In recent years New Zealand – specifically the southern island region of Marlborough – has been the fashionable source for sauvignon blanc, yet some find the more pungent style of the Kiwis a bit over the top. An affordable alternative is the sauvignon blancs of Chile – better known for its cabernet and chardonnay – which tend to strike a pleasant balance between the intensity of New Zealand and the subtle minerality of sauvignon blanc from its native France.
- [FULL DISCLOSURE: We recently toured vineyards in Chile, including some, but not all, of those mentioned in this column, courtesy of an industry trade group, Wines of Chile, which promotes wine tourism. As always, we try to quote multiple independent wine writers and critics for tasting notes on the wines we suggest. We never rely solely on our own opinions, but will make a special effort to find a consensus on these wines.] “Today, no better buy exists in well-made sauvignon blanc than that from Chile, save a few at the same price from South Africa,” wrote Bill St. John last month is a column in the Chicago Tribune. He noted two distinct styles of Chilean sauvignon blanc, one that he called, “lean and green,” sporting aromas and taste of ruby grapefruit, lemon, lime or pomelo (an Asian citrus fruit we had to Google), “with suggestions of minerals and acidity as taut as a piano wire.” The other, he says, is just slightly rounder and less incisive.
Tom Cannavan is less generous with the points on his wine-pages website .com, while scoring a still-respectable 87 points and describing, “A tiny vanilla note, with a herby, dry character and lemon fruit. Juicy on the palate, but very restrained, almost salty mineral hints.”
But for bargain hunters prowling Georgetown this weekend (we know, oxymoronic!), Potomac Wine & Spirits has a $6 Chilean white that beat out a pair of $10 California sauvignon blancs in Friday’s Wine for the Rest of Us blind tasting. Gato Negro Sauvignon Blanc 2009 was the clear favorite among the panel of nine tasters, besting Robert Mondavi Private Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2010 and Castle Rock Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino County 2009, which we tried a few weeks ago at Paul’s of Chevy Chase. (And no, none of our tasting panel picked up the “feline spray” that Wine Enthusiast warned of.) See Susan Sterling's tasting notes on The Naked Wine Show for more detailed tasting notes.
If you’re not convenient to M Street, NW (both Bell and Potomac are on M St., 14 blocks or about 1 mile apart), the best bargain among St. John’s favorites in the “rounder and richer” category in readily available in the District, Maryland and Virginia. Casa Lapostolle Sauvignon Blanc Rapel Valley 2009, which includes a splash (8 percent) of Semillon in the style of Bordeaux, is widely available for between $9 and $11 a bottle, but it’s priced at just $7.99 at Cairo Wine & Liquor on 17th Street, NW. (See slideshow for representative prices around town.)
Compare prices and find Lapostolle wines online or at a store near you nationwide.
“This fresh white shows pure notes of lemon verbena, straw and chamomile, with an open, breezy finish,” wrote Wine Spectator’s James Molesworth, scoring Casa Lapostolle 85 points in the May 31 issue.
Tom Cannavan describes, “Tight, apple and green fruit, a hint of spice,” awarding 86 points. “On the palate quite fleshy and full, but vibrant too, with a great sweet core of tropical fruit, but that apple acidity and bit of grapefruit kicking in on a food friendly style.”
If you find New Zealand sauvignon blanc at bit too zesty, but want more fruit than French whites from the Loire Valley or white Bordeaux, try one of these (or another) from Chile. You may just find your summer house white.
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