To make white wines with elegance and finesse, we need plenty of sun and dry weather but cool to moderate temperatures, so that grapes can develop their fruit flavors slowly, yet keeping their refreshing acidity.
One of the biggest problems in the new world is that sometimes producers plant white grapes in appellations that are too hot for them, so they end up getting overripe fruit and sometimes flabby wine. This is not the case of Chile, which was blessed with a combination of maritime and alpine influences that made it possible for them to produce fantastic whites in several of their appellations.
Back in February I wrote a post about Chilean reds, so in this second part, I decided to visit Chile’s white wine appellations.
Reviewing what I said back in the winter, Chile is a very narrow and long country that extends for 2600 miles and has many coastal regions. These coastal regions are influenced by the cooling Pacific Humboldt current, which provides breezes, fogs and even salty/iodine notes. If you read my post about Napa, you will notice, that this similar phenomenon happens also in California, especially in the appellations closer to San Pablo’s Bay. Besides the cool Pacific’s influence, Chile has an alpine influence, with temperatures going down as we go further up the mountains. There are two important mountain systems, one is the Entre cordilleras or Coastal range, (this mountain system is located between the Pacific ocean and the Andes) and the other is the Andes themselves, where altitudes may reach up to 13,000 feet. Finally, white wine production happens also in appellations located in southern Chile, which is naturally cooler.
Though most Chilean production is basically red wine, 36% of their production is white. The most important white variety in Chile is Sauvignon Blanc, followed by Chardonnay, Muscat or Moscatel, and Riesling. The style of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc is very much from the new world: more fruity and less mineral like in the Loire Valley, and closer to New Zealand’s style. These are medium bodied wines with plenty of acidity, fresh citrus (grapefruit, lime) passion fruit and green peppers flavors. Chardonnays are made in the Burgundy style, and like in Burgundy, Chile has plenty of limestone soils, so the styles vary from mineral, citrusy and elegant similar to Chablis to rounder and fat, featuring pear, apricots and pineapple notes with a touch of oak and in some cases aging on its lees, similar to the Côte d’Or burgundies. Chardonnay is also used to produce sparkling wines.
Following the map (courtesy of wines of Chile), our tour of the appellations should start in the north, where we find the Huasco Costa and Huasco Alta appellations, where fine samples of mineral Chardonnay are produced, as well as elegant Sauvignon Blancs and Pajarete, which is a sweet and aromatic wine made from a blend of moscatel grapes. Continuing south we find the Elqui and Limarí valleys, both regions are influenced by the Pacific breezes. Elqui is known for its distinctive style of Sauvignon Blanc, while Limarí , also known as Chile’s green north, specializes in Chardonnay. Then, come the important white wine appellations: Casablanca Valley, located about 60 miles west from Santiago, where the Chilean cool climate wine revolution started in the 1980s led by Pablo Morandé, the San Antonio and the Leyda Valleys, located about 70 miles southwest from Santiago. All three produce racy Sauvignon Blancs that showcase minerality, citrus and tropical fruits and Chardonnay from vines that grow on granitic, sand and limestone soils. See some of my recommendations below.
Further south, Sauvignon Blanc has found a home in the Curicó valley, an appellation that attracted investors like famous winemaker Miguel Torres. The Alto Maule is also known for its award winning Sauvignon Blancs, though Maule doesn't have any maritime influence, it is affected by the alpine influence from the Andes. Finally, In the south, we find regions like the Bío Bío, Malleco and Osorno Valleys, where the protective effects of the coastal range are felt less. These regions are cooler and wetter and produce fabulous Sauvignon Blancs, Chardonnays and Rieslings grown in volcanic and sandy soils.
Below my Chilean wine recommendations: many thanks to Wines of Chile and Chilean producers and importers for sending samples. These were just delicious, and are widely available in the US.
De Martino Parcela 5 Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Casablanca Valley,$29.99
Calcu Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2020, Colchagua Valley, $12.99
Albamar Sauvignon Blanc 2020, Casablanca Valley, $12
Los Vascos Sauvignon Blanc 2020, Colchagua Valley, $11.99
Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc 2020, Casablanca Valley, $11.99
Montes Sauvignon Blanc 2020, Aconcagua Coast, $11.99
Montes Alpha Chardonnay 2018, Aconcagua Valley, $21.99
Miguel Torres Cordillera Chardonnay 2019, Limarí Valley, $20.99
De Martino Legado Chardonnay 2017, Limarí Valley, $19.99
Escudo Rojo Chardonnay 2019, Casablanca Valley, $19.99
Veramonte Chardonnay 2019, Casablanca Valle, $11.99
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