A Guide to Chile’s Wonderful Wines

  • 7 months   ago

Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay...if you like a glass of wine after a long day, then the chances are that a Chilean variety has passed through your lips at some point.

Following an early 1980s renaissance, the Chilean wine industry has expanded rapidly, to the extent that the country is now the fifth largest exporter of wines in the world, and the seventh largest producer.

But why is Chilean wine so popular? What gives it such an appealing taste? We decided to go on a brief tour of the country’s vino offerings to find the answers.

A Multicultural History
 
Chile is a long way from France, so you’d be right to wonder why the names have such a Gallic flair. 
 
The answer lies in the long history of Chilean wine; starting back in the 16th century when the Spanish conquistadors colonised the region and introduced the Vitis vinifera wines. 
 
Chile’s fertile soil and cool climate was perfect, and a winemaking culture was born. Later, French immigrants, such as Silvestre Ochagavía, brought their expertise and gave so many of the present-day wines their names.
 
The industry continued to blossom from this heady mix of Spanish and French influence, until the devastating impact of the two World Wars and the global Great Depression hit the Chilean wine industry hard. The country was cut off from the rest of the world through post-war isolationism, and it was only in the 1980s that producers started to look outwards again.
 
Winemaking equipment was modernised and production expanded to meet the growing international demand for the wine’s distinctive flavour. This vino boom culminated in 2004 with Chilean Eduardo Chadwick winning an international contest with his Viñedo Chadwick 2000.
 
The secret was well and truly out - Chilean wine was world-class and offered great value-for-money. Nowadays, it exports around €2 billion of wine, and the secret of its success may well lie in its unique grape varieties.
 
The Power of the Grapes
 
Cabernet Sauvignon
 
Think of Chilean wine and the name Cabernet Sauvignon will probably pop into your head. If we were to go on a tour of the country’s wine regions, then this would be the place to start.
Occupying the warm Central Valley near the nation’s capital, Santiago, the wine’s vineyards are known for providing rich soil, a terroir that helps to produce an excellent earthy grape, with a hint of blackberry, that takes time to ripen. 
 
Tip: It’s not necessary to blow your budget on a super-expensive bottle of Cabernet: the wine is famous for its great value, and you can normally get a delicious bottle for no more than $10!
 
Carménère
 
Staying in the central region, the country’s signature grape variety, the Carménère, offers something unique. While Cabernets are most likely to be found on dinner tables around the globe, the Carménère sits there quietly, exulting in his status as the ‘lost sixth grape of Bordeaux’
 
Considered to be Chile’s key to future success in the wine world, its grapes offer a rare spicy ‘green’ flavour, that can be likened to a bell pepper. 
 
The truth is that international winemakers are still researching this delicious variety, and it could be that we know more about it in the coming years.
 
Merlot
 
Moving a little further south, a grape mistaken for Carménère in the past can be found. Merlot wine can thank the Colchagua Valley for its full-bodied yet smooth flavour, which can be also blended with harsher varieties, such as a Cabernet. 
 
Tip: The Chilean Merlot is ideal for providing a soft edge to strong flavours, hence its popularity in European cuisines. Pair this with a strong Italian pasta sauce, for example, to get this wine at its best.
 
A Touch of Wine
 
While the sunny climate of Chile oversees the creation of many rich red wines, the Valparaíso region near the coast is famous for producing delicious, fruity white wines, and is split into two sub-regions.
In the Aconcagua valley, snow is melted from the surrounding mountains to irrigate the vines with fresh water, giving the wines a crisp edge to their flavour.
 
The other region, the Casablanca valley became popular during the revitalisation of the wine industry in the 80s and offers the world-famous Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay wines, which flourish in the area’s cooler climate. 
 
It’s worth noting the difference between these two famous whites, however. The Sauvignons normally have a strong citrus-like edge and can often be described as acidic. The Chardonnays, on the other hand, normally have a rounder, more well-balanced taste.
 
Tip: As well as sharing its name with a famous movie set against a gambling backdrop, the Casablanca area also has one of the biggest casinos in Chile, the Vina del Mar nearby, which means you can sip a locally-sourced glass of Chardonnay while you work out how to beat the slots.
Future of Chilean Wine
 
So, from multi European influence to vineyards irrigated by freshly melted snow, we’ve seen some of the reasons why Chilean wine has tasted good for so many years; but what of its future?
 
Well, the last three decades has seen a lot of advancement. Wine-making processes in the country have been modernised to compete with the best in the world, involving updated technology and equipment.
 
It’s resulted in a high level of international investment from super-wealthy families such as the Rothschild and the Marnier Lapostolles, founders of the Grand Mariner.
 
In 2009, The Movement of Independent Vintners (MOVI) was set up. This collection of innovative winemakers is dedicated to improving the quality of wine produced in the country, focusing on winemaker involvement in every step of the production process. 
 
It could see a new generation of world-class wine on the horizon, and ensure that Chile remains near the top of the world wine rankings for years to come.

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