01 May 2009

Chilean Sauvignon Blanc

Back in November I reviewed a half dozen Chilean Carménères. Now, just in time for Memphis in May, I've got another half dozen Chilean wines, this time focusing on another Bordeaux grape that took root and flourished on the other side of the equator, Sauvignon Blanc. For those of you outside the Mid-South, Memphis in May is a month-long series of events around the city around the theme of an honored country. For 2009, that country is Chile.

When I reviewed the reds, I a made a whole themed dinner around the wines, but this time I decided to focus on six different dishes spread out over the course of a couple of weeks. It was a delicious journey, especially since most of them were takeout and required minimal time in the kitchen (we all need a break from time to time). Sauvignon Blanc is a pretty versatile grape that goes well with lots of things including salads, chicken, and milder game, but I've always loved it best with fish and shellfish. None of these dishes are Chilean, but should be available in some form to a wide range of customers in the United States.

All of these wines are good bargains under $15, and will be great to purchase for enjoying during the hot summer months ahead. Plus, with one exception they're all enclosed with screwcaps, convenient for taking to the family BBQ or other outdoor event where a corkscrew may not be available.

For more information on Chilean wines, be sure to check out Wines of Chile, and as always, click on the photos for bigger, more detailed versions.

2008 Luis Felipe Edwards Reserva Sauvignon Blanc
$9, 13% abv, Central Valley

Orange peel aroma, with a rich and round mouthfeel. Tart finish. As it warms up, you get a stronger aroma of that orange peel, close to marmelade. This could be a fun breakfast wine, in the sense of "with Sunday Brunch" and not "on the way to work with an Egg McMuffin®". I served it with grocery store sushi, one of my favorite guilty pleasures. Hey, sushi was originally the fast food of Japan; it's a bit more authentic to buy it from a deli than from an expensive restaurant.

For the sake of my epicurean friends: yes, I've had the good stuff, the obscure stuff, the mind-blowingly incredible sushi. But just because the best hamburger I ever had was a blend of Kobe beef, short ribs, and foie gras doesn't mean that I can't appreciate a decent grilled burger from a mom and pop joint for a few bucks.

2008 Carmen Classic Sauvignon Blanc
$10, 13.5% abv, Curico Valley

Big peach aroma, apricot flavors and a big, fruit-forward taste. Touch of basil in the aftertaste, and I'm always happy to see those little herbal touches in a wine. I paired it with two delectable fillets of fried catfish. While this is not understood well among Yankees and other outsiders, those of us born and raised in the South are occasionally susceptible to a powerful craving for fried catfish. I tend to like it with a crisp cornmeal crust that includes a lot of black pepper, and I dose it up with loads of Tabasco or whatever other vinegar-based hot sauce is within reach. For side dishes I like one that's creamy (mac & cheese or cole slaw) and one that's bitter (like collard or turnip greens).

2008 Emiliana Natura Sauvignon Blanc
$11, 13.5% abv, Casablanca Valley, made from organically-grown grapes

Strong red grapefruit juice aroma, with flavors to match. Tart acidity, short finish. Once you spend some time with it an earthy undertone is present. Firm and bold enough to stand up to heartier fare.

Served here with a pair of crabcakes atop a bed of broccoli stalk slaw and a chipotle mayonnaise. Alas, the saucing didn't work out great for this photo layout, but I wanted the mayo to work double duty for the slaw and the crab. Once consumed it was delicious, and the smoky chipotle matched nicely with the tart wine.

2008 Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Sauvignon Blanc
$12, 13% abv, Central Valley

Soft grapefruit aromas, round and mild mouthfeel with a brief finish and a lemon curd aftertaste. This is probably the softest and easiest drinking of the batch, which unfortunately means it wasn't a great pairing with the dinner here: garlic chicken along with seafood dim sum and a bevy of ramekins filled with Chinese mustard, wasabi, and hoisin sauce. (If you get the chance, make your own wasabi paste using one of the blends from Penzey's. It will clear out your sinuses for weeks afterward.)

The wine was tasty and the food was savory, but the latter overpowered the former. It's still wise to experiment with food/wine pairings; you never know what will work or not. As the Vulcans say, Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.

2008 Botalcura El Delirio Reserva Sauvignon Blanc
$13, 12.5% abv, Casablanca Valley

Ah, bonita. Very light and mild, just a hint of honeysuckle and clover. Clean and crisp mouthfeel with a short and round finish. As it warms up I get just a hint of magnolia blossom on it. I had to check with my dear Hispanophone friend Grace on the translation for this wine, as my Spanish vocabulary is tiny and mostly confined to food terms. From Italian and French I pick up a lot, but I sometimes miss nuance. El Delirio is, in fact, Spanish for delirium or delusion. I thought there might be some more poetic meaning, perhaps the quail on the label meant something, but no. On the language note, Botalcura means "large stone" in the Mapundungun language of the indigenous Mapuche people of southern Chile.

This was my favorite wine out of all six, and is highly recommended. I served it with one of my favorite weekday dinners, an omelet made with diced ham, cheese, and a good salsa featuring peppers like guajillo or pasilla.

2008 Undurraga Aliwen Sauvignon Blanc
$13, 13% abv, Maipo Valley

As with the previous wine, part of the name comes from the Mapuche: Aliwen is a legendary sacred tree connecting heaven and earth, similar to the tradition of Yggdrasil. The name of the winery itself comes from the founder, Don Francisco Undurraga, who brought French and German grapes to Chile. What do I keep telling y'all? HISTORY IN A GLASS! Take a moment to gaze upon the golden or crimson fluid in your chalice and do a bit of research. You'll emerge with a greater appreciation of the land and people that brought that wine to your lips.

This wine is well balanced with mineral and golden apple flavors, medium acidity and a light but refreshing finish. I was very happy with it, and it paired well with the grilled dinner including chicken thighs and shrimp (each skewered on sugar cane spears*) and fire roasted red peppers and asparagus. It was a great way to say goodbye to the last of the Sauvignon Blancs, and say hello to summer.

*More on sugar cane in a future post!


Samantha Dugan said...

I so dig some of the SB coming out of Chile! In my fridge for my drinking pleasure this evening I have a bottle of Veramonte chilling. Have you had that one? I drink a shameful amount of that stuff! Just so damn fresh and racy, and at $10.00, well what more do I need to say?

Benito said...


I've had the Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc, as well as some of their other selections. I love the Primus.

My grandmother recently visited the Veramonte winery down in Chile and sent some pictures. It was part of a trip that included Uruguay and a cruise off the coast of Antarctica. Yes, she's in her upper 70s and goes on way cooler trips than I do.


DIrty said...


Man, I hated reading this post. I am so hungry... that picture of the fried catfish is killing me.

And thinking about an SB w/ an Egg McMuffin, may be a pre-golf snack... I'm easily corrupted.

Michael Hughes said...

I love the Chilean SB's, especially the Veramonte, Samantha. The Montes Leyda SB is delicious too. Anyone had a sauvignon gris from Chile? We are using the Cousino-Macul SG for our wine club white wine this month. Such a cool, fresh, bright wine.