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A guide to Chilean Wine

Background and history of Chilean wine

Chile's wine producing aspirations started in the mid-16th century with Catholic missionaries and European immigrants planting vineyards mainly for religious purposes. Cabernet Sauvignon began to be planted in the mid-19th century as well as Pinot Noir, Carmenère, Chardonnay and Merlot grapes. Most recently, Chile has began to produce notable wines using Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah as examples. The country's wines are often good value but quality varies tremendously and choosing carefully is key particularly for tricky grapes likes Pinot Noir. Chile is not the easiest place to plant vineyards because of its climate.

Cabernet Sauvignon based wines are made to a very high standard in areas such as Maipo near Santiago (particularly Macul, Pirque and Puente Alto), Colchagua, Maule and the area around the Andean foothills in the east of the country, where high altitudes moderate high daytime temperatures and the soils are reminiscent of the Médoc in Bordeaux.

Chilean Syrah has a distinctive taste profile depending on where it is grown, the regional diversity is in fact quite striking. Limari Syrah produces generous wines with blackberry, blue berry and floral notes with smoothness. The Elqui Valley produces syrah with a Northern Rhone likle quality with peppery as well as fruity notes. Coastal producers from the likes of Casablanca, with the big fruit and herbs to Maipo's firm structure to Rapel's lush features.

Chilean wine regions

Coquimbo Regions

  • Elqui Valley
  • Limarí Valley
  • Choapa Valley

Aconcagua Regions

  • Aconcagua Valley
  • Casablanca Valley
  • San Antonio Valley

Central Valley Regions

  • Maipo Valley
  • Cachapoal Valley
  • Curicó Valley
  • Maule Valley

Southern Regions

  • Itata Valley
  • Bío-Bío Valley
  • Malleco Valley

Denomination of Origin: Elqui Valley

Region: CoquimboSub-Region: Elqui

Complementary Area: Andes

Currently Chile’s northernmost commercially viable wine-producing valley, located 530 km (330 mi) north of Santiago at the southern edge of the Atacama Desert with vineyards up to 2000 metres above sea level. The area has a desert-like climate with < 70 mm (2.8 in) of rain per year. Dry, rocky terrain in steep valleys is cooled by strong winds from the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains.

Soils: clay, silt, and chalk.

Known for : cool-climate Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc.

Denomination of Origin: Limarí Valley

Region: Coquimbo  Sub-Region: Limarí

Complementary Areas: Costa, Entre-Cordilleras, Andes

Located 470 km (290 mi) north of Santiago with the Pacific Ocean’s cooling Camanchaca fog coming into the valley from the west each morning and retreats as the sun rises over the Andes in the afternoon. With less than 4 inches of rainfall per year, drip irrigation is used. Desert-like climate: 95 mm (4 in) of rain per year. Semi-arid region with cool coastal influences and good minerality in the soil.

Soils: clay, silt, and chalk.

Known for: cool-climate Syrah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc. Fresh wines with a distinct mineral edge.

Denomination of Origin: Choapa

Region: Coquimbo  Sub-Region: Choapa

Complementary Area: Andes

Located 400 km (250 mi) north of Santiago at Chile’s narrowest point, where there is no distinction between the Andes and the Coastal Mountains. This small valley consists of two areas, Illapel and Salamanca. Neither have wineries in place as yet, but vineyards planted on rocky piedmont soils are producing limited quantities of high quality Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes with high acidity and low pH. Desert-like climate. 100 mm (4.5 in) of rain per year. High luminosity.

Soils: clay, silt, and chalk.

Known for: Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Denomination of Origin: Aconcagua

Region: Aconcagua  Sub-Region: Aconcagua

Complementary Area: Entre Cordilleras

Located 65 km (40 mi) north of Santiago. At 22,828 feet (6,956 meters), Mt. Aconcagua, is the highest mountain in the Americas. Red grapes have long grown in the interior, but new coastal plantations are proving the valley’s potential for white wines as well. Mediterranean climate: 215 mm (8.5 in) of rain per year.

Soils: clay and sandy to the east; granite and clay to the west.

Known for: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Carmenere, and coastal Sauvignon Blanc.

Denomination of Origin: CASABLANCA

Region: Aconcagua  Sub-Region: Casablanca

Complementary Area: Costa

Located 75 km (47 mi) northwest of Santiago, the Casablanca Valley was first planted to vine in the mid-1980's and became Chile’s first cool-climate coastal region. Cool Mediterranean climate with pronounced maritime influence. 540 mm (21.2 in) of rain per year.

Soils: clay and sandy soils.

Known for: Proximity to the ocean creates cool foggy mornings ideal for top quality Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.

