Wines of Chile: a first introduction
Winemaking in South America appeared not so long ago as in Europe, only a few centuries ago. Chilean wines were introduced to Europe in the 1990s and rapidly gained recognition. Today Chile is one of the main suppliers of wines to Russia among the New World countries. The region produces both budget and outstanding high-quality samples.
- History of Chilean winemaking
- Classification of Chilean Wines
- Regions of Chile
- Central Valley
- Southern region
- Main Chilean varieties
- The best wines of Chile
The history of winemaking in Chile began around 1538, when Spanish settlers began planting the first vineyards there. During Spanish rule, wine production in Chile was taxed, and a ban was imposed on increasing the area of vineyards, as it was believed that Chileans should only buy Spanish wines.
In 1818 the South American country gained its independence. This was the reason for the intensive development of the wine industry. In the 1830s the first vines from France were brought to Chile, which gradually ousted the earlier varieties cultivated there. The area of vineyards at that time grew rapidly, and many important wineries were formed today.
At the beginning of the 20th century, however, wine production declined. Alcohol consumption in the country increased significantly, and the Chilean government imposed heavy taxes on wine production. For about 80 years the wine industry remained without investment.
The situation began to change in the 1980s. In 1979 Miguel Torres, a well-known Catalan wine investor, planted vineyards in the Curico Valley and introduced Chileans for the first time to modern gartering and crop control techniques and temperature-controlled steel vats.
In the 1990s, wines from Chile began to gain incredible popularity on the world stage. A good combination of quality and price ensured their success. Nowadays Chile produces not only democratic versions, but also elegant premium wines.
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Since 1995 there has been a classification that divides Chilean wines into the following categories:
- Vinos de Mesa – table wine (area of origin, grape varieties and millesime are not specified)
- Vinos sin Denomination de Origin – wines with grape varieties and year of harvest (region of production is not controlled)
- Vinos con Denomination de Origin – wines with control of origin, indication of grape varieties, vintage
By law, the information on the label about grape varieties, region of origin and millesime must be at least 75% correct. In addition, under Chilean law, the inscriptions Reserva, Reserva Especial, Gran Reserva are not a guarantee of aging the wine.
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Due to its unique geographical location the country has a huge variety of nature and soil types. The country is divided into more than a dozen wine regions, of which the northern ones are dry and hot and the southern ones are wet and cool.
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In northern Chile are the Elqui Valley, the Limari Valley, and the Choapa Valley. Elqui is the northernmost area with an abundance of sunny days. The vineyards here are at an altitude of 2 km above sea level. Characteristic varieties are Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Carmenère and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Limari is also very dry. Because of the low rainfall, winemakers here have to use a drip irrigation system. The main varieties are Chardonnay, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.
The Choapa Valley is located in the narrowest part of the country, where the Andes and the coastal zone become almost one. The vineyards here grow on the rocks with low yields. The main varieties are Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.
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There are three wine regions distinguished in this part, the Aconcagua Valley, the Casablanca Valley and the San Antonio Valley. The Aconcagua Valley lies at the foot of the famous peak of the same name, second only in height to the Himalayas. Its coastal part produces mostly white wines and the valley’s interior red wines. Soils prevailing here are sandy clay and granite-clay soils. The main feature of the region is the vast areas for which agriculture uses organic and biodynamic methods. In addition, the valley is also famous for being the first place in the country to cultivate the Syrah grape variety. Other typical Aconcagua varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Carmenère.
Casablanca is characterized by morning fogs and rather cold temperatures, suitable for the cultivation of “northern” grape varieties. Winemakers began to explore the region in the early 1990s. Since then, excellent examples of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir, Viognier, Riesling, and pinot gris have been produced here.
The San Antonio Valley is a young coastal region with strong ocean influences and a cool climate. The region is known for its mineral white and spicy red wines. One of San Antonio’s best wine-growing areas is considered to be the Leyda Valley. Here such varieties as sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir and Syrah are cultivated.
Atacama produces wines from such famous producers as Arboleda, Vina Sena, and Errazuriz.
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This part includes several wine producing provinces-dolinas: Maipo, Rapel, Curico and Maule. The Maipo Valley is characterized by a variety of natural landscapes – there are both mountains and a wide field for grape cultivation. Half of the local vineyards (about 10,680 hectares) are occupied by cabernet sauvignon. The most suitable terroir for this variety is Alto Maipo. Merlot, Carmenère, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc are also cultivated in the region.
The Rapel Valley is divided into two key wine-growing zones, Cachapol and Colchagua. Both regions are characterized by a Mediterranean climate. Cachapol makes mostly high quality wines from cabernet and carménère. Colchagua is located 180 km away from Santiago and is famous for producing some of the best Chilean red wines. The main varieties are cabernet sauvignon, carmener, merlot, syrah, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and malbec.
The history of winemaking in Curico began in the 19th century. Since then more than 30 European grape varieties have been grown there. The region has preserved a large number of grape varieties of sauvignon vert, which used to be mistaken for sauvignon blanc. Cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay and carmeneur are also common in Curico.
The Maule Valley is characterized by favorable climatic conditions for viticulture. It is one of the largest and oldest winemaking regions. There are many old, non-irrigated vineyards, often interspersed with each other. Some of them do not even have a varietal definition. Cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, merlot, and carmer dominate in Maule.
Some of the major wineries in the Central Valley: Vina Maipo, Caliterra.