Sauvignon Blanc Day on Friday

 

The first Friday in May is International Sauvignon Blanc day, so here’s a little background to help you prepare for the festivities.

Sauvignon Blanc is a white grape that originated in France, where it is  still widely planted in the Loire Valley and Bordeaux .  However, it has also become popular in many New World wine regions, such as Chile, South Africa, and California, but especially New Zealand, where it has become their most widely planted grape.

Sauvignon Blanc is a dry, white wine, with high acidity.  It is often described as crisp and refreshing, and it is one of my favorite wines for summer.  I find Sauvignon Blanc easy to drink on its own, but with its herbal and mineral qualities, it also makes an excellent pairing for fresh vegetables, salads,  fish/seafood, sushi,  and raw oysters.

Common fruit flavors for Sauvignon Blanc are lime (and other citrus), honeydew melon, green apple, and peach.  Additionally, Sauvignon Blanc is known for strong non-fruit flavors such as fresh grass, bell pepper, and chalky minerals.

 

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Malbec World Day

 

IMG_20170417_220643_193April 17th was designated as Malbec World Day in 2011 by Wines of Argentia to commemorate the day in 1853, when president Domingo Faustino Sarmiento declared his mission to revive and expand the Argentinian wine market.  Sarmiento sought the expertise of a French soil expert, Michel Pouget, who brought over a selection of vines, including some Malbec.  In France, Malbec was mainly used for blending, because the thin-skinned grapes were highly susceptible to frost, disease and rot.  However, in the drier climate of Mendoza, Argentina, the Malbec vines thrived.  The warmth in Argentina brought out a more fruit-forward flavor in the wines, in contrast to the strong tannins of the French Malbecs.  For many years, the Malbec varietal was only common within Argentina, but in the early 2000s, the popularity started to spread due to its easy drinkability and bargain price.  Malbec wine is often described as both juicy, with flavors of cherries, plums, and berries (blackberries/raspberries), and bold, with flavors like smoke/tobabbo, leather, and black pepper.   Despite their thin skin, Malbec grapes are a dark purple color, which leads to nearly opaque wine with a deep purple/red color.  Malbecs pair well with earthy or smokey foods (BBQ anyone?) or strong flavors, like funky cheese.  Happy Malbec World Day!

 

Winery Visits – Chile

Besides helping with the harvest at Viña Alpa, I took advantage of my time in Chile to visit several other wineries: Viña Cousiño MaculConcha y Toro, and Kingston Family Vineyards.  The first two were just outside of Santiago in the Maipo Valley, and the third was in the Casablanca Valley.   The Maipo Valley was one of the first wine regions in Chile, and it is known for Cabernet Sauvignon.  This is the specialty of Cousiño Macul, and their Cabernet Sauvignon is highly regarded throughout the world.

Both Cousiño Macul and Concha y Toro are old vineyards that were started in the 1800s and have continued to grow and expand.  Today, Concha y Toro is the largest wine producer in Chile and is actually one of the largest in the world.  I visited the original Maipo facility, but they now have vineyards throughout Chile.

The third vineyard, Kingston Family Vineyard, is a much smaller vineyard in the Casablanca Valley that has only been in the wine business since the late 1990s.  The Casablanca Valley had been established as a wine region for white grapes, especially Sauvignon Blanc, but Kingston partnered with some Californian vineyards and brought Pinot Noir to the region.

These three vineyards were all quite different and provided a nice intro to the breadth of the Chilean wine industry.  Chile has 12 wine regions, with a huge variation in climate and soil, so there is still so much more to see, and I need to plan another trip someday . . .

Grape Harvest at Viña Alpa

I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Viña Alpa during the grape harvest.  Viña Alpa is a small estate producer in the Coquimbo region of Chile.  This region is mostly known for Pisco production, but Viña Alpa focuses on red grapes such as Syrah, Carménère, and also has some small plots of Grenache and Mourvèdre.

