Today is my favorite day of the month, Wine Blogging Wednesday. It’s one day each month when wine bloggers around the world all blog about a common theme. Today the official theme is North Versus South, which is intended to be a theme that gives bloggers some latitude with how they bring it to life. My version on this theme is Chile Versus California. You may recall the Wine Blogging Wednesday I hosted a few months ago highlighting affordable red wines from Chile. Speaking of hosts, I should mention that Rémy at The Wine Case is the host of this month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday and will be posting a summary of all the blogs that participate.
I have an affinity for Chilean wines and Californian wines, so I found the idea of this head to head challenge quite interesting. And the results surprised me. In short, Chile kicked California’s bootie in many ways… but not every way.
The challenge included both red and white wines. One Sauvignon Blanc from Lake County, California versus one from Casablanca Valley in Chile; and two Merlots from Alexander Valley, California versus two from Colchagua Valley, Chile.
The tasting for this challenge was done blind and included a tasting panel to get reactions from average consumers—who almost unanimously preferred the Chilean wines. I also challenged everyone to blindly pick which they thought were Californian versus Chilean and most participants—myself included—got this wrong with the Merlot. The Chilean Merlot was big, fruit-forward and very tasty and I was sure that it was characteristic of Alexandar Valley Merlot, but I was wrong.
While the the Chilean Merlots had somewhat of a “shock and awe” effect with how big and juicy they are, at least one from California I found to be very good and more elegant than the Chilean challengers—although definitely not as powerful.
Here are the results. While I’ve included a couple comments from other tasters, these reflect my tasting notes and ratings.
Hess Lake County Sauvignon Blanc (California)
The nose is a classic Sauvignon Blanc with green pepper and loads of tropical fruit aromas such as pineapple, melon and lime. The palate falls off a bit in terms of fruit, compared to the nose. The palate is mostly citrus and while the acid is definitely noticeable it doesn’t really have the crisp acidity I expect from a SB. It seems like they softened this with malolactic fermentation and I’m wishing that they hadn’t. One taster called it a “Sauvignon Blanc for someone who prefers Chardonnay.”
Variety: Sauvignon Blanc
Errazuriz Estate Sauvignon Blanc (Chile)
This is distinctly different from the Hess. The nose is predominantly grassy with a floral/pollen aroma complemented with melon, banana and flinty mineral. Spend some time exploring the bouquet on this wine as it seems to evolve and get much more interesting as it opens up. The palate has much more of the crisp acidity I want from a SB, compared to the Hess. The dominant flavors are citrus and it evolves on your palate into granny smith apple and honeydew melon with a nice long finish.
Wine: Errazuriz Estate
Variety: Sauvignon Blanc
Goode-Ready Alexandar Valley Merlot (California)
The aromas on this Merlot are interesting, but it falls off on the palate. The nose has a rather spicy, red raspberry, plum and cedar aromas. It’s an enjoyable bouquet, but the palate is rather thin. It has mostly plum, pine and very subtle blackberry. There’s not a lot of fruit in this Merlot. The tannins are good, but in general the palate is a little off balance.
Wine: Murphy-Goode, Goode-Ready
Montes Classic Series Merlot (Chile)
There’s nothing subtle about this Merlot, the nose is big, full and fruity. There are mineral, cinnamon, plum and blackberry aromas making an interesting and complex bouquet. The palate is very good, with lots of plum and blackberry. It has great mouth feel, with full flavor and silky tannins. The finish is long and brings some cocoa characteristics.
A friend of mine analogizes Cabernet Sauvignon to a chiseled, muscular guy, and Merlot to a round/rotund guy. This particular Merlot seems to have both the muscles and the fat. It’s a very good Merlot and was a favorite for a few tasters.
Wine: Montes Classic Series
MontGras Reserva Merlot (Chile)
I really need to start taking pictures of these bottles before I get wine all over them.
Smoky smokiness is the first thing I noticed about this wine. Plum and bacon may be the best way to describe the bouquet. There is also some cassis. The palate is full of abundant ripe fruit. It is very well structured. It finishes a little quicker than the Montes, but is still quite good. The tannins are rich, giving this a nice mouth feel also. It’s a very good wine.
Wine: MontGras Reserva Merlot
Alexander Valley Vineyards Merlot (California)
This is a fantastic Merlot. It’s structured and interesting. The nose is very perfumey and brings lots of intensity. It has aromas of clove, violets, dark cherry and raspberry. The palate is full and concentrated, with abundant ripe cherry and raspberry, along with some licorice and black pepper. The tannins are silky smooth and the acid is good. There is a lot of depth and character to this wine and it will definitely go down as one of my favorites.
It’s not a big as either of the Chilean wines, but I found it to be more elegant. While the Chilean wine had a lot more fruit, this one features more floral and herbal tones that make it interesting—not just big.
Wine: Alexander Valley Vineyards