Chile

IN A NUTSHELL...

In many ways Chile is a wine-makers paradise. Its unique combination of geography make it ideal for wine making. There is the Atacama desert to the north, the Andes, the longest mountain range in the world to the east, the Patagonia ice fields to the South and the Pacific Ocean to the West. Together all these things have climatic qualities that help to maintain healthy conditions and protect the vineyards against pest and disease. In fact, so well protected are the vineyards in Chile that the deadly phylloxera (a microscopic root insect that lives on and eats roots of grapes), which devastated vineyards throughout France and most of Europe in the 1860s, has no hope of doing the same damage in Chile due to a certain composition in the soils which prevent the nasty blighters from surviving.

As for history, one would be forgiven for thinking that Chile is somewhat of a newcomer to the practice of wine making. It does in fact have a fair few years of experience behind it, about 460 to be precise and, as is the case of Argentina, its history very much began around the time of the arrival of the Spanish conquerors. It was very quickly recognised that Chile was the ideal place to plant vines and by the mid 19th century things really started to develop for this exciting new industry. Wealthy businessmen started looking to France as a model and even visited many of the producers to explore the wines further. So excited were they by the opportunities to replicate the wines back home they began importing a selection of the finest rootstocks to Chile, luckily just a few decades before the phylloxera outbreak. The rootstocks imported settled into their new home very nicely and have proved to be extremely successful.

THE WINE REGIONS

COQUIMBO

Coquimbo is the most northerly of Chile’s wine regions and is subdivided into three subregions; Elqui, Limari, and Choapa. The unique growing conditions of the area: foggy mornings (known locally as the Camanchaca), sunny afternoons and fewer than four inches of rain per year- are most definitely key to the production of some of Chile’s most prestigious wines

ACONCAGUE

Named after the highest peak in the Andes, Mount Aconcague, this particular wine region is made up of two very distinctive zones. On the one hand if you travel inland you will find Chile’s hottest driest wine region. On the other hand there is the coastal region where newer vineyards can be found. Here the conditions are much more conducive to cool climate grape varietals and so grapes like Sauvignon and Pinot Noir thrive.

CASABLANCA VALLEY

Lying between the Andes and coastal mountain range, Casablanca Valley is located about 60 kilometres from Santiago. The climate is strongly influenced by the sea, providing constant humid air due to heavy morning Camanchaca (fog blanket). The soils are naturally clayey and rich in minerals and this together with the cooler climate of the region makes Casablanca ideal for cultivating white grapes

MAIPO VALLEY

Close to the capital of Santiago, the Maipo Valley is thought to be the birthplace of Chile’s wine production and most of the country’s oldest wineries can be found in this particular valley. It produces the most successful export wines in the country and features in one of the most important dates in the history of wine production:

1555 when the first wine production of Chile was officially recognised and certified

1851-1994: the introduction of French Grape varieties

1994 the discovery of the long mistaken Carmenere grape variety (for many years thought to be Merlot!)

The climate tends towards hot dry summers and short mild winters. There are extreme differences in day and night temperatures with hot days and cool nights and on the hills, the morning frost provides ideal conditions for the sun loving red grape varieties.

CACHAPOAL VALLEY

The Rapel Valley has two of the best-known internationally recognised wine regions within it, one of which is the Cachapoal Valley. This valley, in particular the Alto Cachapoal, has been the centre of attention among French investors and wine lovers for many years. The result of this has been many famous winegrower families from Bordeaux, Alsace and the Loire are merging with long-established Chilean winemakers or building their own wineries in order to produce quality red wine of French character.

COLCHAGUE VALLEY

The other internationally recognised wine region within the Rapel Valley is the Colchague Valley. Similar climate to the Cachapole Valley it is known for producing good value wines and if you ever happen to holiday in Chile it is internationally renowned for its great wine tours, so make a note!

CURICO VALLEY

The most southerly of all the wine regions, it is characterised by a moderate Mediterranean climate with hot summers and cool nights. As for the origins of wine in this region, cultivation can be traced back to 1851.

