Chilean wine and other things I don’t understand


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.

Er, what?

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.

37 thoughts on “Chilean wine and other things I don’t understand

  1. What I’ve never understood is wine tasting – you’d laugh your head off if I told you the one wine I use, both for drinking and cooking (everything) – –

    But I sure did enjoy your thoughts on gamma rays, scientific study and sharing of the wine tasting experience!

    Glad you got Freshly Pressed, so I could find my way here! Congrats!

  2. I am fascinated by reviews of wine tastings. Those that I favour are those that encouage me to sample a particular offering and guide me on what to look for, both merits and faults. It is a difficult task, both to write a good review and to read a bad one. The real fun begins after the review. The real fun in wine is the tasting. I will not be sampling this one in part thanks to your review. Your words have left me not but the expectation of savouring cat piss. There will be no fun left for me after reading your thoughts on this one. There is no use in me adjusting my computer monitor either. It is you who controls the transmission.

  3. Hmmm… wondered about your reference to New Zealand wines, but then I see you live in the UK and have a wider access to world wines than a lot of people in other countries. I tend to agree that French and look-alike NZ white wines are a little on the dry side, personally prefer fruity full bodied flavours, South African and Southern Australian wines fill the position very well. On a recent trip to Maui almost the only wines available at a reasonable price were Chilean or Californian but was disappointed on both counts. Cheers!
    I can’t believe the gamma ray theory. Gamma rays are so active they pass through solid objects without a trace and penetrate to the centre of the earth, which is why radiation dose from nuclear medicine studies are so very much lower than ordinary X-ray studies – a nice try.

  4. Sauv Blancs in so many places are trying to be something new, while being something totally different. This causes a lack of personality because it’s just an attempt at re-inventing mimicry. So many producers in Spain, New Zealand and Chile, are competing for ‘new market’ placement, that there is a lot of pressure to use non native yeasts to affect the end result, and I’ve found that they can cause some of that aroma you’ve found.
    One of the loveliest Sauv Blancs I’ve had recently actually from Saint Bris in Burgundy. Have you ever tried one? They’re, to my knowledge, supposed to be the only one that can bottle Sauv Blanc under their specific appellation. Cheers!

  5. You’re set in your ways 🙂

    As a Kiwi I would not knock French wines, although I do not particularly like their Sav Blancs, I sorta agree about the Chilean, although you rarely get a dud but hey, there are so many NZ sav blancs and they do taste different, some far more buttery than acidy to my mind.

    Cat wee? having had a cat pee in my suitcase years ago I know I’d rather have had a bottle of Wither Hills tipped in there any day.


  6. I haven’t gotten into Chilean wine –I’m a nationalist: I support the wine industry here in Canada. Wine from British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley or blackberry wine from Vancouver Island. Then there the Ontario wines which I haven’t had for a long time. Wines don’t cross into B.C. territory nor Alberta much at all.

    Besides I get drunk on alcoholic drinks easily. Oh well. No, I don’t spit out wine: I’m cheap when I taste. ….Or I appreciate the winery’s cost of offering the wine tasting for free!

  7. Have you ever tried Concha y Toro? I’ve only tried their Malbec and I enjoyed it-interested to know what youd think

  8. Love the final part about Chavignol Sancerre – I think it is the best, most genuine and less pretentious of all Sauvignons with generation after generation of artisan skills and knowledge passed down. Domain Hubert Brochard, also from humble Chavignol, rocks my wine world as does his 3 daughters more humbler Carisanne range.

  9. Funny, I like S. American Wines. I especially like this year’s Savignon Blanc from Root1. I don’t get excited over Sav from any other region. I also prefer Argentine Malbec to Chillean Carmenere… Interesting, though. I have never tried Outer Limits.

  10. Pingback: Blog post of the day « You Think You Know

  11. The way my brother explained the toast thing to me, it’s about sugar content. Higher sugar content breads toast faster (and sometimes even go directly from ‘raw’ to ‘burnt to a crisp’ if you turn your back for an instant). Apparently that’s why I could never make good raisin toast. Some things weren’t meant to be.

  12. Reblogged this on sips in the city and commented:
    This is what real wine reviews look like. If you sit around and sip wine thinking these deep thoughts you are not going to fit in around here at all. You, my friend, you belong at the grown ups table this Easter. May the force be with you!

  13. Wine tasting is a very individual skill.To be truly objective the wine Must be tasted totally blind.The moment the taster knows the price,country,grape etc
    the tasters own prefreces bias sub conciously comes into play.the reviews title says it all in the review of this wine.Tasted blind in my opinion chilean or new zealand sav blanc is better value more injoyable than French.Although ive not tasted this particular wine i know and trust montes wines as some of the best value wines in the world{totally blind tasted}
    Cat pee i cetainly dont get!

  14. Pingback: Gruner veltliner: I still don’t get it | Dispatches from a grape nut

  15. Pingback: On junk science and Chilean wine | Dispatches from a grape nut

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