Wines from Casablanca Valley (Chile)

First planted in the early 1980s, the Casablanca (ka-sa-BLAHN-ka) Valley sits northwest of Santiago along a dry area of Pacific coastline on the western side of the Coastal Range. Only 18 kilometers / 11 miles from the coast, Casablanca is well known as one of Chile’s premier cool-climate regions, as its growing conditions are directly impacted by the sea. Heavy, cool fog enters in the evening and does not burn off until early afternoon, adding to the region’s already cool temperatures.

Although varied, soils are comprised of clay over a decomposed granite base in the flat areas and granite pebbles and sand on the hills. Further, since no major rivers run through Casablanca, the loose quality of the ancient soils allows vines to penetrate and establish deep root systems, which affords the resulting wines greater subtlety.

Casablanca can be informally divided into three sub-areas, all of which experience varying exposure to the sea’s influence:

  • Lower Casablanca sits on the lowest lying land in the far west of the region. The center of Casablanca’s production, it has the greatest exposure to ocean winds and is therefore the coolest. To draw a distinction: the region is less impacted by the sea’s temperature-stabilizing effects than neighboring San Antonio — another exceptional region for cool-climate style wines — so it experiences greater daily swings in temperature (slightly warmer days and slightly cooler nights).
  • Upper Casablanca sits at the highest elevation on the eastern edge of the region. The least impacted by the sea, it gets the greatest amount of sunshine and experiences the widest daily fluctuations in temperature.
  • Central Casablanca has a mix of the conditions experienced in the Upper and Lower sub-areas.
Map of Chile’s wine regions

Map of Chile’s wine regions

White Wines of the Casablanca Valley

Casablanca has built a reputation for attractively-priced whites that are simple, fruity, and crisp, perfect for everyday consumption.

However, more recently, there is a new class of white wines emerging that is serious and very high quality. Further, they continue to hit attractive price points, making them tremendous values.

  • For the absolute best wines in this elite category, go with those based on sauvignon blanc, some of the best in Chile.
  • The bar is also similarly being raised for chardonnay; excellent steely versions prevail.
  • Aside from its two focus varieties, Casablanca is actively exploring a number of new white grape varieties, including riesling, viognier, and gewürztraminer, all of which have the potential to yield interesting results in the cooler temperatures.

Red Wines of the Casablanca Valley

While Casablanca’s cooler climate has led its innovative winemakers to focus on white wines, there are still some high quality reds being made.

  • Syrah is a variety of particular interest, delivering consistent, complex wines, packed with spice and herbs.
  • Cabernet sauvignon also yields respectable results in a cool-climate style.
  • Finally, in a very positive development, pinot noir is beginning to yield good results from select vineyards in cooler Lower Casablanca. Executed in an Old World style, they are the region’s most exciting new wines.

Learn about the wines of Chile with Approach Guides wine app for iPhone and iPad. The app profiles all of Chile’s winemaking regions, grape varieties, appellations, and vintages, giving you everything you need to know to choose a wine that meets your preferences.

Eating Jamon? Reach for a Cava (Catalunya, Spain)

There a few wines that pair as well as cava sparkling wine and Spain’s famous jamon iberico (click for a detailed guide to jamon iberico).

Map of Spain's wine regions

Map of Spain’s wine regions

Region: Catalunya

Created in 1959, Cava — named for the underground caves in which the wines are crafted — produces Spain’s premier sparkling wines.

  • Vineyards. The production zone is spread out across 159 municipalities in the provinces of Barcelona (63), Tarragona (52), Lleida (12), Girona (5), La Rioja (18), Alava (3), Zaragoza (2), Navarra (2), Valencia (1) and Badajoz (1). That said, 95% is produced in the area between Tarragona and Barcelona, with most cultivation occurring at 200-300 meters in elevation around the city of Sant Sadurní di Anoia in Penedès Central, roughly 20-25 kilometers from the Mediterranean.
  • Soils. Soils are generally sandy and rocky clay over a limestone base.
  • Climate. Although there is fair degree of variation given the expansive landscape over which vines are cultivated, for the most part the climate is warm, wet and Mediterranean.

Cava: Catalunya’s Sparkling White Wine

Cava is based chiefly on the traditional Catalunyan white grape triad consisting of xarel-lo, macabeo and parellada: xarel-lo provides the structuring body and almond flavor notes; macabeo the crisp acidity and herbaceous edge; and parellada the soft, creamy finish.

Although Cava sparklers use different grape varieties, the production method is the same as with French Champagne (méthode Champenoise), in that the wine undergoes its secondary, bubble-creating fermentation in the bottle (rather than in large pressure tanks, as with Italy’s prosecco). As far as a comparison versus France’s Champagnes: while they exhibit similar gentle fruit flavors, good body and underlying creaminess, they are more approachable due to their lower relative acidity.

Cava sparklers spend a minimum of nine months aging on their lees, which affords their flavor profiles greater complexity; after 18 months, wines can be labeled as reserva; after 30 months, they can be labeled as gran reserva.

Best of all: Cavas are the most attractively priced sparkling wines in the world. That said, we recommend opting for the driest available versions — Brut Nature (0-3 grams per liter of residual sugar) or Extra Brut (3-6 grams per liter of residual sugar) — as they best express Cava’s true terroir, showcasing crisp acidity and good minerality.

Learn about the wines of Spain with Approach Guides wine app for iPhone and iPad. The app profiles all of Spain’s winemaking regions, grape varieties, appellations, and vintages, giving you everything you need to know to choose a wine that meets your preferences.

Yountville AVA in Napa Valley (with map)

The Napa Valley, with 15 additional “nested” AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) over 45,000 planted acres, is one of the premier wine producing regions in America. One of its most famous AVAs is Yountville, located in the center of the Valley. Yountville was the place where Napa Valley’s first vineyards were planted (1836) and is now the home to gastronomic destinations like The French Laundry and Bottega Ristorante.

Map of Napa Valley wine regions

Map of Napa Valley’s wine regions

About Yountville AVA (Napa, California)

Located in the center of the Napa Valley, the Yountville AVA (sea level to 1100 ft above sea level) experiences very balanced temperatures: it is modestly warmer than the Carneros and Oak Knoll AVAs to its south, but cooler than the Oakville, Rutherford, and St. Helena AVAs its north.

This balanced temperature profile gives Yountville’s cabernet sauvignon — cabernet dominates the AVA’s production at nearly 70% of total — a very distinctive profile. Yountville cabernets are more subtle, gentle and reserved than those from the warmer AVAs; however, they have a greater polish than the harder, earthier versions from the cooler AVAs. Tannins are hard and acidity levels are good. Yountville: an appellation with wines in harmony!

The Yountville AVA also produces quality merlot.

Learn about American wines with Approach Guides wine app for iPhone and iPad. The app profiles many American winemaking regions, grape varieties, appellations, and vintages, giving you everything you need to know to choose a wine that meets your preferences.