Sauvignon blancs from Chile – cool values for everyday summer food

Cold glass noodles with nuoc cham, shrimp, scallions, carrots and cucumbers
Cold glass noodles with nuoc cham, shrimp, scallions, carrots and cucumbers

There are scores of white varietals from around the world for Americans to discover, but in a restaurant or for a crowd, sauvignon blanc is usually the go-to wine that seems to please everyone.  It is a classic grape variety that has distinct characteristics such as citrus flavors and crisp acidity, but each wine’s personality will be influenced by regional climate, winemaking technique or blending (such as with semillon in Bordeaux).

This week I’ve been tasting Chilean sauvignon blancs in the $10-13 range that are fresh and fruity wines ideal for everyday enjoyment.  In Chile, the most notable region for white varieties is Casablanca, a wine region of about 10,000 acres west of the capital of Santiago.  Even though Casablanca is at a potentially warm latitude of 33 degrees, it is actually one of the coolest regions in Chile because of its close proximity to the icy cold Pacific and higher elevation vineyards.  Average summer temperatures are slightly cooler than even the Napa Valley, making it ideal for white varieties like Chardonnay which accounts for almost 50% of total plantings, and sauvignon blanc with 28%.

These wines are often made in a fruit-forward style, fermented and aged at cool temperatures in stainless steel, bottled under screwcap and released young.  Two of the wines I tasted, the 2009 Bodega Renacer Punto Final  Casablanca Sauvignon Blanc ($12) and the 2009 Vina Ventisquero Root1 Casablanca Sauvignon Blanc ($13) are characteristic of the wines from Chile with bright kiwi and lime flavors.  They also have a little bit of that fresh lemongrass character that make it ideal for pairing with ethnic cuisine and summer foods.  Root1 is fuller bodied with intense passionfruit and key lime pie on the palate and a strong finish, making it great for aperitif or with food.  Punto Final is lighter and fresher, a great choice with food.

My favorite pairings with these wines are Vietnamese or Thai dishes with their generous use of fresh herbs and lime and often strong flavors via use of Thai fish sauce.  Other food pairings ideas that complement the fresh, citrusy and herbaceous character of Chilean sauvignon blancs:

  • Grilled fish or roast chicken with fresh herb sauce
  • Grilled pork loin with fresh mango salsa
  • Herb salad or nicoise-style salad with grilled salmon
  • Lobster taco with salsa and wedge of lime
  • Falafel with tahini sauce and tabbouleh (bulgar wheat with chopped mint, cucumber, tomato, lemon, cumin)
  • Spring salad topped with tangy goat cheese or feta cheese
  • Pasta with basil or mint pesto

Summer is a great time to enjoy chilled whites and at these prices, we can afford to!  These wines are available at select Cost Plus, Costco and Whole Foods markets.  In Southern California, check out Hi Time Wine Cellars in the OC and Sprouts Farmers Markets.