Chile produces much less wine than
Argentina, but has had greater success on the export markets. Known for
its fruity and appealing wines, made from a wide range of grape
varieties, Chile has the knack of producing wine styles that consumers
are very happy to drink.
The foundations of today's Chilean wine
industry were laid down in the 1850s. Many South Americans were great
travellers and wealthy landowners made the long journey to visit the
vineyards of Europe.
They returned with healthy vines from
regions like Bordeaux, which explains the presence of Cabernet
Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenère, a grape variety that was, eventually,
to give Chilean winemakers a real point of difference. It wasn't until
the 1990s that Carmenère was identified by the French ampelographer Jean
Michel Bourisiquot. Up until this time Carmenère had been commonly
mistaken for Merlot. Chilean Carmenère has abundant blackberry-like
fruit, chocolate, and coffee flavors.
Chile has often been described as a
viticultural paradise, with its dry summers and protection from the
Pacific Ocean to the west and the mountains of the Andes to the east.
Recognized as being phylloxera-free, Chile's vines have scarcely
encountered any form of disease. The Atacama Desert to the north
provides the final barrier.
Most of Chile's wine regions are found to
the south of Santiago, with Aconcagua and Casablanca Valley to the
north. Casablanca is particularly suited to growing white grapes, as the
climate is strongly influenced by the cold Humboldt current off the
The Central Valley region is a vast area
which sits some 600 meters above sea level. There are four rivers which
run from the Andes to the ocean, and each lends its name to an
appellation. From north to south they are: Maipo Valley, Rapel. Curicó
and Maule. Each area enjoys its own microclimate and has well-known
sub-zones, such as Colchagua in Rapel, a source of some great Merlot.
A high proportion of Chile's vineyards are
planted with internationally popular classic grape varieties. Merlot
helped Chilean wines to gain their reputation for the hallmark rich
plummy characteristics that drinkers enjoy so much. Wines made from
Cabernet Sauvignon were among the first to attract international
acclaim, but by far the most interesting in terms of its history and
potential is Carmenère.