I was recently invited to attend an online presentation focused on Sauvignon Blanc grown in Chile’s cool coastal regions. The discussion, accompanied by eight coastal Sauvignon Blancs provided to us as tasting samples, greatly expanded my knowledge of the variety’s position in Chile and gave me a better understanding of its expression in this cool climate. The range of flavors varies considerably, which means there is a coastal Chilean Sauvignon Blanc for every palate. And these wines are quite reasonably priced.
Our hosts for the discussion were Julio Alonso, Wines of Chile USA Executive Director and Joaquín Hildago, Vinous Media South American Reviewer.
Sauvignon Blanc in Chile
Sauvignon Blanc was introduced to Chile in 1841 by French botanist and naturalist, Claude Gay (Claudio Gay), who wrote extensively about Chilean flora, collected scientific data for the government and was appointed Professor of Physics and Chemistry at Santiago College (1828-1842). The first plantings were made in the Central Valley near Santiago.
As of 2019, Sauvignon Blanc was the second most-planted variety in Chile, behind Cabernet Sauvignon. More than 37,000 acres are planted mainly in the Central Valley and Coastal regions.
Sauvignon Blanc in Coastal Chile
Coastal acreage stands at just under 14,000 acres and is not expanding dramatically due to limited water in the region. Two Sauvignon Blanc clones dominate in Chile: Davis (Clone 1) and 242.
Coastal growing conditions are greatly influenced by the Pacific Ocean’s cold Humboldt Current, which keeps growing conditions cool, the temperature range consistent and creates morning fog that moves inland. The Current’s cooling effects reach more than 30 miles inland with temperatures warming a bit as the distance from the ocean increases.
Consistently cool temperatures provide a slow ripening allowing flavors to develop and acidity to be maintained. The fog (called camanchaca) often lasts until mid-day, reduces sunlight on the grapes and produces the characteristic jalapeño and grassy flavors. Vineyard locations more inland where the fog doesn’t last as long, and where temperatures are a bit warmer, produce flavors that are less herbaceous.
The Coastal Range also plays an important role in Sauvignon Blanc’s flavor profile. The Coastal Range is older than the Andes Mountains and is composed of various granite batholiths, which over its long history have decomposed. Soil types including clay, quartz and schist that have mixed with alluvial, colluvial and lacustrine (derived from lakes) sedimentary deposits.
The Coastal Range’s patchwork of soils and vineyard locations on ridgelines, mountain sides and in valleys provide endless terroirs. In general, western exposures (Leyda, San Antonio, Paredones, Zapallar) are most affected by the sea and are coolest. East-facing slopes (Casablanca, Quillota and Litueche) are cool but with milder ocean breezes.
We tasted wines from the 2019, 2020 and 2021 vintages. The 2020 vintage was quite warm and the 2021 vintage in Chile was the coldest in 20 years with summer rain (an uncommon occurrence) and clouds that persisted until March.
2020 Viña Morandé Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc, Casablanca Valley — pale yellow with generous aromas of jalapeño, cut grass and citrus. Flavors follow with primarily jalapeño and lime zest supported by juicy acidity. The wine has a bit of roundness in the mouth. 13.5% abv. SRP $20
The flavor profile is a pleasing balance between jalapeño and citrus with plenty of acidity. The the body lends a bit of richness. Fermentation and aging took place in 2,000L foudres, for weight and length, and in concrete eggs.
Sauvignon Blanc is sourced from a single vineyard, the winery’s oldest, in the Lo Ovalle part of the Casablanca Valley. Pablo Morandé, who is credited with planting the first Sauvignon Blanc in the Casablanca Valley, chose this location because it is neither too cold nor too warm. Soils are composed of clay and granite.
2020 Matetic Vineyards EQ Coastal Sauvignon Blanc, Valle de Casablanca — pale yellow with steely, stony aromas followed by flinty, stony flavors, lime zest and notes in the background of jalapeño. Lively acidity supports the complex flavors. 13.5% abv. SRP $20
This Sauvignon Blanc provides just a hint of jalapeño with predominantly stony, flinty flavors and lime zest. This combination of flavors makes this wine very attractive to wine lovers like myself who appreciate a less herbaceous flavor profile.
Organic and biodynamic principles are employed in the vineyards with a focus on place. Vineyards are only 5 miles from ocean in this part of Casablanca Valley. Soils are composed of low-vigor decomposed granite.
2020 Casas del Bosque La Cantera Sauvignon Blanc, Valle de Casablanca — pale yellow with aromas of cut grass, barely ripe stone fruit, crushed gravel and citrus zest. Flavors lead with a bit of jalapeño followed by cut grass, lemony citrus and stone fruit. Juicy acidity supports the complex flavor profile. 13.5% abv. SRP $18
The aromas lead the taster to expect a more stony flavor in the wine. Although jalapeño flavors are present in this wine up front, they do not overwhelm the stone-fruit flavors and make for a pleasing combination.
