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The Spanish first established vineyards in Chile in the mid-sixteenth century, and Chile has maintained a thriving wine industry for its home market for several centuries. Chile's wine industry has grown considerably since the mid-1980s, with rapid development as a strong export market, and a shift toward French grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay.

With the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Andes Mountains to the east, Chile is an isolated country. Chile also has a range of mountains along the coast, which blocks the ocean dampness from most vineyards, and the ocean’s general tempering influence on a relatively hot climate.

Chile’s wine regions

From north to south, here’s a summary of Chile’s wine regions today, both old and new:

  • Limari Valley: A small region northwest of Santiago, near the Pacific Ocean. Although the climate is hot and dry — it’s nearer to the equator than any of Chile’s other important regions and close to the Atacama Desert — its unique microclimate, caused by its proximity to the Pacific, features cooling morning fog and ocean breezes that blow through the Valley during the day. Chile’s three largest wineries, Concha y Toro, San Pedro, and Santa Rita, all have bought land in Limari. Promising wines so far are Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Syrah.

  • Aconcagua Valley: North of Santiago, Aconcagua Valley is named for the country’s highest mountain, the magnificent Mount Aconcagua and is one of the warmest areas for fine grapes. But Aconcagua also includes many cooler high-altitude sections. Cabernet Sauvignon grows especially well here, and more recently, Syrah. Viña Errázuriz is Aconcagua Valley’s most important winery.

  • Casablanca Valley: The first-established of the newer Chilean wine regions, it’s still one of the best. Some of Chile’s finest Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs grow in one part of Casablanca, while good Merlots and Pinot Noirs come from a more mountainous part. Veramonte is Casablanca’s best-known winery.

  • San Antonio Valley: This tiny valley, south of Casablanca Valley and next to the ocean, is arguably Chile’s most exciting new region. Pinot Noir and Syrah are growing especially well on its cool, steep slopes. Now making one of the world’s best Pinot Noirs outside of Burgundy and a fine Syrah, Viña Matetic is the winery to watch in San Antonio Valley.

  • Maipo Valley: Chile’s most-established wine region, just south of Santiago, Maipo Valley is home to most of the country’s wineries. Concha y Toro, Santa Rita, and Almaviva are a few of Maipo’s premium producers. Cabernet Sauvignon is king in this region, and Merlot also does very well.

  • Cachapoal Valley: The large Rapel Valley, south of Maipo Valley, has two main wine regions, Cachapoal Valley and Colchagua Valley. Cachapoal Valley, nearer the Andes, is a red wine region, and is strong in Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Morandé and Altair are two rising star wineries here.

  • Colchagua Valley: Ocean breezes have transformed the formerly quiet Colchagua Valley into one of Chile’s most important new red wine regions. Carmenère, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah grow especially well here. Colchagua’s two leading wineries are Casa Lapostolle and Montes.

  • Curicó Valley: One of Chile’s oldest and largest wine regions, the Curicó Valley is directly south of Rapel Valley. Because of its diverse microclimates, both red and white varieties grow well here. The huge San Pedro Winery and Viña Miguel Torres are located in Curicó.

  • Maule: Maule Valley is Chile’s largest wine region in area, and also the southernmost of its important wine regions. Because it’s so huge, it has many diverse microclimates, and both red and white varieties grow well, especially Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. Viña Calina is Maule Valley’s best-known winery.

The styles of Chile's wines

Chile’s wines generally lack the exuberant fruitiness of Californian and Australian wines. And yet they’re not quite as subtle and understated as European wines. Although red wines have always been Chile’s strength, today the white wines, especially those from cooler regions, are very good. Chile’s Sauvignon Blancs are generally unoaked, while most of the Chardonnays are oaked.

Chile’s wines are generally named for their grape varieties; they carry a regional (or sometimes a district) indication, too. The reasonable prices of the basic wines — mainly from $6 to $10 in the United States — make these wines excellent values.

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