Rough Regions Guide
The vineyards of Chile stretches over 900 km from north to south but are rarely wider than 100 km from east to west.
This narrow strip of land lies between the Andes in the east and the Pacific Ocean in the west. This create an excellent climate for wine growing with cooling influences from the sea, sunny skies and plenty of melting water for irrigation. The differences in soil and altitude also allows for many different macro climates and different styles of wine to be produced. The bulk of Chile’s wine production still comes from the Central Valley inland area between the Andes and the coastal mountain ranges. Wines with more depth and complexity come from the smaller regions, which often have a cooling influence from the sea or mountain breezes.
The main grape varieties of Chile are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carménère and Syrah for reds, and Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc for whites. Almost all the world’s Carménère is grown in Chile, which is the country’s signature grape. It was long thought to be Merlot, but DNA research has shown that it is, in fact, the old Bordeaux variety Carménère. The variety does very well here, offering full-bodied, dark wines with ripe, brambly fruit flavours coupled with an herbal, minty touch.
Talking about the wine industry in Chile is like taking a snapshot in time, it is a very dynamic scene with new wine regions being introduced almost every year. Here is a list of the main ones from North to South.
Elqui and Limarí Valley Elqui Valley is quite cool and shows great potential for cool-climate Syrah. Here, it’s made in the more restrained European style, with notes of fruit, pepper and black olive. The Limarí Valley also produces Syrah, though it is better known for its cool-climate Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Casablanca and San Antonio Valley, a bit further south, are located between the Pacific Ocean and the coastal mountains. This results in cool growing conditions thanks to morning fogs and cooling ocean winds making the regions suitable for aromatic white wines. Sauvignon Blanc tends to dominate plantings here but there are also elegant and defined Chardonnays to be found. Pinot Noir and some peppery Syrah is also made in these regions.
Central Valley Region is the largest wine growing area in Chile but includes several smaller regions with different specifies due to soil, altitude and aspect. It runs from Santiago down to Itata Valley and lies between the Andes and the costal mountains. The majority of the wines here are planted on the fertile valley floor producing easy drinking fruit forward wines or every day quality. These wines will be simply labelled as Central Valley. In the sub regions the soil tend to be better drained and less fertile resulting in more concentrated wines with greater quality and ageing capacity. Maipo Valley for example, is one of the oldest wine regions in Chile and is located just outside Santiago. It has an excellent reputation for its Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends. Located within the Rapel Valley, Colchagua and Cachapoal has a warm inland climate, making it suitable for powerful red varieties such as Syrah, Cabernet and Carménère. Some excellent Malbec is also grown here.
Further south there are three regions with distinctly cooler climate but it is the Bío Bío area that has shown the greatest development in terms of quality wines. This relatively new wine region and has specialised in aromatic varieties such as Gewürztraminer and Riesling. Also, classic varieties such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are used to make excellent, crisp wines here.