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Around 70% of Chile’s production is exported, it’s the fourth largest exporter of wine in the world. The major export markets are China, USA and Japan.
Chile has been known as a producer of inexpensive wine, of which the majority is produced by four big companies: Concha y Toro, Santa Rita, Santa Carolina and San Pedro.
The history of Chile as a wine country dates back to the 1500s, when Spanish settlers came to Chile and brought their vines along with them. Cheap wines were made of País and muscat.
By the middle of the 20th century, Chile was a champion in the production of bulk wines. However, it came to an end as the domestic demand declined. Also, it got more difficult to export wines because of the political isolation of the country in those times. With the return of the democracy (1980-1990), things started to change for the better and producers started to invest heavily in viticulture.
Chile has always been known for producing safe bets: reliable, risk-averse wines. This is changing, Chile’s producing exciting wines these days.
Climate & geography
Chile is long and narrow: 4300 from north to south, 175 kilometers wide. It has natural borders on each side:
- North: Atacama desert
- East: Andes
- West: Pacific Ocean
- South: Patagonia
Generally speaking, Chile has a warm Mediterranean climate with a long, dry and sunny growing season. The more you go south, the cooler and wetter it gets. However, the most climatic differences happens from west to east, rather than from north to south. The Pacific Ocean brings cooling breezes – Humboldt Current – to coastal vineyards. Some of it is blocked by the coastal mountains, creating Chile’s Central Valley: home to inexpensive, high-volume wines.
The majority of the vineyards is located in an area of 1000 kilometers long from Elqui Valley (30 degrees) to Malleco Valley (38 degrees). Because of the low latitude, the sunlight is intense here.
Chile is affected by two complex weather patterns called El Niño and La Niña. La Niña is often referred to as the cold phase with a lot of rainfall, whilst El Niño brings the warmth (combined with drought).
Soils are diverse. Fertile soils on the valley floor, mostly alluvial in nature. On the slopes, it’s less fertile with more gravel and sand. In the Andes, the soil is volcanic (granite). The only area with limestone soils is Limarí Valley in the north.
There’s a DO system for quality control since 1995. There are four levels:
In addition, a further set of designations was introduced in 2011, which reflect the country’s diversity in climate and soils from east (Andes) to west (Pacific).
- Entre Cordilleras (in between)
The new labelling has been firstly adopted by the producers of Aconcagua Valley, where the distinction is most clear.
Regions from north to south
- Subregions: Copiapó and Huasco Valley
- Focus on pisco and table grapes
- Atacama desert is the world’s driest desert
- Subregions: Elqui Valley (highest vineyards), Limarí (calcareous soils), Choapa Valley
- Average rainfall: <100 mm
- Extreme climate, focus on high quality rather than bulk wines
- Most planted: syrah, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay
- Subregions: Aconcagua, Casablanca Valley and San Antonio Valley
- Central part is hot and dry, but the coastal areas are Chile’s coolest
- Leyda Valley is a well-known subzone of San Antonio Valley and famous for sauvignon blanc
- Aconcagua Costa: morning fogs, ocean breezes, perfect for cool climate varieties like pinot noir, sauv blanc and chardonnay
- Aconcagua Andes: altitude >1000m, warm days / cold nights
- Subregions: Maipo, Rapel, Curicó and Maule Valley
- Sheltered from maritime influences by coastal mountains
- Warm, fertile, well-irrigated plains -> high volume wines
- Better quality coming from the Andean foothills / coastal ranges
|Region||Zone / Area||Known for|
|Maipo is sheltered from the maritime influences: warm and sunny days. |
Mostly black grapes, known for cab sauv.
Premium wines from Puente Alto and Pirque.
|Rapel||Cachapoal Valley (north) / Peumo|
|Cachapoal is slightly warmer, as its sheltered from ocean breezes. |
Known for inexpensive red wine.
Outstanding quality around Peumo (late ripening carmenere).
Colchagua is larger and producing all styles of wine.
Inexpensive wines for fertile valley floors, outstanding quality from cooler / less – fertile areas.
|Curicó||Inexpensive wines. Fertile, warm area.|
|Maule Valley||Cauquenes||Southern end of the Central Valley. |
Producer of inexpensive wines but also increasingly becoming known as a producer of very good quality reds, especially from dry-farmed vineyards and old vines (país, muscat and carignan).
Carignan is a specialty in Cauquenes.
- Subregions: Itata, Bío Bío, Malleco Valley
- Climate gets cooler and wetter (>1000 mm), fungal diseases
- Cooler but longer days (latitude 36-38 degrees)
- Bío Bío: dry-farmed, old bush vines like País
Chile’s local red grape variety is país. Traditionally, it was used to make cheap table wines, but has been working on a comeback. Producers, like Bouchon, are making good quality wines from old vines.
Since 1990s, the focus is on international grape varieties:
- Cab sauv – full-bodied, high but ripe tannins, dark fruit and some herbaceous notes
- Sauv blanc & chardonnay – from inexpensive Central Valley to premium chardonnay from Limarí
- Merlot – mostly inexpensive merlots from Central Valley
- Carmenere – full-bodied, medium acidity, ripe black fruit and herbaceous
- Bouchon: dry-farmed spectacular Semillon, old vine país
- Viñedos de Alcohuaz: terroir-driven wines, especially from Itata
- Errazuriz: from high volume to terroir driven (Las Pizarras)
- Pedro Parra: terroir-driven wines
Your turn now
I always put a new region on instagram first. If you have any additions or comments on a region, please do share. You can drop a comment on instagram or on the website – see below. Your help is much appreciated!
- Jancis Robinson – Wine Atlas
- WSET All the wines of the world