MAULE VALLEY

Next to the Maipo Valley the origins of viticulture in the Maule Valley the sixteenth century when the Spanish Conquerors arrived and cultivated the grape known as pais. Up until the twenty first century this particular variety was the most widely planted grape until it was overtaken by Cabernet Sauvignon and tends now to be used for table wine.

BIO-BIO VALLEY

For much of its history of vine cultivation the Bio Bio Valley has been associated with pais and muscatel and mass production of table wine was very much the order of the day. However in more recent years it has been recognised that its climatic conditions are particularly favourable for some of the more noble grape varieties such as Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Riesling which require cooler climates for acidity and freshness.

The other internationally recognised wine region within the Rapel Valley is the Colchague Valley. Similar climate to the Cachapole Valley it is known for producing good value wines and if you ever happen to holiday in Chile it is internationally renowned for its great wine tours, so make a note!

THE GRAPES

WHITES

SAUVIGNON BLANC

'Highly aromatic' and 'zesty' are frequently used words when describing a Chilean Sauvignon and they are particularly refreshingly zesty when produced in regions such as Casablanca, Aconcagua or the Limari Valley.

A Grape representation to try :

 

Adobe Sauvignon Blanc

 

CHARDONNAY

This grape variety adapts particularly well to the cool climate of Casablanca and more recently to the Limari Valley where it takes on a mineral edge.

VIOGNIER

One of the few grape varieties that adapts well to warm climates such as that of Chile. Whilst still a fairly new variety to Chile, results to date show great promise.

A Grape representation to try:

 

Tabali Viognier

 

RIESLING

Chilean growers are taking a real interest in this particular grape as cool climate zones are developing their wine cultivation. The wines being made are much fuller bodied and higher in alcohol content than their European counterparts but they still retain freshness and spicy characteristics that Riesling is so well known for.

 

REDS

CARMENERE

Chile’s very own signature grape. This particular variety disappeared from European vineyards in the mid nineteenth century and then reappeared amongst Chile’s Merlot vines almost one hundred years later. Whilst growing in Chile for many years it was assumed that it was in fact Merlot, but wine growers started to notice quite distinct differences between what they thought was Merlot (Carmenere) and the actual Merlot. When it was time to pick the Merlot (Carmenere), it was under ripe. When they left the picking till later the actual Merlot was overripe. Confused??! Imagine how the growers felt! Eventually in 1997 a series of DNA tests were carried out clearing up the confusion and officially recognising the Carmenere grape variety –Phew!

A Grape Representation to try :

 

Adobe Carmenere

 

CABERNET SAUVIGNON

Like most of the red grape varieties in Chile the Cabernet Sauvignon arrived from France in the mid nineteenth century. Very quickly the locals grew to love it and over time it has become internationally recognised for its rich aromas and flavours. Whilst grown in most regions it seems to flourish particularly in vineyards across Aconcagua, Maipo, Cachapoal and Colchague where the warmer drier climate allows it to ripen thoroughly and develop rich, red berry fruit, blackcurrant and fig aromas and flavours. In certain areas such as the Alta Maipo there is even a distinctive eucalyptus edge that gives freshness to the wine.

A Grape Representation To Try:

 

Sierra Grande Cabernet Sauvignon

 

MERLOT

This major Bordeaux varietal made its way over to Chile in the mid nineteenth century, but didn’t become really popular until the 1990s and today can be found growing in pretty much every wine region across Chile.

SYRAH

A relative latecomer to Chile it soon settled in very comfortably. The styles vary greatly depending where the grape is grown. In warmer climates such as Colchagua the wines produced are often big and juicy. In cooler climates they produce wines that are more spice driven and much more complex in flavour terms. 

MALBEC

This variety arrived in Chile around 1850 and adapted with great ease to the different wine producing areas, thriving at high altitudes

PINOT NOIR

Another relatively new discovery in Chilean winemaking circles there is an increasing number of cool climate vineyards producing some stunning wines from the particular varietal. Areas such as Casablanca and Bio Bio Valley gaining international recognition for their Pinot Noirs ranging from charming to hauntingly seductive.

Wine To Try:

 

Emiliana Pinot Noir

 

CABERNET FRANC

Another good old fashioned French varietal it is used primarily to add acidity and finesse to Bordeaux blends.

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