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 Viña Alpa participates in the World Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms program to  recruit volunteers.  For this year’s harvest, there were six of us volunteering.  It was hard work, but the scenery was gorgeous.  We worked up and down the rows to hand snip the grape bunches off of the vine.  As we collected the grapes, the full buckets were transported up to the barn, where they were destemmed and crushed.  The juice and skins were funneled directly into tanks to begin fermenting.  

Winemaker Arnaud Faupin shared his expertise with us and taught us how to monitor the fermentation by measuring the temperature and the density.  The vineyard is organic and the wine-making is done with minimal use of electricity and machinery.  The results of this artisanal process are unique and delicious small batch wines, only available in Chile.

Chilean Pisco

DSC_0791 (1)Pisco is a brandy made by distilling grapes.  The brandy is produced in Peru and the northern regions of Chile and is most often made from the Pedro Jiménez, Torontel or Muscat grapes.  Chilean Pisco is usually aged in oak for several years, while most Peruvian Pisco is bottled straight out of the still.  There is a debate between the two countries as to who makes the better Pisco, as well as who can lay claim to the Pisco Sour as their national cocktail.   The recipe for a Chilean Pisco Sour is quite simple: pisco, lemon juice, and sugar, shaken vigorously with crushed ice, and optional bitters.  The Peruvian version uses lime juice and bitters, as well as an egg white for froth.  Although, I have not been to Peru, there are many Peruvian restaurants in Chile, so I able to try both styles…  They are both refreshing and perfect as an aperitif.  However,  I slightly prefer the Chilean style, without the egg-white foam.  ¡Salud!

 

Chilean Wine – A Brief History

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After WWII, Chilean wine production declined dramatically, and the Chilean exports were reduced to a few large producers.

However in the 1980s, there were changes in the government’s economic policies and a renewed interest from international wine makers, which started a resurgence of the wine industry in Chile.  One of the key international players was Spain’s Miguel Torres, who purchased a vineyard in Chile and introduced modern wine making technologies to the Chilean wine makers.  Torres was a key inspiration of Alfonso Chadwick Errázuriz of Vina Errázuriz, who spent a great deal of time in Europe to gain recognition for Chilean wine.  He organized the “Berlin Tasting” in 2004, which pitted prestigious French and Italian wines against 6 Chilean wines.  To the surprise of all, two of Errázuriz’s wine came in first and second place, beating out the famed Chateau Lafite.   Even with renewed international appreciation, the Chilean wine industry continued to be dominated by larger wineries such as Concha y Toro.  However,  recently there is a push to provide more opportunities for smaller, artisanal producers, with organizations such as MOVI and VIGNO.

In the coming weeks,  I will be traveling to Chile, and I hope to share with you much more insight and inspiration for drinking Chilean wines.  Salud!

Photo Credit: Food & Beverage Magazine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chilean Wine Varietals

 

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Chile has a long history of wine production, dating back to the 16th century, when the Spanish  colonists brought vitis vinifer.  Later various French varieties were imported, and in the 20th century, Chile established itself as an important player in the global wine market.  Vineyards can be found throughout the country, growing both red and white grapes.  The most common varietals are:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Merlot
  • Chardonnay
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Carménère
  • Syrah
  • Pinot Noir
  • Carignan

Although Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely planted grape,  Carménère has become the signature grape of Chile.  Originally a French variety, it was believed to have been lost during the  phylloxera epidemic in Europe, but was rediscovered in Chile in the 1990s.  You can read more about Carménère in last year’s April Grape of the Month post.

For more information about Chilean Wine…

http://www.seriouseats.com/2015/07/beginners-guide-to-chilean-wine.html

http://www.winesofchile.org/en/wineries-trade-ted

http://www.chilean-wine.com/chileanwinecountry/

http://www.jancisrobinson.com/learn/wine-regions/chile

http://www.winemag.com/gallery/understanding-chiles-wine-regions/

http://winefolly.com/review/the-best-wines-to-try-from-chile/