Denomination of Origin: San Antonio

Region: AconcaguaSub-Region: San AntonioIncludes zone: Leyda

Complementary Area: Costa

Located 100 km (62 mi) west of Santiago, very close to the sea, south of Casablanca. This is a relatively new wine region with vines as close as 2.5 miles (4 km) from the sea. San Antonio is a sub-region of the Aconcagua Valley and is divided into four sectors: Leyda, Lo Abarca, Rosario, and Malvilla. Cool climate strongly influenced by the ocean encourages slow-ripening. 350 mm (13.8 in) of rain per year.

Soils: Primarily granite and clay on rolling hills produce grapes with great acidity and minerality.

Known for: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah.

Denomination of Origin: Maipo

Region: Central ValleySub-Region: Maipo

Complementary Areas: Entre-Cordilleras, Andes

The closest wine region to the city of Santiago with vineyards stretching eastward from Santiago to the Andes and westward to the coast to form three distinct sectors of the Maipo Valley best known for its well-balanced red wines. Alto Maipo reaches into the foothills and produces some of Chile’s leading Cabernets. Central Maipo is one of the country’s oldest and most diverse productive regions, and Coastal Maipo—a relative newcomer—benefits from the cool maritime influence between the Coastal Mountains.

Alto Maipo

Rising into the Andean foothills, the Alto Maipo section ranges from roughly 1,300 to 2,600 feet (400 to 800 meters) above sea level and is highly influenced by the mountains themselves. The rising sun must scale the Argentine side of the peaks before first morning light reaches the vines on its western—Chilean—slopes. The afternoon sun and the cool mountains breezes  at night create a oscillation between daytime and night-time temperatures.

Central Maipo

The rocky alluvial soils that border the course of the Maipo River along its way from the Andes to the coast, red varietals grow well in this warm-but-not-hot region that spreads out due south of Santiago. It sees less rainfall than its higher altitude neighbor to the west.

Pacific Maipo

The relatively few vineyards found in the vicinity of the Maipo River as it approaches the Coastal Range, southwest of Santiago, tend to be tucked up against some of the smaller, low-lying hills that rise between the Andes and the Coastal Range. This protects them from a more direct maritime influence. This area is separated from the San Antonio Region to the west by the political (rather than geographical) border that divides the Metropolitan Region from the country’s V Region of Valparaíso.

Mediterranean climate. 315 mm (12.4 in) of rain per year.

Soils: Sandy and gravel to the east, more clay to the west.

Known for: Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, and Syrah.

Denomination of Origin: Cachapoal

Region: Central Valley  Sub-Region: Rapel Zone: Cachapoal

Complementary Areas: Entre-Cordilleras, Andes

Located 85 km (53 mi) south of Santiago, the Rapel Valley is Chile’s agricultural heartland and further divided into two winegrowing sectors. Cachapoal, the northernmost, is known primarily for red grapes. Cachapoal Alto stretches eastward into the Andean foothills and produces elegant, well-balanced Cabernets and red blends. Farther west toward the Coastal Mountains, the Peumo sector receives just enough cool maritime influence to create a warm, but not hot climate ideal for the area’s renowned, full-bodied, fruit-forward Carmenere. Mediterranean climate. 340 mm (13.4 in) of rain per year.

Soils: Gravel and sandy soils to the east. Clay to the west.

Known for: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Carmenere.

Denomination of Origin: Curicó

Region: Central Valley  Sub-Region: Curicó Includes zones: Teno, Lontué

Complementary Areas: Entre-Cordilleras, Andes

Located 200 kms south of Santiago. Diversity is king in Curicó, where more than 30 varieties of wine grapes have grown since the mid-1800s, and winegrowing is its primary industry. Curicó’s modern winemaking history began when Spanish producer Miguel Torres began his first New World endeavor here in the 1970's. Shielded from the ocean influence by a coastal range of hills. Mediterranean climate. 650mm/27.4 in of rain per year.

Soils: clay, sand, decomposed granite.

Known for: Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc.

Denomination of Origin: Maule

Region: Central ValleySub-Region: Maule Includes Zones: Claro, Loncomilla, Tutuvén

Complementary Areas: Entre Cordilleras, Andes

Located 250 km (155 mi) south of Santiago, is the largest and one of the oldest wine producing areas of Chile. Old-bush, dry-farmed vineyards are now producing exciting, naturally balanced field blends of Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and other yet to be identified varieties. Newer plantations include Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Carmenere with bright acidity and juicy fruit. Mediterranean climate. 735 mm (28.9 in) of rain per year.

Soils: Alluvial soils, clay and sand.

Known for: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carmenere, and old-vine Carignan.

