The Rising Appeal Of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc
Sauvignon Blanc is Chile’s second-most widely planted variety, with over 35,000 cultivated acres, primarily in the Coastal and Central Valley regions. Vineyards aren’t like sports or elections, however, because second place is definitely a good place to be — particularly for Sauvignon Blanc, which is responsible for around 40% of all white grapes grown in Chile. (For the curious, it’s ever-popular Cabernet Sauvignon holding steady in the number one position.)
For white wine lovers who haven’t had the opportunity to taste Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, there may still be a bit of mystery. And for those that drank it years or decades ago, there is hopefully a surprise in store, with a renewed focus on quality humming throughout Chile in general, and in the Sauvignon Blanc vineyards in particular.
To put this in a larger context, Joaquín Hidalgo, a Buenos Aries-based journalist and expert on Chilean wines, references two of the most well-known names in all of Sauvignon Blanc production.
“There are two poles in terms of flavor,” says Hidalgo, noting the country of New Zealand, and Sancerre, in France’s Loire Valley. “Chilean Sauvignon Blanc is in the middle, slightly tending towards Sancerre — green, saline, tension.” Interestingly, the volume of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc is also situated between these two regions — it grows less than New Zealand, but more than Sancerre. (In fact, Chile’s Casablanca region alone produces more wine than Sancerre.) In other words, if you enjoy the products of either of the regions, there’s probably a few bottles from Chile that will be satisfying.
Julio Alonso is the executive director of Wines of Chile USA, and he says that in the U.S. most people can find a great bottle of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc in the $11-$22 range but that “price increases are trending” due to “rising quality perceptions” and an overall premiumization of Chilean wines in general. But the good news is that there is a high level of diversity and that the wine industry in Chile was largely spared from recent supply channel disruptions, so there is still outstanding quality and value to be found in the U.S. market.
Hidalgo points out three main growing regions: Coastal (Humboldt and Coastal Ranges), Inland (Central Valley and slopes of the Andes), and Southern (the deep south near Patagonia, still considered to be experimenting with potential).
The cool and wide Humboldt Current runs from Antarctica to the Equator, and “chills everything it touches,” according to Hidalgo. The coastal zone is a particularly interesting region on which to focus, especially for lovers of Sauvignon Blanc that offers crisp citrus acidity, vibrant tension, and balanced fruit and the restrained herbal character that cooling air, morning mist, and a long growing season enables.
This area is also impacted by the Coastal Range. The eastern slopes of Casablanca, Quillota, and Litueche are slightly protected from the chilly ocean influence, while the western slopes (Leyda, San Antonio, Paredones, and Zapallar) are directly in the maritime environment. The range is also a “patchwork” of soil combinations, according to Hidalgo, granting a scope of nuanced Sauvignon Blanc. He points out Casablanca as a prime example, with it’s granite-based “mosaic” that reflects maicillo (course particles of sand and gravel), clay, or granite bedrock depending on where the vines are located along the slope.
Alonso notes that coastal Sauvignon Blanc is “leading abroad” gesturing that this category is exciting to drinkers in the U.S. and elsewhere. And with nearly 20% of production coming into the market here, it’s worth a look on the wine shop shelf to sample bottle or two to see what it’s all about.
Chilean Sauvignon Blanc to Try*:
$20 and Under
Viña Morandé Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2020 ($20) – If you love a full-bodied white with substantial acidity.
Matetic Vineyards EQ Coastal Sauvignon Blanc 2020 ($20) – A zesty, biodynamic wine.
Casas del Bosque La Cantera Sauvignon Blanc 2020 ($18) – A refreshing citrus and herbal wine for seafood.
Montes Wines Limited Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2021 ($15) – A flavorful wine with tropical and jalapeno notes.
Viña Koyle Costa La Flor Sauvignon Blanc 2021 ($18) – A texture white wine to pair with poultry.
Viña Garcés Silva Amayna Sauvignon Blanc 2020 ($25) – A concentrated and textured wine from the coast.
Ventisquero Wine Estates Grey Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($25) – Saline- driven, with green pepper and citrus character.
Viña Tabalí Talinay Sauvignon Blanc 2021 ($24) – Mineral driven and fresh, with a touch of smoky notes.
*Notes based on media samples.