Last week I had the pleasure of participating in a virtual wine tasting set up by Wines of Chile to sample eight different white wines from Chile’s coastal regions. Most of Chile is a coastal region, of course, with no point in that skinny country too far from the ocean.
The result is a geography well-suited for growing wine grapes. You get warm and sunny days, cool nights, and the Humbolt Current moderating the weather. With an ocean on one side and the Andes Mountains on the other, there are not a lot of pest and disease worries. Still, the various valleys–these wines came from four different ones—each have their own terroir and microclimate.
We sampled three Chardonnays and five Sauvignon Blancs with seafood we’d each prepared, then I threw in some other typical flavor profiles (cheese, olives, bread, salad) to see how they fared with those. As expected, the Sauvignon Blanc wines paired much better with food—any food—so I’ll cover them first. The big overall takeaway from me and the others I was connected to by chat stream was that these wines are a terrific value. That’s not news to anyone who reaches for bottles from Chile in the supermarket, but many of these were the top-line option from the vineyard, yet carried a retail list price between $13 and $19. Only one topped $20.
For me, the $25 Casa Silva Cool Coast wine was in the middle of the pack. Casa Silva is known more for its bold reds, but this Sauvignon Black shows lots of richness, with more pineapple overtones than most, along with the citrus and a touch of pepper. Like most of the others we tried, there’s a nice bracing minerality to this, a contrast from many cheap versions that seem like the grapes were grown in sand and Miracle-gro.
Two tasted like they came straight out of New Zealand instead of Chile: the globalization of wine flavor profiles spreads rapidly these days. Los Vascos from the Casablanca Valley is owned by Barons de Rothschild, so it only makes sense they’d be taking a little of this, a little of that from around the world. This is a bright, aggressive wine with grassy, green pepper tastes, citrus, and a little melon on the nose. It has a spicy kick at the end. A bit overpowering with the wrong food, but a great sipper on its own. It also holds up well for days in the fridge, even without a vacuum top. Next time you’re reaching for a New Zealand S.B that’s $25, get this instead for $14.
Vina Casablanca’s Nimbus wine has many of the same in-your-face pepper and straw flavors, but it’s a little more delicate and herbal. It’s surprisingly balanced and elegant for a $12 bottle of wine. Despite the price, it uses hand-picked grapes that ferment for three weeks and go through a one-month battonage process. The minerals in this one help it pair well with flavorful seafood and hard cheese, plus I imagine it would go very well with apples.
I liked the Veramonte Ritual wine from the Casablanca Valley a lot. It has the typical straw and green pepper tastes, but it’s silkier than most, with juicy fruit flavors and a higher acidity in the mix. This is pitched as a “Russian River style” Sauvignon Blanc and comes across as more tropical. It has a touch of oak, but from the third use of the barrel, so it’s subtle.
My favorite overall was Cono Sur, from the Visión winery. This ranks as one of the best $15 white wines I can remember having anywhere. It’s a softer, gentler version of the style, less bracing, more juicy. Flavors of peach and melon come through and floral overtones make for a great nose. It held up to grilled fish, soft cheese, and good bread well without overpowering any of them, but not getting lost either. It’s the kind of mouth-watering wine that disappears before you know it as glasses get refilled. As a bonus, it’s organic, plus the company offsets all its carbon emissions. If you’ve avoided organic wine because you assumed it had to be lousy, try this one and change your mind.
I couldn’t help but notice that three of these came from the Casablanca Valley. Lucky for you, should you ever visit Chile, because that’s just a short drive toward the coast from Santiago, close to Valparaiso. See our story on touring the wine districts near Santiago for more.
I’d be proud to serve any of these five to guests coming over for a party or dinner. With flavorful seafood, salads, and ceviche, you’ll probably go through the bottles quickly. Buy extra!