Denomination of Origin: Itata

Region: Southern RegionsSub-Region: Itata

Complementary Areas: Costa, Entre-Cordilleras, Andes

The northernmost sector of the 3-valley ‘Southern Region,’ it features some of the earliest vineyards in Chile. The area is located 400 km (250 mi) south of Santiago. Mediterranean climate. 1,100 mm (43.3 in) of rain per year.

Soils: Alluvial soils, clay and sand.

Known for: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay.

Denomination of Origin: Bío Bío

Region: Southern RegionsSub-Region: Bío Bío

Complementary Areas: Entre-Cordilleras, Andes.

Located 500 km (310 mi) south of Santiago. Warm days and cold nights make for a long ripening season, but the Bio Bio’s higher rainfall, strong winds, and broader extremes make for more challenging conditions than those of Chile’s more northerly regions. Winegrowing here requires more patience, skill, and nerve than in other valleys. Moderate Mediterranean climate. 1,275 mm (50.2 in) of rain per year. Average rainfall is among highest of all Chilean wine valleys, although winds prevent humidity. Conditions similar to northern France.

Soils: Alluvial soils, clay and sand.

Known for: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Denomination of Origin: Malleco

Region: Southern RegionsSub-Region: Malleco

Complementary Areas: Entre-Cordilleras, Andes

Located 640 km (400 mi) south of Santiago, Malleco is currently Chile’s southernmost appellation, although experimental vineyards have been planted much further south in Osorno. The area has proven exceptional for Chardonnay and experimentation with Pinot Noir proves promising, although high rainfall and a shorter growing season make the area risky for most other varieties. Modified Mediterranean climate. 1300 mm (51.2 in) of rain per year.

Soils: Alluvial soils, clay and sand.

Known for: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Chilean Vintage Report

The vintage report for Chile for the last few years shows the weather is a big factor for wine producers with problems such as frost and dehydration an ever present risk.

  • 2014 - Frost caused a lot of damage to Chilean wine growers with crops dropping by up to 70%, but what remained made very good quality wine. Wines in 2014 were complex and concentrated even if in low quantities. 
  • 2013 - The Carmenère grape benefitted from some cool weather is especially promising. Early ripeners such as Sauvignon Blanc were less good, with unripe characteristics.
  • 2012 - The La Niña weather system meant that grapes of excellent quality at harvest time with decent yields.
  • 2011 - Another cool year, with many whites showing very low alcohol levels. Careful selection can find balanced wines similar in style to 2010. 
  • 2010 - The year of the Chilean earthquake but with a late harvest it allowed wine makers to recover. A coolish year, best suited to varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
  • 2009 - Warmer weather meant that Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay flourished but some red varieties suffered from dehydration, particularly Merlot, causing high alcohol levels to excessive levels in some cases. 
  • 2008 - A very cold and long winter, caused plenty of frost damage then a hot summer followed with little rain and drought conditions.. Lack of water and too much heat caused dehydration especially in Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • 2007 - A slightly lower yield harvest with Whites having good natural balance and Reds were lighter in alcohol than average, with high acidity giving a particularly fresh style. 

Recommended Chilean wines

Seña Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot. Valle de Aconcagua (Biodynamic vineyards)

Seña is an iconic Chilean wine and as a result pretty expensive. In 1995 Eduardo Chadwick pioneered a joint venture with Robert Mondavi to create a world-class Chilean wine. Chadwick searched alongside Mondavi for four long years before finding the ideal terroir in Chile’s Valle de Aconcagua. A world class wine indeed for special occasions!

Falernia Syrah Reserva, Elqui Valley, 2011

Falernia Syrah Reserva, Elqui Valley, 2011

See the review of the wine at http://fermented-grape.com/wines-i-am-drinking/2015/9/4/via-falernia-syrah-reserva-2010-elqui-valley-chile

This is a big syrah with lots of fruit, pepper and floral notes. Very rich and spicy with a hint of mint and dark chocolate.

Ventisquero, Kalfu Sumpai Syrah 2013, Leyda San Antonio

Ventisquero, Kalfu Sumpai Syrah 2013, Leyda San Antonio

Herby and fruity notes dominate with hints of chocolate. Fresh and easy drinking.

Matetic, EQ Syrah 2011, Rosario, San Antonio (Biodynamic)

matetic syrah san antonio

A biodynamic wine from San Antonio with a rich, fleshy and elegant palate. Dark red and rich with big fruit and pepper with a juicy finish. Recommended.

Casas del Bosque, Pequenas Producciones Syrah 2013, Casablanca

Casas del Bosque, Pequenas Producciones Syrah 2013, Casablanca

Rich, fruity and smoky with great savoury notes.

San Pedro 1865 Limited Edition Syrah 2011, Elqui

San Pedro 1865 Limited Edition Syrah 2011, Elqui

A big Syrah in the style of a Côte-Rôtie from France's Rhône Valley.  Plenty of fruit, spice, pepper and savoury notes. One to be enjoyed with food.

