CHILE’S SAVVY RISE TO FAVOUR

CHILEAN SAU­VI­GNON BLANC COULD BE THE NEXT BIG THING

Life & Style Weekend - - MAGAZINE | FOOD & WINE - WORDS: TRAVIS SCHULTZ Travis Schultz is the prin­ci­pal of Travis Schultz Law but he has been moon­light­ing as a restau­rant re­viewer and wine writer for the past 15 years.

Among white-wine drinkers, sau­vi­gnon blanc is a name on al­most ev­ery­one’s lips these days. And per­haps some­what iron­i­cally, the old-world re­gions steeped in the tra­di­tion of sau­vi­gnon blanc pro­duc­tion are hav­ing to make way for the rel­a­tive new­com­ers with their fresh and zesty styles tak­ing the world by storm.

The sau­vi­gnon blanc grape orig­i­nated in the Bor­deaux re­gion of France where it typ­i­cally pro­duces a crisp and dry style of aro­matic wine.

About 400km to Bor­deaux’s north, the Loire Val­ley has en­joyed tremen­dous suc­cess with the grape and, for hun­dreds of years, has been re­spon­si­ble for mak­ing some of the high­est-rated sau­vi­gnon blancs in the world.

But in re­cent decades, some of the so-called “new world” re­gions, such as Wash­ing­ton, Cal­i­for­nia, New Zealand and even South Africa, have taken the man­tle and made styles of sav blanc to which con­sumers have taken a shine.

Where the style was once about aro­mat­ics up front, a green grassi­ness and crisp acid­ity in the fin­ish, these days wine­mak­ers have been craft­ing ex­am­ples that show more trop­i­cal fruit and youth­ful ex­u­ber­ance through the length of the palate and in do­ing so, have stolen the lime­light from the tra­di­tion­al­ists in France.

In Aus­tralia, we see a lot of the pun­gent Marl­bor­ough sauvvies that are highly per­fumed on the nose and of­ten lolly wa­ter on the palate.

There’s no doubt­ing their com­mer­cial prow­ess if high vol­umes are the lit­mus test of suc­cess. But I sus­pect their days are num­bered as con­sumers spurn the sweet­ness of the fruit salad in a bot­tle that the Ki­wis mas­quer­ade as white wine.

Just as the heav­ily-wooded chardon­nays rose to promi­nence through the 1980s and then fell away through the 1990s, I see the star of Marl­bor­ough sau­vi­gnon be­ing very much on the wane.

Dur­ing a re­cent visit to Chile, I spent some time in the Casablanca Val­ley, about an hour out of San­ti­ago. There, vine­yards were only planted by the in­dus­try pioneers in the 1980s but al­ready the re­gion is gain­ing ac­claim for the qual­ity of their sau­vi­gnon blanc (the lo­cals say that their chardon­nay is also ex­cep­tional, but I couldn’t agree with that based on the few that I sam­pled).

The pre-emi­nent Casablanca pro­ducer is un­doubt­edly Ver­a­monte: the win­ery estab­lished by Chilean wine pioneer Agustin Huneeus in an area where the cool breezes from the Pa­cific Ocean and a clammy a cool morn­ing fog make for ideal grow­ing con­di­tions for white va­ri­etals.

Dur­ing our re­cent tour of the win­ery and vine­yards, our ef­fer­ves­cent host Con­stinza Os­o­rio ex­plained that Ver­a­monte hon­ours both or­ganic and bio­dy­namic prac­tices in the vine­yards and es­chew any use of chem­i­cals or ar­ti­fi­cial com­pounds in the wine­mak­ing process.

She was forth­right enough to pri­vately agree that their chardon­nay prob­a­bly wasn’t a patch on that of Aus­tralian wine­mak­ers, but she loudly es­poused the virtues of the Ver­a­monte sau­vi­gnon blanc, pro­claim­ing it to be the “best in the world”.

While that per­haps over­states its global sta­tus, she was right that it’s se­ri­ously good stuff – way bet­ter than any Kiwi ex­am­ple I’ve tried.

The first sav blanc that Con­stinza poured for us was the Rit­ual 2016 which was a rather yel­low colour in the glass with just a green­ish tinge on the edges. There very some lovely honey­suckle and guava notes on the nose but it was quite lin­eal if not in­sipid across the palate.

On the other hand, the 2018 Ver­a­monte Sau­vi­gnon Blanc was vi­brant, in­tense and fresh. There was a plethora of net­tle and trop­i­cal fruit char­ac­ters on the nose, but soon fol­lowed by cit­rus, tan­ger­ine and goose­ber­ries through the mid­dle.

The bal­ance of acid and fruit was sub­lime as the youth­ful zesti­ness and abun­dance of fruit was har­nessed by gen­tle acidic dry­ness on the con­clu­sion. It’s every­thing a sau­vi­gnon blanc should be.

You might not find it widely avail­able in Aus­tralian liquor stores but keep an eye out for Chilean savvies be­cause if my palate is any guide, I reckon they could be the next big thing.

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