ranted, Americans are still
(happily) living in a Chardonnay
world. At the same time, though,
Sauvignon Blanc is emerging as
a real player in the white wine arena. Ac-
cording to Nielsen, Sauvignon Blanc grew
faster than the total wine category in U.S.
in 2012, and while still trailing Pinot Gri-
gio, it grew even faster than that varietal
wine both in value (+13.3% vs. +8%) and
volume (+11.9% vs. +8%).
But set aside the stats for a moment
and consider these three leading white ta-
ble wines. Chardonnay is the winemaker’s
grape, easily molded no matter where it is
grown; it may be too big to fail, but diffi-
cult to define. Pinot Grigio’s calling card
is its simple character—pleasant and palat-
able but rarely distinguished at its typically
low price point. Sauvignon Blanc, on the
other hand, has come to be demonstrably
place-driven. Classic French examples such
as Sancerre check in as lean, herbaceous
and minerally. New Zealand bottlings pack
aggressive, often one-dimensional punch.
Meanwhile, California produces quite a bit
of Sauvignon Blanc, but how many excel-
lent ones retail under $20?
And then there is Chile, where—in a
remarkably short time span—Sauvignon
Blanc seems to have found a happy sweet
spot. Planted in the country’s cooler
regions, we are seeing a plethora of wines
that strike a Goldilocks balance: aromatic
without being too pungent; citrusy but not
just grapefruity; ripe and juicy yet still fresh.
Even at modest price points, these crisp,
unoaked whites are earning attention, both
as great values and great food companions.
Johnny Slamon, wine director at
Alexander’s in San Francisco, has had
Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc on the wine
list for more than a year. He likes the
Southern Hemisphere in general for value,
and Chilean Sauvignon Blanc for its “clean
aspect”—and the fact that it’s “not over
the top with green.” He finds the fresh,
un-oaked style of the Veramonte to be es-
pecially versatile with the restaurant’s first
courses, which reflect a distinct Japanese
influence and range from oysters, ceviche
and sashimi to salads and grilled octopus.
The common denominator driving quality
in Chilean Sauvignon Blanc is cool climate.
Valleys that are effectively air-conditioned
by breezes off the Pacific are credited with
helping optimize the variety’s naturally
zesty acidity as the grapes ripen slowly.
Interestingly, advantageous conditions are
found in multiple parts of the long, nar-
row country. In Casablanca Valley, gener-
ally recognized as the “hot spot” for cool,
fog adds an extra measure of sun-shielding
insurance. San Antonio Valley and its sub-
region of Leyda are closer to the coast,
benefitting even more directly from the
ALL PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF WINES OF CHILE
CHILEAN SAUVIGNON BLANC:
THE GOLDILOCKS WHITE
Cool Climate Breeds Balanced, Food-Friendly Style
BY W. R. TISH