New Kids on the Block

Chilean Sauvignon Blanc grapes.

A few days ago, I found a couple of recent additions in the modest wine section of our local supermarket. I first noticed the label, which shows a large colourful image of a musical note set at a jaunty angle. British musicians call this note a semi-quaver, or as the Americans would have it, a sixteenth note. You may know already that in music notation, the shape of a note tells us how long it lasts in relation to the others. The semiquaver is a comparatively short note and in many pieces of music, the shortest of them all. The wine-and-music connection goes further, or at least it did in my mind. The wine is called La Vida, which immediately brought to mind the opera La Vida Breve by the Spanish composer Manual de Falla.

The libretto is in the Andalusian dialect and the title translates as “Life is short”. The opera was completed in 1905 and has the distinction of being short too – it lasts only an hour though it’s rarely performed these days. It seems that the wine label is hinting at the fact that “life is short” which seems a curious message for a wine label. But perhaps I am reading into it something which isn’t there, or else I have missed the point entirely. It has been known.

Anyway, both these wines are from Siam Winery, the people who also bring us Mont Clair, Peter Vella, Mar Y Sol and many other popular bands. To my mind, these two La Vida wines are extremely well-made with interesting aromas and characteristic taste profiles. And for the moment at least, they’re cheapest wines you are likely find in these parts.

La Vida White Reserve, Chile. Bt 229 @ Big C and others

One of the first things I check on a wine label is the alcohol content, shown as a percentage and known by the abbreviation ABV (alcohol by volume). It’s not that I am hoping to find a high alcohol content; quite the reverse in fact because I prefer wines that are rather low on the alcohol scale.

Interestingly, studies have revealed that in Europe sales of low-alcohol wine and even zero-alcohol wine have actually increased in recent years. Traditionalists may squirm, but that’s the way things seem to be going: quality non-alcohol wine is on the increase. I certainly welcome to opportunity to enjoy a couple of glasses of non-alcoholic wine and then be able to safely drive the car.

But I am digressing. After searching for several minutes I still couldn’t find the ABV on the La Vida label. But sure enough, there it was in minuscule print, revealed only with the aid of a magnifying glass that belonged to my grandmother. For a modest fee, you might like to borrow it. The magnifying glass I mean, not my grandmother. The wine is a mere 11% ABV which is pleasingly moderate and not too heady.

The label also reveals that the wine is “a blend of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc and selected orchard fruits.” I was delighted to discover that this pale gold wine actually smells like a Sauvignon Blanc which is a good start. There’s also a faint tang of honey and after the wine has been resting for a few minutes, an attractive sweet herb-like aroma comes through.

The wine turned out to be really dry and just the right amount of fruit on the palate. Now I have to admit that there is a degree of subjectivity contained in the phrase “just the right amount.” I know that some people (and some wine writers for that matter) prefer wine packed with fruit. The problem is that they can be difficult to pair with food and can easily overwhelm light fish or chicken dishes. As a “food wine” La Vida hits the spot, with just enough fruit on the palate and a refreshing tang of acidity which gives it a sense of structure. As an experiment, I tried it with that 1970s British favourite, cod in parsley sauce, which I made especially for the occasion. The food and wine paired splendidly.

La Vida Red Reserve, Chile. Bt 229 @ Big C and others

This is a rich, dark red wine. It carries the typical Merlot aroma of ripe, dark plummy fruit, beetroot and hints of sweet rhubarb. You might even pick up the faint aroma of herbs and there’s also a reminder of that slightly earthy, brambly aroma that comes with warm-climate Merlot.

On the palate, the first impression is one of softness with an attractive silky texture but when you swirl the wine around in your mouth a satisfying dryness comes though. It’s a medium-bodied wine and I enjoyed the light, layer of tannin which gives the wine a sense of body and firmness. They’ve gone easy on the fruit too and although the wine originates in Chile, the style rather reminds me of a typical French bistro red. It’s a tad dryer than Mont Clair but it has a significantly more to offer in terms of aroma and taste. There’s quite a long finish too, which is unusual at this price level. Siam Winery has produced a splendid everyday red which is also a genuine bargain.