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It's cool
Published:  27 August, 2008

While the Chilean wine industry is still best known among consumers for soft, fruity, easy-to-drink red wines, things are changing.

Two emerging themes are cool-climate wines and Sauvignon Blanc. Forget growing grapes in near-perfect conditions along the flat valleys watered by rivers swollen with Andean snow melt. Cool climate is the new viticultural buzz for Chilean winemakers and Sauvignon Blanc is the variety leading the charge. Better, more suitable clones and vineyards perched on hillsides away from the warm is where it's at.

The main established cool-climate area is Casablanca to the west of capital city Santiago, but up and coming is the San Antonio valley with its sub division, Leyda. It lies just south of Casablanca, closer to the ocean where foggy mornings are good for keeping the vines and grapes cool with good acidity.

There has been a rush to buy land in San Antonio, but water is a limiting factor as the area does not have its own river.

Further north there are the Elqui and Limarí regions, paradoxically arid, but cool. They should be too hot but, thanks to the cold Humboldt Current and the shape of the valleys, cool air is sucked in from the coast. Also, parts of Elqui go up to an altitude of 2,000m.

Then there is Bío Bío down in the deep south, although it is not seen as a primary source of Sauvignon Blanc because it is wetter and colder.

Michael Cox, head of Wines of Chile UK, sum s it up: "There is a changing mindset. Winemakers are looking for freshness, good acidity and, yes, some tropical fruit, but not as pungent as some New World competitors. They are looking for an evolving Chilean style of Sauvignon. The desire is to get a vibrant style but still Chilean - not New Zealand or the Loire."

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=== Chile facts ===

l Long and narrow, 900km north to south and 150km from the Pacific Ocean to the Andes.

l Benign climate, ameliorated by the cold Humboldt Current from Antarctica with a significant influence from the Andes, the second highest mountain range after the Himalayas.

l Near perfect conditions for grape growing and relatively pest free - phylloxera has never come to Chile.

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=== Tasting notes ===

Elqui & Limarí

  • 2007 Castillo de Molina, Elqui valley

    Big, on the verge of overpowering, a mouthful of gooseberries, good length. Good to chill down and chill out with on its own.
  • 2007 La Playa Block Selection Reserve, Limarí valley

    Creamy, rich, bit cloying, quite nicely balanced with good fruit.
  • 2007 Sutil Limited Release Reserve, Limarí valley

    Good acidity and quite mouth-puckering - more like a Loire than a classic New Zealand Sauvignon.

    Casablanca
  • 2007 Santa Rita Reserva

    Light, zesty, refreshing ... very refreshing. One of the tasting's star turns.
  • 2007 Indomita Selected Varietal, Casablanca

    Zesty, lively acidity - a pretty classic Sauvignon Blanc. Light, but good length.
  • 2007 Viña Mar Reserva, Casablanca

    Fuller, rich textured, though not creamy. Pronounced gooseberry notes, good acidity.
  • 2007 Errázuriz Estate, Casablanca

    Good belt-and-braces Sauvignon. Citrus fruits, melon, some stone fruit such as peach.
  • 2007 Terrunyo, Casablanca

    Light, zesty, but with a little creaminess. Good balance.
  • 2007 Anakena ONA, Casablanca

    Again, light, zesty, fresh. Citrus, particularly lime and melon.

    Leyda
  • 2007 Leyda Garuma Vineyard

    Masses of gooseberries on the nose. Quite full, but good, balancing acidity which carries the fruit just like a royal procession. This is another of the tasting's stars.
  • 2007 Luis Felipe Edwards Gran Reserva

    Quite full, good acidity.
  • 2007 Amaral, Leyda

    Grassy, zesty and slightly unusual with zingy greengage note.

    Maule
  • 2007 Aromo Reserve, Maule valley

    Highly perfumed, the most unusual Sauvignon among the 65-odd wines on the table. Quite Gerwürztraminer-like.

    Bío Bío
  • 2007 Gracia de Chile, Reserva Superior,

    Bío Bío

    Pronounced peaches, stone fruit. Very pleasant but not so typical. Has 15 per cent Sauvignon Vert.