Chile has been producing wine for centuries.
First, when the Spanish and Portuguese settlers arrived in South America, their Priests took their vines with them so they could grow wine for mass! Then, in time, fashionable French varieties were planted directly from Bordeaux.
Then, with the fall of the dictator General Pinochet, the last twenty years has seen rapid expansion, productions and development in the wine industry of Chile-mainly in the export markets.
You wouldn’t think it. Isolated on the far left-hand side of South America, Chile runs down the side and actually looks like a chilli!
Being so isolated has been advantageous, as it is one of the very few countries in the world that can plant European varieties (mainly International grape varieties), directly into the ground without grafting onto American, disease resistant rootstocks. This is the way most vines are planted nowadays.
This is because the ground is free of the Phylloxera virus (see wine dictionary for further information) and they have managed to avoid contamination from other countries due to this isolation. This dramatically reduces the cost of winemaking and they pass on the discount to consumers by producing cheaper wines.
|NOTE: Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot plantings in Chile were once confused with other, less appealing grape varieties. Our taste buds were deceived! Winegrowers in Chile have now realised their mistake and most the vineyards have been converted, replanted with the correct grape varieties and the quality is great!So please retry Chilean grown Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot again.|
Typical wines from Chile are Bordeaux blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot; Chardonnays with tropical flavours of banana and grapefruit; and crisp Sauvignon Blancs.
Also fantastic, soft Pinot Noirs, Riesling and Gewürztraminers. These are from the hillside, hard to access vineyards, which give a unique flavour.
Chile also does not have the problems that Bordeaux has with the unreliable climatic conditions like excess rain, frost and winds, which obviously affect the vintage, year on year. So, here in Chile, the French ‘Bordeaux varieties’ of grapes can grow in near on perfect conditions- year long sunshine, cool coastal pacific winds, and morning fogs which allow slow grape ripening (this is the famous effect in the Californian vineyards that gives such complex flavours, as Chile is positioned directly South of CA).
Also, there is plenty of water to irrigate the vines which comes from all of the snow that melts from the Andes Mountains. This provides the ideal amount of water for the vines in what otherwise would be a very dry country! Mother Nature lending a hand here!
The wine industry in Chile is now booming, with a huge amount of foreign investment and partnerships with famous winemakers from Bordeaux, California, Italy and Spain.
Most famously, Robert Mondavi from California, the Torres family of Spain and Lafite-Rothschild of Bordeaux. They are making wine together! This has allowed the sharing of ideas, techniques, funds for development and upgrading of wineries.
Chile’s grape varieties are mainly French as described earlier. These include Carmenère, which was an ancient Bordeaux variety, thought to be extinct. It is now fast becoming Chile’s speciality, signature grape variety.
Even though this model is French, their winemaking techniques are very Californian influenced with the large investment in technology. With this technology, along with the passion, energy and open-mindedness the Chileans have to continually produce consistently good, inexpensive wine (now along with some higher end, finer and more expensive reds), these partnerships can only grow in strength and credibility.
There are three main regions under vine in Chile, with sub regions within. Either can be named on the label.
- Aconcagua Valley(Casablanca and Limari Valleys)
The temperature is cooler here, so Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are best.
- Central Valley (Maipo, Rapel, Curico and Maule Valleys)
Perfect conditions for Bordeaux varieties. The finest wine is made here; best from the Rapel Valley.
- Southern Valley (Bio Bio and Iata)
Harder to reach hillside vineyards and cooler conditions produce unique flavoured Riesling and Gewurztraminer from here. This is the least developed area so keep a watch for some interesting wines from here in the future.
- Fruity, soft reds with Bordeaux style blends as well as single grape varietals
- Tropical and crisp whites
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Pinot Noir
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Concha y Toros Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon
- Errazuriz Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon blend
- Vina Falernias Carmenère Sena (the infamous Robert Mondavi Californian and Chilean partnership wine).