Root: 1 Casablanca Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Tasting Notes
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Root: 1 Casablanca Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Tasting Notes

Chile's cool vine growing regions like the Casablanca Valley have long promised to give New Zealand's Marlborough a run for its money in New World Sauvignon Blanc, but Chile has been forced to take its time in the white wine department, largely because of confusion as to which grapes were genuine Sauvignon Blanc, and which simply looked like Sauvignon Blanc. As recently as 1991, an exposé claimed that Chilean “Sauvignon Blanc” contained, at best, 10% of the real thing; the rest of the grapes were in fact Sémillon and “Sauvignonasse,” a grape with the right letter combinations but a paltry aromatic profile (as it is in fact genetically unrelated to Sauvignon Blanc) . The more diligent Chilean growers brought in help from France (presumably during the French off season a hemisphere away) in a largely successful effort to stamp out the nasties and promulgate an authentic Sauvignon Blanc viticulture.

Time, effort, patience and expense are worth putting into Chilean winemaking, since the long, narrow country is as ideal a place for the vine as any on earth. The winemaker can choose both latitude and altitude, access plenty of water from the Andes when needed and be free of the water when it is not required. Macro-climates, meso-climates and micro-climates abound, with many regions, especially in the country's less populous and cooler south, yet to be explored. What's more (or less), the phylloxera pest, which challenged and threatened nearly all the world's wine regions, is unknown in this isolated vino-paradise. Chilean winemakers are free to use ungrafted rootstocks in their vineyards, saving a tricky, complicated, and expensive step most other wine growers now take for granted.

Hence the context for Root: 1, “The Original Ungrafted,” an $11 wine that takes its name from the winemaker's (and in fact the entire country's) freedom to use ungrafted rootstocks. The jury is still out as to whether the ability to skip the grafting step results in a better wine—the answer would be relevant only on a grape-by-grape, region-by-region basis anyway—but the connotation of purity is clear, and explained in detail on the wine's striking Bordeaux-style bottle.

The visual of the wine itself in the glass is as satisfying as the visual of that bottle: pale straw with greenish reflections when you swirl it in the light. The wine has a mineral edge that makes the nose dig in to do some real work. The first fruit on the nose is lime, then grapefruit rind. In the mouth the wine is dry, obviously unoaked, with a punchy tartness, more citrus, and some tropical notes of mango, pineapple, kiwi and melon, all tempered by fresh asparagus. The finish is satisfyingly fruity and very clean, maintaining the minerality along with the fruit acidity to the end. From a holistic point of view, from bottle to glass to nose to taste to finish, the Root: 1 has something of a nervy edge. It's also very good wine.

Verdict: Market ready
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A distinctive Chilean style of Sauvignon Blanc has been long in coming. It will take a solid core of winemakers to develop the style in the years to come.

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award


landscape in Casablanca Vally, Chile
Fogs from the Pacific's icy Humboldt current cool Chile's Casablanca Valley wine region.

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