A-B-C of Chilean Wine: The must-know grape varieties, regions & producers
By Debra Meiburg MW
Chile has some of the world’s most spectacular vineyards. Bounded by the Atacama desert, the Pacific Ocean, snow-capped Andes and southern ice fields, this is the only wine region where both cacti and snow are interspersed amongst vines.
As with most of the Americas, grapes were first planted in Chile by Catholic missionaries in the 16th century, followed by the Spanish conquistadors. These days, the United States is Chile’s largest market, followed by the United Kingdom, Canada and Japan. They offer excellent value and consistent quality, but aren’t all inexpensive quaffers, with some, such as the Montes Alpha “M”, in the top-dollar bracket.
Chilean districts and producers can be tongue twisters, such the Aconcagua, Colchagqua, Panquehue or Cauquenes valleys.
The Aconcagua Valley (Ah-con-kah-gwa) is the warmest of Chile’s wine producing regions. Its production is limited to the estate of highly respected Viña Errazuriz, which was one of the earliest wineries established in Chile some 130 years ago.
A little closer to the cooling breezes of the Pacific Ocean is Chile’s youngest wine region, the Casa Blanca Valley, which specialises in white wines, particularly Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Maipo Valley produces a significant amount of wine. And just south of Maipo is the Rapel Valley, which is home to the well-respected Colchagua (Kohl-cha-gwa) district.
Wine enthusiasts are not the only people to notice Chile’s vineyards. Famed international producers have invested heavily in Chile’s versatile climate. In 1988, Bordeaux’s Lafite Rothschild established a winery in Chile called Viña Los Vascos. Try Los Vascos, Colchagua, Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 for classic old-world-style wine.
Mondavi, another well-known international player, linked up with the Errazuriz family to produce the delicious Seña. Alexandra Marnier-Laspostolle of Grand Marnier fame established Casa Lapostolle, and Spain’s Miguel Torres’ produces some of the finest wine from Chile with its Manso de Velasco.
Chile specialises in the classic red grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Chile has had particular success with its Merlot, so it came as quite a shock a few years ago to discover through DNA testing that Chile’s spicy Merlot wasn’t Merlot at all, but a little known variety called Carmenère. For a taste of this singular variety, try MontGras, Carmenère.