Tamaya Riserva Syrah 2013, Limari

Tamaya Riserva Syrah 2013, Limari

Since Limari is 470 km north of Santiago it is a semi-arid region with the benefit of the  cooling Camanchaca fog coming into the valley with cool coastal influences it means the style of the wines is very different to Southern Chilean wines (Northern California style climate but drier).

This Tamaya is not expensive but has very interesting savoury, floral and chewy profile with rich fruits and a smooth palate. 

Casa Marin Miramar Syrah 2013, Lo Abarca, San Antonio Valley

casa marin miramar syrah

I am a big fan of Casa Marín (excellent Sauvignon Blanc), which is a boutique cool climate winery located in Lo Abarca – part of the San Antonio Valley – just 4 km from the Pacific coast. 

The full bodied wine's cool climate characteristics express themselves with a rich acidity, yet balanced by fruit and fine tannins. Quite expensive but worth the premium.

Clos des Fous, Pucalán Arenaria Pinot Noir 2012, Aconcagua Costa

Clos des Fous, Pucalán Arenaria Pinot Noir, Aconcagua Costa, 2012

Clos des Fous (translated from French as an enclosure of the insane) is the creation of four friends who, fed up with criticism of Chilean wine as being boring and winemaker driven, decided to focus on making wines which would first and foremost express true terroir. The three key individuals are the highly respected Chilean terroir specialist, Pedro Parra, winemaker François Massoc and viticulturalist Paco Leyton. 

The Clos des Fous, Pucalán Arenaria Pinot Noir is made from grapes from the 4ha Pucalán vineyard(first planted with Dijon clones in 2007) - a cool, coastal site just 7 km from the ocean on terracotta-coloured, hard-compacted sand.

Unoaked with Intense red fruit aromas with an earthy, mineral palate with the true nature of Pinot Noir displayed at its best in this early release

Vinedos Organicos Emiliana, Coyam, Central Valley (Biodyanmic)

Emiliana’s Organic wines are certified by IMO of Switzerland with their super premium Coyam's certified by the German company DEMETER, the only valid certifying body in the world for overseeing biodynamic agro-ecological products.

The 2011 vintage is a blend of 38% Syrah, 31% Carmenere, 19% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Mourvedre, 1% Malbec

Deep purple in the glass with berry and tobacco aromas with cherry and strawberry on the palate. Very elegant and a long finish. 

Santa Rita, Casa Real Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Maipo

The Santa Rita has a lovely label for a start, this is a well balanced Cabernet.

William Fèvre Espino Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Pirque, Maipo Valle

A strong nose of cherry and red currant with a smooth, herby palate. A fresh, drinkable style.  

Aquitania Sol de Sol Chardonnay 2010, Traiguen, Malleco

Malleco is 700km south of Santiago, is a cool climate area with plenty of rain. n Patricio Tapia’s wine guide, Descorchados 2014, this is rated the best Chardonnay in Chile.  Aquitania has a remarkable pedigree. In 1990 Bruno Prats of Cos d’Estournel and Paul Pontallier of Château Margaux, in partnership with Chilean oenologist Felipe de Solminihac, bought vineyards in the Quebrada de Macul, at the foot of the Andes on the eastern side of Santiago, and immediately began planting Bordeaux varieties. In 2003 they were joined by Ghislain de Montgolfier, then president of Bollinger, in 2003.

Deep fruit(apple, yellow plums) with hints of oak and savoury notes, mineral with a fresh acidity. Very long finish.

Others

Antiyal  Maipo valley, Carmenere, merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah

Casa Lapostolle, Clos Apalta, Colchagua Valley, Apalta, Merlot, Carmenere, Cabernet Sauvignon

Concha y Toro, Maipo Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon 86%, Carmenere 14%

Domaine Paul Bruno, Vina Aquitania Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo valley, Cabernet Sauvignon 90%, Merlot10% *** ££££

Matetic, EQ Pinot noir 2005, Aconcagua, San Antonio££ ***

Montes Folly Santa Cruz, Colchagua, Syrah Chiles first ultra premium Syrah*** ££££ 00, 01, 02, 03, 04

Vina Casablanca Neblus, Aconcagua, Casablanca valley, Cabernet Sauvignon, merlot, Carmenere *** ££

Vina Cousino Macul, Antiguas Reservas Cabernet  Sauvignon, Maipo valley ££ ***

Vina el Principal , Maipo valley ,  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carmenere, Cabernet Franc £ ***

Vina Haras de Pirque, Haras Character Syrah , 2004, Syrah 85%, Cabernet Sauvignon 15% £ ***

Vina Santa Rita, Casa Real Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo valley ££££ ***