Blanc. If you happen to like wines like Sancerre, Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley, with its citrusy, minerally and zippy acidity, Colchaqua has it for you. At a lower price. If you like California Sauvignon Blanc, with its melon flavors and smoother mouth-feel, Colchaqua can do it. At a lower price. If you like a Bordeaux style Sauvignon Blanc, blended with Semillon for a fuller, more unctuous mouth feel, Colchaqua has it again. At a lower price. After Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc is now the second most widely planted variety in all of Chile. Cabernet may be this country’s big hit, but Sauvignon Blanc is beating out Chardonnay as the best and biggest selling white wine.
Our Chilean Sauvignon Blanc comes from Calcu. A small production winery in the Colchaqua Valley. Using estate grown grapes. This first thing you notice about this wine is its label. An abstract drawing of a bull, done by a Chilean artist, Salvador Amenábar. A drawing done with chopsticks and wine. (Hmmmm. Now that I look at it, I can see the wine part of it.) The Calcu Sauvignon Blanc is 100% that variety, and it is lively and fresh and aromatic. The cool weather in Colchaqua helps produce grapes that show stone fruit flavors and tropical citrus notes mixed with herbal undertones and a strong mineral character. Really? All that in one bottle? Guess it all just came together? Try this wine as an aperitif, with shellfish and shrimp, with mild cheeses, with salads, with ceviche, with almost anything you like. There is a calcu-lated chance you’ll love it! For $10.99. My calcu-
lations say it’s worth it and more. Enjoy.