Chilean wine and other things I don’t understand
by Geordie Clarke
I was listening to the radio while still in bed last weekend and they were talking about how, in the year 775, gamma rays blasted the earth with a heavy dose of radiation.
How did they figure this out, the interviewer asked? It wasn’t from eye-witness accounts, because people wouldn’t have even noticed it.
It also wasn’t from catastrophic damage caused by the radiation, because it didn’t plunge the world into a nuclear winter, nor did it blow away the ozone layer or cause people to grow extra limbs, so there was little evidence of it even happening.
Turns out the scientists found clues by looking at tree rings. And then, in order to find an answer to this, they determined it was caused by two black holes that had collided with each other.
Despite these explanations, I still don’t understand how they figured out that this happened at all. Or how two colliding black holes would have done it. Even more mind-blowing was the fact the entire Earth would have been fried to a crisp had it happened less than 3,000 light years away.
But, then again, I can’t even figure out why bread from Sainsbury’s toasts faster than bread from Waitrose. You can understand, then, why my brain nearly imploded when I heard this cosmic revelation.
Another thing I’ve never really been able to understand is Chilean wine. Or maybe I just don’t get along with it. Whatever it is, I’ve always felt most of the wine from the South American country has tasted vaguely of what I might want to drink, but not actually having enough character to be memorable or worth my time.
So, with those concerns in mind, this past weekend I opened a sample bottle I had been sent. It was a Montes Outer Limits Sauvignon Blanc 2011.
When it comes to typical sauvignon blanc, most of the time I expect one of two things to happen. On the one hand, it will be pungent and grassy with plenty of acidity like those from New Zealand. On the other hand, if it’s from, say, the Loire, it will be a little more restrained and offer up citrus aromas with a drier, more mineral and flinty mouthfeel, hitting the back of my throat with its dryness and acidity. I particularly enjoy that.
And then there is Chilean sauvignon blanc. In this particular case, that bottle of Montes Outer Limits. Its faux-weathered label featuring scrawled text and a figure that looks like a drifter certainly lived up to this wine’s ‘do-anything’ new world attitude.
But its contents confused me. It was a lot like the first time I walked into a French public toilet and, rather than find a familiar porcelain toilet, I found the flush equivalent of a hole in the floor staring back at me. This wasn’t what I was after.
To be fair to this wine, and a lot of Chilean wine in general, the problem is probably more with me and not the wine. I expect a certain type of wine when it comes to sauv blanc that isn’t always going to be met.
So, as expected, this one had that gooseberry/cat urine smell, much like Kiwi sauv blanc. It also seemed to have a spritz or a fizz to it, but then it mellowed down into tropical fruits (pineapple, passion fruit, etc) and a fairly round finish. It seemed full and fruity, but it didn’t whack the back of my throat with acidity or minerality, which disappointed me slightly.
It was good, sure, but it wasn’t a wine I’d seek out again. Something was missing. It just seemed a bit too easy. And I am not someone who likes easy. If I liked easy, I would take the train or the bus to work each day. Or even ride my bike. Instead I choose to walk, which takes an hour, because it’s less easy than the other options. I would crawl on my hands and knees, but I don’t have all day.
When it comes to sauv blanc, I want a wine with a real character, not something that tries to taste a little like New Zealand and a little like France, which is what so much Chilean wine seems to be about. And I’m a bit tired of the cat wee smell the Kiwi stuff gives off. My housemate’s cats already do their bit to fill my world with the hum of feline pee, so its presence in my wine is overkill.
Mostly, I like my sauvignon blanc in the spirit of something like, say, Domaine Michel Thomas Sancerre. Call me old school. Call me boring. Call me set in my ways.