Chile challenges

by Michael Cooper / 10 January, 2013
South American wines are giving us a run for our money.
Chile challenges

At major international competitions, New Zealand waltzes off with the trophies for the world’s best sauvignon blancs. Or does it?

The Decanter World Wine Awards was the largest international competition in 2012, attracting over 14,000 entries. So, which wine won the trophy for best sauvignon blanc over £10? Viña San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011.

At the International Wine & Spirit Competition 2011, also staged in the UK, the sauvignon blanc trophy went to Cono Sur 20 Barrels Limited Edition Sauvignon Blanc 2010. Both of these trophy-winning sauvignon blancs flowed from… Chile.

Marlborough is still performing strongly in overseas wine shows, which many top producers do not enter, but is it in danger of losing its reputation as the home of the world’s – or at the very least, the New World’s – best sauvignon blancs? Jancis Robinson, the prominent UK wine writer, complained a year ago: “To a large extent, sauvignon blanc is New Zealand wine – and irredeemably dreary much of it is, too.”

Winemaker Brian Bicknell, formerly of Seresin Estate, now runs Mahi winery in Marlborough. He has also worked for nearly 20 years as a consultant in Chile, where he believes “the quality of vines, grapes, wines and people has improved at a far greater pace than it has here in New Zealand”.

Philip Manson, general manager sustainability for New Zealand Winegrowers, says, “South American wines are now moving into the same space that we want to fill, so it’s important to understand the competition.”

At the Romeo Bragato technical conference in Blenheim last August, sauvignon blancs from Marlborough and Chile were tasted “blind”. The wines compared were of the same vintage and similar prices. According to the Marlborough Express, of the group of 80 experienced local tasters, half “could not tell the difference between Chilean and Marlborough sauvignon blanc…”

During the sleepless nights that followed, one thought must have comforted the region’s winegrowers. Their Chilean counterparts can’t put the word “Marlborough” on their labels.

Concha y Toro Frontera Sauvignon Blanc 2011
Very fresh and lively, this is a medium-bodied wine with passionfruit and lime flavours, a hint of grassiness and a crisp, dry finish. Good value at $12 (New World).


Montes Classic Series Sauvignon Blanc 2011
Grown in the Curico Valley, close to the Andes, this full-bodied, sweetfruited wine has fresh, ripe, tropical fruit flavours to the fore, crisp, dry and vibrant. $18.95 (Glengarry)
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