What words come to mind when you think of Sauvignon Blanc?
Although these flavours are stereotypically associated with Sauvignon Blanc, you may be surprised to know that there can be huge variations in different productions of one of the world’s most popular white wines.
Numerous countries produce Sauvignon Blanc, including France, the USA, South Africa – even Spain and Italy. The resulting wine from each country has its own subtle differences. However, here at Clara we think that one of the best illustrations of the variations in Sauvignon Blanc comes when you compare one wine from New Zealand and another from Chile.
New Zealand: a country of glacier-carved mountains, thermal springs, lakes and beaches. Home of the Kiwi bird and more Scottish pipe bands per capita than any other country in the world (yes, really!), New Zealand is an ideal location for those who enjoy action-packed adventure and exploring national parks.
Chile: located in South America, Chile’s impressive 4300km length gives way to a hugely varied climate. From the world’s driest desert, the Atacama, in the north, to an Alpine climate in the south. Home to five UNESCO world heritage sites, Chile is a country filled with history and culture.
These two countries are vastly different, so why would we expect their Sauvignon Blancs to be the same? Here’s your answer: they’re not! Let’s kick off this comparison by introducing an interesting concept from the world of wine…
The Concept of Terroir
Roughly translated in French as ‘sense of place’, terroir is an all-encompassing term for what makes a wine producing region unique. It’s based on a range of different features of each country, including soil, climate patterns and geographical features. We have terroir to thank for different countries producing different tasting wines.
Before we break things down a little more, let’s introduce our two wines. From New Zealand, we have the Ribbonwood Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016. From the Leyda Valley in Chile comes the Montes Limited Selection, Leyda Sauvignon Blanc 2015.
Now let’s take a closer look at where wine begins…
Row upon row of grape-bearing vines, the sun shining brightly above them, stretching out for miles. Sure, the temperature and soil varies from country to country, but that’s about it, right? Actually, no.
When it comes to planting grapes, it’s typically advised that they are planted in rows racing north and south. This allows them maximum access to the sun. However, the team at Ribbonwood in New Zealand do things a little differently, planting their vines in an east-west direction. This shades the south side of the row, reducing exposure to the sun and resulting in enhanced gooseberry aromatics in the fruit.
In the Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, the grapes are grown in vineyards in Leyda. Nestled away in Chile’s coastal mountain range, sea breezes and ocean mist temper the hot summers of the region. The days are filled with plenty of sunlight and low humidity, whilst fog drifts in during the evening. The grapes therefore ripen at a slower pace, allowing for greater development of aromas and fruity flavours. The resulting fruit is highly aromatic with racy acidity, minerality and touch of savouriness.
Unsurprisingly, the weather that comes before harvesting has an impact on the resulting wine. The grapes for both Sauvignon Blancs were harvested in mid-March, right at the end of the countries summer seasons.
After initially low rainfall, the Ribbonwood team experienced rain in early January which broke the drought. Combined with above-average temperatures, occasional showers in March and a typical Marlborough Indian summer (how lucky are they?) the grapes achieved full ripeness come harvesting time in March.
In Chile, there was plenty of water available, but less sunlight than in New Zealand. A relatively clear, but slightly warmer than usual, February followed a cloudy January. The balmy temperatures of February allowed for the fruit to be picked in mid-March when the grape skins were crisp and aromatic, containing the perfect sugar and acidity levels.
Vinification is wine jargon for the process of turning grapes into wine! The process of vinification varies depending on the type of wine being produced but variations can also be seen between producers.
The New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is produced in a modern Marlborough style, with multiple lots being fermented in individual tanks of varying sizes. As a result, this offers a multitude of picking times, yeast strains and temperatures. As a result, there are plenty of options to produce an optimal blend and the finest wine.
In the Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, the grapes are cold soaked at 10°C for 6-12 hours to extract the aromas. They’re then fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks for two weeks. The Montes team also keep the wine in contact with its lees (sediment) to add roundness on the palate.
By now you’re probably thinking: “I get it! A Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand is not produced in the same way as a Sauvignon Blanc from Chile!” But maybe you still have some doubts that the variations in production actually have that big a difference on the resulting taste of the wine? In actuality, we’d be surprised if you had a glass of each of them and thought that they were both Sauvignon Blancs.
The New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc offers a fresh herbal aroma with underlying hints of ripe citrus. The enhanced gooseberry flavours that come from planting the vines in an east-west direction come into play on the palate, complemented by herbal flavours and mineral tones. The wine is rounded off by an acidic backbone that makes the wine supple and satisfying.
By contrast, the Chilean Leyda Valley Sauvignon Blanc offers more tropical aromatics of pineapple, white peach and passionfruit combined with floral and citrusy notes. There’s even a hint of asparagus on the nose too. The Chilean Sauvignon Blanc is lighter than its New Zealand counterpart with a fresh and crisp palate and a long, enjoyable finish.
Two Sauvignon Blancs. Two different countries. The same resulting taste and experience? Absolutely not.
In fact, such is the difference between these two wines that they both reside in different Clara wine tribes. The Chilean Sauvignon Blanc sits firmly in the Lushter tribe, home to wines which have a sense of decadence and tropical vibes. The New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc belongs to the Sleekster tribe, for those who prefer their wines lean and crisp with fresh citrus, pear, apple and gooseberry fruits.