Guide to Chilean Wine
Spanish missionaries established Chile’s first vineyards in the mid-16th century. They planted the Paísgrape, which was the primary grape for Chilean wine over the next 300 years. In 1851, a Spaniard, Silvestre Ochagavia, introduced traditional French varietals to Chile, and wineries were soon established, many of which still exist today.
Chile has an ideal environment for growing grapes. The vineyards have never been attacked by phylloxera, and they are permanently protected by the Andes Mountains, the oceans and the deserts. To the envy of viticulturists in other grapegrowing regions, such as France and California, Chilean vineyards can be planted with original rootstock rather than having to graft onto vines that are phylloxera resistant.
Most of Chile’s vineyards are in the central section of the country, ranging from 50 miles north of the city of Santiago to approximately 150 miles south.
From north to south, the principal growing areas are the Aconcagua Valley; the famous Maipo Valley, which has vineyards within sight of downtown Santiago; Casablanca, near the coastal city of Valparaiso; Rancagua District; Colchagua District; Curicó District; and the Maule Valley. Most of the areas are dry and not bothered by rain during harvest, which ensures consistency across vintages. Water for irrigation comes from the melting snow of the Andes.
Sauvignon Blanc has shown great potential in Chile, generally produced in a vibrant, crisp style emphasizing its refreshing citrus flavors. Sauvignon Blanc is among the best white wine values produced in Chile.
A formerly obscure red grape from Bordeaux, the Carmenère has proven successful. Its re-emergence is the story of a happy accident, since Carmenère was little more than an archival curiosity until the early 1990s, when winemakers discovered that many of the Chilean vines they had called Merlot were actually Carmenère. The grape once played a prominent role in Bordeaux winemaking, but its low yields forced it out of favor when French viticulturists replanted after the phylloxera outbreak of the 1880s. Carmenère’s low tannins and big, bright blackberry fruit make it a delight to drink and an ideal match for many foods.
With ideal growing conditions, significant investment and state-of-the-art winemaking facilities, Chile delivers some of the best valued wines available today.