Chile is a viticultural paradise. Moderate rainfall and cooling breezes from its 2,700-mile coastline are complemented by the magnificent Andes mountain range to the east, which provides a constant supply of irrigation water that flows down the country’s 14 major wine-producing valleys. The result is an annual crop of consistently high quality grapes that create a wide selection of wines appreciated around the world.
“Chile has a long winemaking tradition. We have been producing wine for over 460 years, ever since the Spanish arrived, so wine has been part of Chilean culture for centuries,” says Juan Somavia, managing director of Wines of Chile
, the international arm of the nation's largest wine growers’ association, Vinos de Chile. “However, in the last 30 years Chile has emerged very powerfully onto the international markets, essentially based on having very privileged geographical conditions for producing high quality grapes.”
Chile’s vast geographical diversity results in a tremendous diversity in the wines the country can produce. Winemakers and growers have worked closely together in recent years to seek out the areas and conditions best suited for each variety.
New vineyards climb higher into the mountains and creep ever closer to the sea, and we now see a wide array of fresh, cool-climate whites and Pinots from the coast, multi-dimensional reds from the Andes, and rich and luscious offerings from the area in between.
The country’s geography has also isolated it from the phylloxera louse that razed vineyards across Europe in the 1890s and altered wine growing practices around the world, except in Chile, where vines continue to thrive on their own ungrafted roots.
Weather also plays an important role, and having rainfall concentrated in the winter months followed by a long, dry growing season encourages clean agricultural practices. Many wineries are organic, even biodynamic, and the Chilean wine industry as a whole has made a strong effort to become sustainable in every area, from the vineyard to the glass.
Carmenere is the nation’s legendary “lost grape of Bordeaux.” It disappeared from European vineyards in the mid-19th century, but the deepest, darkest, and purplest of all red grapes was rediscovered thriving among Chile’s Merlot vines 100 years later.
Carmenere is Chile’s emblematic variety and today symbolizes the nation’s wine industry in much the same way as Zinfandel does in California, or Malbec in Argentina, and Shiraz in Australia. Rich in berry fruits and spices, with smooth, well-rounded tannins, Carmenere is a delight to drink and well matched to a wide range of foods, particularly hearty, full-flavored, well-seasoned dishes, such as Indian curry.
A fine example of Chile’s signature varietal is the Casa Silva Reserva Carmenere 2009, which exemplifies a cutting-edge grape coming into its own.
From the hot, dry desert north to the cold, damp glacial south, the extraordinary diversity of Chile comes out in the expressive and innovative wines from its variety of producers, such as Cono Sur, Anakena and Requingua, which apply new ideas and technologies to traditional winemaking methods with outstanding results.
Viña San Esteban, with vineyards spread over the foothills of the Andes, is a pioneer in hillside-vineyard planting techniques. Errazuriz produces its finest wines by controlling every stage of the winemaking process, and the biodynamically grown Seña blends six classic red varietals to create a complex world-class wine. Santa Rita and Viña San Pedro create ranges that are extremely popular overseas, and boutique winery Casas del Bosque focuses on high quality premium wines that are limited to select quantities.