La Cantera translates to the forest and recognizes forests nearby the hillside vineyards where stones were removed to build the winery. The north-facing slopes get plenty of sunshine in this part of Casablanca, but are cooled by ocean breezes.
2021 Viña Montes Limited Selection Sauvignon Blanc, Valle de Leyda — pale yellow with generous jalapeño and cut grass aromas that overwhelm subtle stone fruit aromas. Flavors are bold and primarily jalapeño with tart citrus and grass. Notable acidity finishes with citrus pith flavors. 13.5% abv. SRP $15
Those who appreciate the very green, herbaceous characteristic of Sauvignon Blanc will enjoy this wine. To be honest, it is a bit too green and acidic to suit my palate. Joaquin described this wine as being made in an international style.
The Leyda Valley, located south of Casablanca Valley, is cooler by comparison. It is situated close to the ocean on the western slopes of the Coastal Range. When you factor in the cool location and the unusually cool 2021 vintage the wine’s cool-climate flavor profile is understandable.
2021 Viña Koyle Costa La Flor Sauvignon Blanc, San Antonio, Leyda Valley — pale yellow with steely, crushed gravel and slate aromas with only hints of jalapeño in the background. Flavors are a combination of jalapeño tempered by crushed gravel and stones with citrus notes and juicy acidity. 12.5% abv. SRP $18
The flavor profile is very appealing and this wine will accompany a wide variety of meals seamlessly. It will be refreshing to sip on a warm afternoon without food. To my palate, it does not reflect the extremely cool 2021 vintage in the same way the Montes Sauvignon Blanc does.
Vineyards are planted in decomposed granitic soils, called maicillo in Chile, that contain sand and gravel. Farming follows biodynamic practices and the wine is certified organic. This vineyard is located just behind a small mountain that somewhat shields it from ocean breezes, though the location is still cool. Winemaker, Cristobal Undurraga, comes from a long line of winemakers in Chile dating back to 1885.
2020 Viña Garcés Silva Amayna Sauvignon Blanc, Leyda Valley, San Antonio — pale yellow with aromas of crushed gravel, stony minerality along barely ripe stone fruit and vague floral notes. Flavors begin with stony, crushed gravel, Meyer lemon along with barely ripe stone fruit supported by juicy acidity. There is only a vague herbal component to the flavor profile. 14% abv. SRP $25
Lovely expression of Sauvignon Blanc that tends away from green and herbal flavors. The hillside vineyard is planted to rocky granitic soils and is located in a wind gap that allows ocean breezes to flow freely.
The warm growing conditions of 2020 necessitated a harvest beginning the end of February rather than the usual mid April. Fermentation took place in stainless steel and the wine was left on the lees for six months.
2019 Ventisquero Grey [Glacier] Single Block Sauvignon Blanc, Valle de Atacama — pale yellow with aromas of crushed gravel, stony minerality and only hints of roasted jalapeño. Flavors follow the aromas with the addition of citrusy, grapefruit flavors and juicy acidity. 13% abv. SRP $25
Yet another delicious example of complex flavors that are only vaguely herbaceous.
Moving up north (at 28º south latitude) to the Huasco River Valley in the Atacama Desert, the Longomilla Vineyard lies along the Huasco River. Only the river’s presence makes vineyards possible in this arid location where it hasn’t rained in 50 years.
Fog comes in from the ocean to keep temperatures cool. Calcareous soils, derived from the river, are rocky with some clay, iron and calcium carbonate.
2021 Viña Tabalí Talinay Sauvignon Blanc, Valle de Limarí — very pale yellow with aromas of roasted jalapeño and citrus. Flavors lead with roasted jalapeño and lemony citrus followed by stony minerality and juicy acidity all with a bit more body and roundness. 13% abv. SRP $24
Limarí is located between the arid Atacama Desert to the north and the greener Casablanca to the south. The vineyard’s location only 7.5 miles from the ocean, and constant ocean breezes, make its location in the Limarí Valley the coolest. Harvest here is frequently two weeks later than other coastal areas. Calcareous soils are derived from an ancient seabed.
As you can see coastal Chilean Sauvignon Blanc offers a range of flavor profiles. The predominant green flavors are jalapeño and grass, rather than gooseberries or guava common to some cool-climate Sauvignon Blanc. Warmer locations within this coastal region tend more toward stones, gravel and stone fruit. Both styles have ample and lively acidity that keeps the flavor profiles light and very food friendly.
Thanks to Creative Palate Communications for organizing the tasting and presentation and for providing detailed background information to supplement the discussion.