Chilean Wine

Karen Frazier
Corks from Chilean wine

Wines from South America offer exciting and affordable alternatives to their counterparts from around the world. A great deal of buzz currently exists in the wine world about Chilean wine because the country is producing world-class wines at amazing prices, often made from grapes that traditional wine producers have overlooked. According to many experts, the top wines from the country compare very favorably to some of the best in the world.

History Of Chilean Wine

Wine has been made in Chile since the Spaniards came over. Many believe conquistador Cortez planted the first vines. Thus Chilean wine has been around for at least 500 years. However, for most of this time Chilean wine remained in obscurity. Throughout history Spain and other European countries would often use bulk grapes from Chile to supplement a bad harvest, but Chile never got the chance to shine. Not helping was a reliably unstable and repressive government that often levied excessive tariffs upon wine. This all changed in the 1980's as the political climate improved. In an incredibly short time foreign investment poured into Chile's vineyards. A major market was developed with Americans, who couldn't get enough of Chile's high quality and low prices.

The Wine Regions of Chile

The majority of Chile's vineyards are in the broad valleys that lie against the Andes Mountains. The Pacific Ocean exerts a strong influence blowing in cooling breezes that help to extend the maturation of the grapes. There are six classified wine regions in Chile.

Aconcagua

Chile's northernmost wine region, the climate is generally hot and dry in Aconcagua.Traditionally red wine grapes have performed best in the region. The most notable wine produced here is the Cabernet Sauvignon made by the Errázuriz Estates. Errázuriz has also partnered with the Robert Mondavi company to produce Sena, a super-premium red blend.

Casablanca

South of Aconcagua and largely coastal, Casablanca was for years thought too cold for wine growing but in recent years has risen to prominence as a producer of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Pinot Noir is also planted and given the cooler conditions should do well in time. Try wines from Kingston Vineyards or Casas del Bosque.

Maipo

Considered the heart of the Chilean wine industry, the Maipo Valley is mostly planted with Cabernet Sauvignon and many high quality examples can be easily found abroad. Industry giants Concha Y Toro and Santa Rita are based here.

Rapel

This area is the largest wine region in Chile with a large diversity of climates and conditions. Accordingly Rapel produces grows many different types of grapes including Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir and Viognier but Merlot currently reigns supreme in this region. Wineries include Terra Andina and Viña La Playa Winery.

Curicó and Maule

This is a minor region producing wine for domestic consumption although producers such as Viña Montes have had great success in the foreign market with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

Bío Bío

The southernmost region in Chile, Bio Bio produces mostly jug for local consumption.

Grape Varieties

Along with common international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay etc., Chile possesses its own grape Carmenere, a minor red wine grape that is occasionally used for blending in Bordeaux. For years this grape was misidentified as Merlot but this has been rectified and now Carmenere has assumed its rightful place as one of Chile's strongest offerings. Demand for this wonderful heady grape is growing as consumers tire of the same old offerings.

The Future

As foreign partnerships and a general increase in investment takes place Chile is poised to become a major fixture on the international wine scene. Currently many of the higher priced wines that resulted from the foreign partnerships are hitting the market and it remains unclear whether consumers will pay the high price, but based on the quality of the cheaper wines it seems only a matter of time till Chile becomes firmly established as a consistent provider of good wine and is able to raise prices across the spectrum. But values still abound in the lower-priced offerings and might just be some of the best wines for the money available.

The wines coming out of Chile are exciting and new. The recent development of the area, the climate, and the innovation of the Chile's winemakers all lead to production of accessible world-class wines.

Chilean Wine