For Chilean sauvignon blanc, head to the coast

   Chilean sauvignon blanc is one of the great values in white wine. The country is probably better known for its reds, particularly cabernet sauvignon, but sauvignon blanc, especially from Chile’s cool coastal regions, offers personality and distinctiveness for around $20 or less.

   At 37,000 acres, sauvignon blanc is the second most planted grape variety in Chile. (Cab is first.) Much of it is planted in inland areas, where the resulting wines are more tropical but sometimes a little dull, to my taste. The wines from the coastal areas are much more vivid and lively.

   The climate of coastal Chile is influenced by the Humboldt Current, a cold ocean current that flows north from southern Chile, near Antarctica. According to Julio Alonso, executive director of Wines of Chile USA, soils and exposures may vary, but that current is the one constant affecting coastal sauvignon blanc. Alonso was one of the participants in a recent Wines of Chile webinar and tasting.

   The two best-known coastal appellations are Casablanca Valley and San Antonio Valley (along with its subregion, Leyda). Pablo Morandé, who was searching for a cool location for grapes, planted the first vines in Casablanca Valley, in 1982. Before that, agriculture in the area had been mostly based on livestock and dairy farming. Morandé’s success drew others to Casablanca and to other coastal areas, including San Antonio Valley.

   The Wines of Chile tasting included the 2020 Morandé Gran Reserva “Lo Ovalle” Sauvignon Blanc ($20), which is fresh and a little grassy, with lemon and pink grapefruit flavors, but it also has some weight and texture.

   Also from Casablanca Valley, the 2020 Matetic EQ Coastal Sauvignon Blanc ($20), from a vineyard that’s organic and biodynamic, is smoky and citrusy, with a slight tropical character.

   The 2020 Casas del Bosque “La Cantera” Sauvignon Blanc ($20) is from the coolest part of Casablanca and displays racy grapefruit and lemon, with notes of wild herbs and smoke. (Although all the 2020s in this report are still available in some markets, some stores may have moved on to selling the 2021 vintage.)

   San Antonio Valley, including Leyda, is south of Casablanca and can be even cooler because it has less protection from the coast. Development there occurred later, mostly since the 1990s. One example from San Antonio is the 2021 Koyle “Costa La Flor” Sauvignon Blanc ($18), made from organically grown grapes. The wine is racy and a little herbal, with pink grapefruit and some weight.

   From Leyda, the 2021 Montes Limited Selection Sauvignon Blanc ($15) is quite herbaceous, with pink grapefruit, lime and passion fruit and a persistent finish. The 2020 Garces Silva “Amayna” Sauvignon Blanc ($25) is less herbaceous but still very lean, with grapefruit, lime and crackling acidity.

   Limarí Valley is a coastal area to the north of Casablanca and San Antonio. The valley’s limestone soils are unusual in Chile, and the best-known grape there is chardonnay. The Limarí sauvignon blanc that was part of the webinar – the 2021 Tabali “Talinay” Sauvignon Blanc ($24) – was a fascinating departure from the other wines. The wine offered both floral and herbal notes with lemon-lime fruit and an unusual hint of cumin.

   Finally, from the far north of Chile, came a wine from the Atacama region. The Atacama Desert is the driest place on Earth (aside from a couple of places in Antarctica), but the Huasco River valley forms a green oasis in that desert, allowing for grape-growing. The alluvial soils along the river have a lot of calcareous material, and the 2019 Ventisquero “Grey” Sauvignon Blanc ($25) seems to reflect that in its considerable saline minerality. The wine is also round and citrusy and a little softer than the others in the tasting.

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