Wednesday, January 5, 2011


When most novice tipplers first hear the term sauvignon blanc, which means “wild white” in French, they often believe that it must be similar to white zinfandel, which is a rose wine made from red grapes. In fact , this varietal is one of the proud parents of cabernet sauvignon, having been crossed with cabernet franc back in the 18th century. It is the premier white grape of Bordeaux, where its bone-dry finish has proved to be a perfect match for seafood for many years. Since this varietal needs warmth without oppressive heat to truly flourish, it does well in maritime climates such as California and New Zealand.

Valparaiso, located on Chile’s Central Coast, has a similar climate and thus has established itself as ground zero for sauvignon blanc in South America. Chilean sauvignon blancs tend to be more similar to those of Bordeaux than, say, those of New Zealand, where the blancs are known for higher levels of acidity and the famous “grassy” or asparagus taste noticed by many drinkers.

Two of the leading wine producers in Chile are Santa Rita and Concha y Toro. Therefore, I thought that a tasteoff between sauvignon blancs of these two behemoths might be in order.

First up was the Santa Rita 120, so named to honor 120 freedom fighters who took refuge in the cellars after an exhausting battle for Chilean independence. Santa Rita’s sauvignon sports a light greenish-gold color, and an abundance of nectarine and tropical fruits and flowers on the nose. The finish Is long and bright, and there are plenty of grapefruit flavors on the palate. A delightful, summery picnic wine and wonderfully easy on the pocketbook as well.

Next was the Concha y Toro blanc, marketed under the Casillero del Diablo name and priced just a few dollars more. (Chilean wines, like their Argentine counterparts, represent wonderful value.) The color was much paler, but the nose and taste were more delightfully complex, not only plenty of grapefruit and citrus, but also lime, with a nice finish of minerals, Bordeaux style. This blanc was meant to be paired with food, and I enjoyed the rest of my tasting with a small bowl of tomato chicken curry. Both blancs, I suspect, would do justice to all manner of seafood and most spicy eats as well.

In sum, while I enjoyed Santa Rita 120 Sauvignon Blanc as an inexpensive summer quaff, I give the nod to Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo for its mineral complexity and better pairing possibilities.