Trends in Chile: 8. Sauvignon moves up

Chile is developing more upmarket, distinctive styles of Sauvignon Blanc, often using barrel fermentation, to distance itself from Marlborough’s herbaceous take on the grape.

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Chile has huge potential with Sauvignon Blanc says New Zealander Grant Phelps, who makes wine for Casas del Bosque

“Chile produces nice Sauvignon Blanc but the problem is competing with New Zealand, so we need to look for a different style, and more complexity,” explains Santa Rita winemaker Andrés Ilabaca.

For Santa Rita, this difference and extra dimension is coming from blending cool climate source regions and picking earlier, as well as using barrel fermentation, to create a smoky, textural and relatively low alcohol Sauvignons.

Under the producer’s Floresta label, which is reserved for “innovative” wines, Santa Rita is using grapes from Leyda and Casablanca, as well as picking 7-10 days earlier than average, to bring down alcohol levels down from around 14% to 13.2%, according to Ilabaca.

The producer is also employing whole bunch pressing and fermenting 40% of the wine in barriques (25% of which are new), followed by five months contact with the lees. The result is a a £20 age-worthy Sauvignon, which is being released for the first time from the 2013 vintage.

However, Chile’s earliest example of high quality oaked Sauvignon stems from Calyptra, a producer using Sauvignon grapes grown at 1000m altitude in the high Cachapoal.

Called Grand Reserve, the wine is fermented in 600 litre French oak barrels as well as aged for 18 months in a mix of new and used oak casks – and, interestingly, it was actually initially created in secret by the winemaker.

Francois Massoc, technical director for Calyptra, explains. “I found that no-one in Chile was making Sauvignon Blanc as I think it should be made. I didn’t want an explosive Sauvignon, but something fine and elegant that you can keep for 10 years in the bottle.

He continues, “However, when I asked the owner of Calyptra for the barrels to make it he said ‘no’, so I disguised the Sauvignon between the barrels of Chardonnay, and when I showed the owner the result, he loved it, and so from 2008 he said I could make it.”

Furthermore, in a blind tasting of oaked Sauvignons from around the world in London earlier this year, including Cloudy Bay’s Te Koko, Calyptra came out among the very top performers.

Elsewhere, Casa Marin is using 70% barrel fermentation for its single vineyard Sauvignon Gris, while Casa Lapostolle released the inaugural 2013 vintage of its Cuvée Alexandre Sauvignon Blanc earlier this year.

Lapostolle winemaker Andrea León says that the wine uses Sauvignon clones from Sancerre and Bordeaux and barrel fermentation because “people want to move away from a very grassy, New Zealand style of Sauvignon Blanc.”

Soon to emerge however is an oak-aged Sauvignon from Amaral, a label from Montgras, which will become a new white wine flagship for the producer, while Casas del Bosque winemaker Grant Phelps, who hails from New Zealand, is employing varying proportions of barrel fermentation, as well as skin contact, to create age-worthy but also intensely flavoured Sauvignons.

Nevertheless, Phelps has plenty of praise for Chilean Sauvignon without too much winemaking intervention.

“I love the citrus expression in the Sauvignon from Chile,” he says, before bemoaning some producers’ insistence on trying to mimic the herbaceous Marlborough style.

“Our winemakers our lacking confidence,” he adds, suggesting that this could be the reason for a failure to develop and champion Chile’s own style of Sauvignon.

And, concluding, he observes, “Chile has huge potential with Sauvignon Blanc, but winemakers should stop trying to emulate other places, or just trying to make cheap supermarket styles.”

Click here to read Chile wine trend 9: Malbec revival

Click here to read Chile wine trend 10: Quirkiness takes root

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