Category Archives: Chile

Long and thin, Chile has a lot of land north to south. The wine region here is a series of districts based near Santiago. The vineyards are protected by the Pacific on the west and the Andes mountains on the east. This could help explain why the climate changes more from east to west than north to south – also why the country has remained phylloxera free. Quite a few wineries in Chile were founded by large French wine companies. Seeing the potential of the country, vineyards were bought and planted by these French folks and the results tell of a smart investment. Some of these wineries include: Los Vascos, Casa Lapostolle and Cousino Macul. And while the inspiration may have been French, but the wines here are quite Chilean.

The main regions of Chile include Maipo (pronounced MY-poh), known for reds like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere; Casablanca Valley, a region producing delicious Sauvignon Blanc, as well as other whites & some reds; Colchaugua, an inland district creating amazing red wines from Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, particularly in the Apalta sub-region; and Rapel Valley, settled right under Maipo and producing the same red varietals. A couple of smaller regions to watch include Limari and Elqui, two valleys further north, producing some delicious cool-climate Chardonnay and Bio Bio, an area further south, which is also focused on cool-climate varieties. Chilean wines are growing in exports and more consumers are enjoying the delicious values coming from the country. Red wines of the region, though they cannot be generalized, make the whole gamut of wine quality – quaffable to collectible. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot & Carmenere are the main players, though Syrah is also making a splash. Some of the best reds are blends of the above varieties. As for whites, Sauvignon Blanc is typically crisp, herbal and racy, while Chardonnay is richer in style with full-bodied texture and tropical fruit flavors.

A New Era for Chilean wine

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When you’re looking for a good every-day wine on a tight budget, you might find yourself turning to the wines of Chile. This long, narrow, and climatically diverse South American country has developed quite a reputation for value over the last couple of decades. But thanks to recent shifts in winemaking and marketing philosophies, Chile has increasingly become a source of interesting and high-quality wines that is worth keeping a close eye on. Much of the wine is still eminently affordable, but it now has quite a bit more to offer for the money!

Let’s take a look at some of the trends that are currently changing the face of the Chilean wine industry:

Experimental viticulture:

In a warm, dry, and geographically isolated country with little threat of disease or pests (Chile is the only major wine-producing country that has managed to remain completely free of the devastating phylloxera louse!), large quantities of wine can be produced with relative ease. However, in an effort to step up the quality and complexity of their wines, many producers are experimenting with techniques in the vineyard that stress the vine and facilitate even ripening, resulting in smaller yields of more concentrated fruit with balanced acidity and alcohol. Some of these methods include higher altitude plantings, early picking, the revival of old vines, and the exploration of cooler climate vineyards. Some regions to look out for include Leyda, Bio Bio, Limarí, and the Casablanca Valley.

A new approach to marketing:

With consumers becoming increasingly educated about wine and improving their understanding of their own personal preferences, wineries are beginning to step up their game from entry-level to higher-end and premium wines. While the Chilean section of the wine shop remains an excellent place to find sub-fifteen-dollar bargains, a new focus is beginning to emerge on smaller producers and more serious wines. Taking a page from Tuscany’s book, Concha y Toro’s Don Melchor, a superior-quality Bordeaux-style blend, established the category of “Super Chilean” wines with its 1989 release. It has since inspired comparable wines of top pedigree including Errazuriz Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserva, Emiliana Ge, Almaviva, and Lapostolle Clos Apalta. These blends often include Syrah and Carménère in addition to traditional Bordeaux varieties.

Grape Diversity:

A wide range of grape varieties can easily be grown in Chile’s versatile conditions, so many producers are looking to differentiate their wines either by putting their own spin on internationally beloved varieties, or using uncommon or locally historic ones, like País, a variety brought to Chile in the 1550s by Spanish missionaries (hence its North American synonym, “Mission”). This grape is shedding its reputation for overly tannic, unappealing bulk wine to make way for brighter, fruitier wines often made using whole cluster fermentation and/or carbonic maceration. Chile has also begun to consider some less common varieties from European countries, such as Spain’s Mencia, Portugal’s Touriga Nacional, and Italy’s Greco, Fiano, and Aglianico.

Meanwhile, the more common international varieties are showing no signs of slowing down.  Cabernet Sauvignon will always have its place, but classic Rhône varieties like Grenache and Syrah are picking up steam, encouraged by favorable climatic conditions and soil types.  Malbec, much more closely associated with neighboring Argentina, is another one to keep an eye on, especially when old-vine plantings are utilized. In cooler climate regions, fresh and light Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are produced with low alcohol and refreshing acidity, but don’t call them Burgundian — these wines are intended to express Chile’s unique terroir. Meanwhile, Sauvignon Blancs set themselves apart from those found in New Zealand with methods such as early picking, barrel fermentation, and lees contact to create a softer, less herbaceous or grassy style.

Old-world influence in the winery:

In addition to grape-growing techniques aimed at reducing yields, alcohol, and sugar levels in the vineyard, practices in the winery as well are moving in a direction inspired by the balance of old-world wines. This includes eschewing the use of new oak in favor of concrete eggs or large vats made of neutral wood to create food-friendly, approachable wines with round, silky tannins. When new oak is used, the goal is to create better integration with fruit flavors. Additionally, efforts in the vineyard to reduce alcohol levels in wines are further carried out in the winery during the fermentation process.

If you’ve been pigeonholing Chile as the land of bargain wines and bargain wines alone, now is the time to take a closer look as this country embarks on an exciting renaissance of wine production!

Bringing back an old friend: The Wines of Chile have reached a new level

16_02_01 1500 Master Class Chile@Wine.com_3180_BlogWay back in the dark ages of wine retailing (circa: 1970s), fine wine shops had Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne. Chile was nowhere to be found and even California was an afterthought. As the years went by and California gained prominence with the Judgement of Paris, Chile got into the marketplace with its cheap Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlots. Often found in sale bins, these became the drinking wines of budget conscious wine imbibers. I drank so much of these bargain basement wines that I ended up throwing the whole class into the “good value” category. As an active retailer in San Francisco in those days, the wines of Chile gave me something “to stack high and let them fly.”

This is no longer the case. Continue reading Bringing back an old friend: The Wines of Chile have reached a new level