THREE EXPRESSIONS OF SAUVIGNON BLANC FROM ONE COMPANY AND ONE COUNTRY
by Andrew Chalk
Concha y Toro is the largest winery in Chile, encompassing multiple wine brands. The different brands are either distinguished by geographic location of the grapes, or the price bracket of the resulting wine.
Recently, the company combined three of its sauvignon blanc wines into a pack for media to compare them. The three wines (as described by the company) were:
2021 Concha y Toro Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc | D.O. Litueche, Colchagua Valley | $15 | 100% Sauvignon Blanc | 12.5% ABV | 1.5 g/L RS
Sourced from our estate Ucúquer Vineyard, located in the arid hillsides of the Rapel River in Colchagua Valley, 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean.
2021 Cono Sur Organico Sauvignon Blanc | Chile | $11 | 100% Sauvignon Blanc | 12.5% ABV | 3.1 g/L RS | Made with organic grapes | Vegan
Fruit from coastal San Antonio DO’s Campo Lindo Estate and Bío Bío provide an ideal mixture of sand and red clay for this Sauvignon Blanc expression.
2020 Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Reserva Sauvignon Blanc | Chile | $12 | 100% Sauvignon Blanc | 12.9% ABV | 2.44 g/L RS
Fruit from Aconcagua—which stretches inland from the coast above San Antonio—Valle Central, and Región de Coquimbo compose the final blend.
I was already convinced of sauvignon blanc’s chameleon character having tasted it from such areas as the cold climate of the Loire Valley in France to the mediterranean climate of northern California. Out on left-field, so to speak, were the in-your-face high acid styles of New Zealand.
These samples did not disappoint. Chile’s 2,700 plus mile north-south distance from 400 miles north of Antarctica to north of the Tropic of Capricorn and narrow (60 miles on average) width gave plenty of scope for that. All grape growing occurs in a band shown in the inset in the map, outside the coldest and hottest regions.
The first wine came from Colchagua Valley which the Chilean wine regions map shows to be in the center of the country. It also had the lowest residual sugar (RS) of the three, making for a crisp wine that was closest in style to those of the Loire. Of the three, it paired with the largest range of food. Especially white-flesh fish and Asian food that could be heavily seasoned but not too hot. Thai and Vietnamese food cooked without too much chili spice were good examples.
The second wine from the Cono Sur brand promotes organic agriculture. The grapes came from two regions reflecting disparate conditions. San Antonio is relatively warm and mediterranean in climate. It is also coastal so not subject to the effects of being grown on the slopes of the Andes mountains. The other region is the quaintly named, from the English language perspective ‘Biobio’. This is the second closest region to the Antarctic, is correspondingly cool, and currently an area of much research and growth.
Since the Cono Sur is a blend of these two regions it tends to average out their individuality. A higher level of RS also smooths off the wine’s character. The result is a well-made wine without enough character to offend anyone but also not enough to enthuse. If the first wine was a winemaker’s wine, the second is a marketing department’s wine. Its aggressive price will move it quickly off supermarket shelves.
The third wine is made from grapes from Aconcagua, the northernmost wine region in the group. The style takes on California examples with its ripe grapes and forward fruit expression.
None of these wines represent a ‘Chilean style’ of sauvignon blanc. Sauvignon blanc has proven itself an adept global colonizer and each new expression has been replicated outside the region that invented it.
All of these wines are exceptional value for money that will pressure northern hemisphere producers on quality. My palate goes with the first one as a favorite but one advantage of the aggressive pricing is that you can buy an example of each (they are in wide distribution in the US market) and pick your own favorite.