Prisma, which is Spanish for “prism,” is a good representative of Chilean coastal Sauvignon Blanc, wine that has been getting excellent reviews, yet seems almost undiscovered because of its bargain prices. I find Prisma regularly on sale for less than $10.
Like many other successful wine ventures, Chilean Sauvignon Blanc started getting global attention relatively recently, after one of the country’s best winemakers gambled on planting vines in an area that other producers considered too risky for quality wine grapes.
Pablo Morande, who was the winemaker for Concha y Toro, bought property on his own and planted Sauvignon Blanc on the coastal side of the Andes, in the Casablanca Valley. Prior to that, Chilean producers had been growing the grapes in vineyards between the mountains in the interior of the country, and the quality of the wines had been spotty.
Morande found that strong, cool breezes blowing off of the cold Pacific Ocean relieved the stress on the vines caused by the hot, dry climate. Those weather conditions, along with the sandy, clay and rocky soil, were ideal for growing Sauvignon Blanc grapes that made excellent wine. It took the rest of the growers a while to realize what he’d done, and it wasn’t until 1996 that Morande would open his own winery.
According to the company’s website, Morande’s aim was to produce innovative wines of great quality, and he set his sights on building one of the top 10 wineries in the country. Judging by the ratings of his wines, he’s reached his goal.
To some of us, those who don’t bother to try to understand such things as light refraction, a prism is a bit mysterious, albeit cool. Prisma Sauvignon Blanc also seems to have a slight veil of enigma about it. It’s not clear from the website or the label on the bottle who produces the wine. Vina Morande’s award-winning winemaker, Ricardo Baettig, makes Prisma and the grapes are grown in Morande’s estate vineyards.
To clear things up, I got in touch with Brian Ravitsky with Brazos Wine Imports in Brooklyn, the company that brings Prisma into the U.S. He confirmed the connection between the two businesses. Prisma is produced by Morande, which “is a big winery that operates as multiple smaller wineries,” he said.
Prisma is made from 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc grapes grown in the Lo Ovalle subregion of the Casablanca Valley. The juice is fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks. The unoaked wine has flavors and aromas of lemon, lime and grapefruit combined with a mineral undertone, leading to a crisp, elegant and well-balanced finish, the winemaker’s tasting notes say.
One of the nice things about Sauvignon Blanc, beyond its refreshing nature, is that you can’t paint all the wines from different areas with the same brush. Sauvignon Blanc varies greatly depending on where the grapes are grown and the styles and techniques of the winemakers.
For example, Sauvignon Blancs from Bordeaux and the Loire region are generally known for a balanced elegance with subtle flavors and aromas, while those from other European countries and the New World have a host of other flavors, many quite distinctive.
New World Sauvignon Blanc has gained in popularity in recent years because of its recognizable, piercing aroma, characteristics often described as herbaceous and musky, redolent of green fruits, nettles and “tomcats,” Jancis Robinson writes in The Oxford Companion to Wine.
Someone who knows wine once told me that he couldn’t stand the immensely popular New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc because it smelled like tomato plants, an odor that offended him. I’m very fond of the Kiwi wine, which has grapefruit flavors so bright and strong that it seemingly could be mixed with gin and served in a salt-rimmed glass as a Salty Dog, not that I would ever do that. I also grow a lot of tomatoes and don’t mind the smell.
Prisma and other Chilean Sauvignon Blancs are a balance between the French wines and those from New Zealand, offering something that is lacking in Kiwi wines — restraint and subtlety, wine writer Andre Proulx noted in a recent article in Quench, a Montreal-based food and wine magazine.
Prisma Sauvignon Blanc is widely available in Vermont, but, sadly, not in New Hampshire. However, the wine is well-worth the effort of a trip across the river to buy it.
Suggestions of wines in the $10 range are always appreciated. Warren Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.