Recently, Chile was hit with a devastating earthquake. As communities and businesses struggle to re-build, we here at home can help. Buy Chilean wine! Wine is one of the top 10 exports for this country and while the overall loss to the wine industry in the country is lower than first thought, the loss is still high, particularly for the citizens. As you may have seen on our homepage, with every 12 bottles sold, Wine.com, in partnership with its suppliers and Wines of Chile, will donate $100 to the relief effort in Chile.
Chile is a remarkable wine region. It’s location is unique in the wine world – with an ocean to the west, a mountain range to the east, a desert on the north border and the cold Patagonia at its south border. Secluded and isolated – an ideal situation for agricultural land as it remains protected from many pests or diseases. In wine, this means that Chile has avoided the phylloxera louse and many vines are planted on their own rootstock. The climate is varied, but not as much north to south as east to west. The ocean and mountain ranges have far more impact on the climate than the latitude of the vineyards.
A number of varieties flourish here, the most popular of which are Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Carmenere, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Every region needs a grape they can call their own, and for Chile this grape is Carmenere. How it gained this stature, however, was by accident. For years, Chile has made Merlot. It became quite popular in the 1990s for its distinct aromatic qualities. Turns out, Chilean Merlot was not just Merlot. In the mid-1990s, DNA profiling of the grapes showed that many vines in the Merlot vineyards were in fact Carmenere, an old Bordeaux blending varietal that had faded out of fashion and was practically non-existent in plantings France.
Chileans recognized that this grape was a key in giving the Merlot blends its distinctive characteristics. Vintners worked to separate their Merlot from their Carmenere and in 1998, it was given varietal status. Carmenere grows quite well in Chile, perhaps because of its unique climate. Problems with disease and rot are not a problem here as they were in Bordeaux.
To make good wine from Carmenere, it must be ripe so it is grown the warmer regions of Chile like the valleys of Maipo, Colchagua and Rapel. It is a deep, red, crimson color and its aromas are full of rich, ripe berry fruit and spice. The tannins of Carmenere are soft and smooth, which makes an easy drinking wine. Other flavor characteristics can include herbal notes, such as mixed herbs or bell pepper, as well as smoky undertones. It’s a great wine to pair with grilled meats or hearty stews. My favorite Carmenere right now is the Errazuriz Single Vineyard Carmenere, but I’m excited to try the Montes Alpha Carmenere as well as the Concha y Toro high end bottling. Carmenere is also part of the Bordeaux blends in Chile. Blends that show Chile best are: Primus from Veramonte, Maquis Lien -cool label, Syrah-based wine, and MontGras Quatro– Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Carmenere.
Some other favorite wines from this region are:
Sauvignon Blanc from the Casablanca Valley – the Casablanca Valley is in close proximity to the sea, so the cool climate is ideal for Sauvignon Blanc. Crisp, grassy, citrus and clean are the highlights of these wines. Veramonte is a favorite for only $10.
Pinot Noir – You’re seeing it more and more, and why not? There are excellent Pinot Noir growing regions in this area and we’re starting to see more exports of the grape into the US. The Pinot Noir I’ve tasted so far are 2 types – one has savory red fruits, spice and excellent acidity. The other type is bright berry fruit and bright acidity. Veramonte (both Reserva and it’s newest release, the Ritual) is a great example of the first, Cono Sur a good example of the second. Both are excellent.
Elqui, Limari & Bio Bio – three regions to keep an eye on. Limari and Elqui are situated north of Santiago near the coast. They are making a name for themselves with cool climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. When I visited Chile in 2006, I visited De Martino to tour and taste – their Legado Chardonnay from Limari was in the line up and after one taste I said, “This is the best Chardonnay I’ve had from Chile.” As more Chardonnay comes from the cooler region, we’ll see if they hang on to that title. Errazuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay has sure given them a run for the money. It’s not as lean or crisp as the Legado, but it’s rich and balanced. I digress… Bio Bio is further south than Santiago, but again, near the ocean and focusing on cool climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Keep an eye out for wines from these regions as there are showing some serious style.
Chile is such an exciting wine-producing region right now. Our thoughts an prayers are with the people of Chile as they recover from this disaster, and we will continue to support our favorite export of theirs – wine.
Care to learn more? Check out Wines of Chile's website – they have fun Chile facts, statistics and stories.