The Back Story:
You just unwittingly signed yourself up for a geology and geography lesson, ladies and gents! The 2008 Cono Sur Riesling, grown in the Bio Bio Valley in southern Chile, is a fantastic case study in the benefits of growing certain varietals in certain areas. Though, based solely on geography, Chile’s climate should match that of the Mediterranean countries, the cool Pacific Ocean greatly tempers the heat and humidity you would expect in that area.
Comprising a rather long swatch of South America’s west coast, Chile’s wine-growing land actually compares to that of the varied climates of the west coast of the United States. Varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese, Malbec, and Viognier thrive in the various regions here. For today’s lesson, though, we’re going to focus on this wine’s home in southern Chile. If you’re interested in an in-depth study of all of Chile’s wine regions, check Trekking Chile.
The Bio Bio Valley benefits from both its ample supply of volcanic soil and its situation at the southern end of South America: the longer, cooler days and red clay, acidic soil lend themselves very nicely to highly acidic and long-ripened fruits, allowing white wines such as Riesling to fully develop the optimal characteristics of their terroir. Chilean viticultural practices have also progressed to the point where they’ve learned to control their yields, meaning higher quality vintages are becoming more commonplace.
Why is volcanic soil considered so beneficial to wine growing in this region? The volcanic soil from deep in the earth is composed of pure, earth-abundant minerals — all other components would have been burned away during lava formation. This allows the chemical weathering process, where water and atmospheric gases such as carbon dioxide, oxygen, and hydrogen interact with the soluble minerals in igneous rock, to create young, fresh volcanic loam that hasn’t yet been depleted of its nutrients. A more in-depth description of the processes of weathering and erosion is available in my old textbook, about halfway down the page. God bless Virginia Tech and their cost-cutting via online textbooks!
The nose of the wine is very appealing. It is very floral with notes of lemon peel. Despite the high alcohol content, the nose suggests a fantastic balance.
The mouth feel of the wine is very pleasant and tangy, with a firm bite that you can feel in your jaws. I thoroughly enjoyed the feeling.
The flavor of the wine is on par with the rest of its characteristics. It was very dry and tart, with a delicate, white floral overtone and a distinct note of grapefruit. There’s a strong mineral on the mid-palate and a slightly long apple finish. The acidity is rather high (7.42 g/ l), and it might encroach upon the flavor just a little bit, but the residual sugar (8.8 g / l) and alcohol (13.5%) are just high enough to balance it all out. The result is a medium-bodied, potent wine that offers a very active and lively experience.
For the Casual Drinker:
This isn’t the dessert-wine style of Riesling you might be expecting. This is very dry (the acidity keeps it from being even off-dry) and not very fruity. The primary flavors are floral and citrus-y, and there’s a distinct mineral characteristic that jumps from the mid-palate. This wine would be fine to drink on its own, but I think it would really shine with a more flavorful seafood or chicken dish. Just make sure it’s not too spicy.
The 2008 Cono Sur Riesling is a nice change of pace from the more syrupy Rieslings and Viogniers I recently found myself drinking on a whim. I’ve been getting back into the drier, non-fruity whites, and this is a prime example of the kind of wine I’d be looking for in those regards. For under $10, this is a great purchase. 7/10
For another take on this wine, check out Palate Match. They found the Riesling to be a little too sweet for the flavor but also liked the acidity.