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Wonderful whites from Chile

THERE'S no better way to pass the last few days of summer than sharing a glass or two of refreshing white wine with friends. We have a growing choice of white wines available in Shanghai and one of the best choices is a lovely Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. The better Chilean Sauvignon Blanc wines offer a combination of low prices and exciting fresh flavors that are hard to beat.


Sauvignon Blanc originated in the Gironde area of southwest France in the 17th century and is possibly a descendant of the more ancient variety Savagnin. The grape has gained renown for making some of the world's best white wines in Bordeaux where it is most often blended with Semilion and in the Loire where it's used to make very stylish single variety wines. Sometime in the late 17th and early 18th centuries missionaries to Chile planted the first Sauvignon Blanc vines. The problem was that they interspersed these vines with the less distinguished variety Sauvignon Vert that's sometimes referred to as Sauvignonasse. Suffice to say that these pious men lost track of which vines where the noble Sauvignon Blanc and which were the more pedestrian Sauvignon Vert. The result was centuries of confusion and compromised wines. It wasn't until the early 1990s that scientists developed more reliable tests to distinguish the two varieties.


Featuring a long coastline bordered by the Andes Mountains that boast altitude and wind-aided cooling elements along with a range of porous soils, Chile has long had important requisites to make superior white wines. Unfortunately a long term focus on making cheap wines for domestic consumption and the oppressive Pinochet regime from 1973-1990, when Chile was subject to many international sanctions, severely truncated the progress of the wine industry. Political changes and a new focus on international markets since 1990 have resulted in a new golden age for Chilean wines. Today, Chile not only has the most successful economy in South America, but it also makes the continent's best white wines. However, because the improvements in wines have been a relatively recent occurrence, one must still be selective when choosing wines.

Choose carefully

When choosing a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, three factors in particular can help you pick a good wine. First, check that the wine is from one of Chile's cool climate regions like Casablanca, San Antonio Valley, Coastal Aconcagua, Colchagua Valley or Northern Limari. Chilean Sauvignon Blanc wines from warmer regions tend to have over-ripe fruit with dull flavors and flat acidity. Next, choose a quality producer known for their dedication to the varietal. There are still plenty of producers who make excellent reds and Chardonnays but treat their Sauvignon Blanc wines as an afterthought. The best Chilean Sauvignon Blanc producers with wines available in Shanghai are Carmen, Santa Rita, Miguel Torres, Casa Lapostolle and Vina Chocalan.

Finally pick a reserve level wine. While entry level Sauvignon Blancs may be drinkable and in some cases even quite nice, I suggest sticking to lower-yield reserve level wines that are made using more discerning wine making techniques. These wines tend to have greater intensity, complexity and freshness and unlike reserve level wines from other countries, Chilean reserve wines are usually only moderately more expensive than the entry level wines.

Cool & Zesty

The best Chilean Sauvignon Blanc wines are all from the aforementioned cool climates where the combination of altitude and ample breezes helps make wines of admirable intensity and freshness. While not as outwardly exuberant as their counterparts in New Zealand, Chilean Sauvignon Blanc wines often share some of the elegant characteristics of French Sauvignon Blanc wines while still retaining plenty of New World muscle. Most of these wines have no oak, or very moderate oak, aging and exhibit a range of zesty lime, grapefruit, passion fruit, pineapple and apple flavors along with mineral and grassy notes and a bracingly dry finish. Overall, quite a mouthful of stimulating flavors.

Seafood lovers

Nice Chilean Sauvignon Blanc wines go well with a wide variety of foods from snack foods and salads to white meats, but these wines meet their ultimate epicurean partners in seafood. Over the summer months this year, I've tasted Chilean Sauvignon Blancs with numerous seafood including a quartet of sumptuous Asian seafood dishes that include Indian Maharaja Jhinga Tandoori Prawns, Thai Golden Fried Garoupa with Savory Chili Sauce, Jiangsu-style House Special Steamed Reeves Shad and Beijing-style Fried Lobster with Fungus & Bamboo Shoot. In all cases, the bracing acidity of the Sauvignon Blancs awakened the most fresh and naturally sweet qualities of the seafood. Remember to serve them well-chilled, about 8 degrees Celsius.


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