Abundant sunshine, exceptional soils, plenty of irrigation water, diverse terroirs, and a long growing season are all reasons why Chile has become known as a “winemaker’s paradise”. Throw in great quality wines that retail at reasonable prices, and ambitious marketing plans (to become the Number 1 producer of sustainable and diverse premium wines from the new world by 2020, for example), and it’s hard for many other wine producing countries to compete. Since the 1990s Chile has been in the process of reinventing itself from being known as a producer of inexpensive ‘coca-cola’ wines, to the producer of premium and super-premium wines showing unique diversity. In order to help drinkers of Chilean wine have a better sense of the origin of the product they are drinking, Chile has introduced a new classification system that we will begin to see on wine labels in the near future.
Viticulture in Chile
First, a little background on the viticultural landscape of Chile. It’s a long, narrow country with the Pacific Ocean to the west
Chilean Wine Region Geography. The majority of Chile’s vineyards are centrally located within the country. That’s because many of the Central Valley’s – which make up almost all of the individual wine appellations (sub-regions) – are flanked by both the Andes Mountain Range to the East and the Pacific Ocean to the West. Apr 26, 2019 Chilean Wine Regions: A Guide To The Best Vineyards In Chile. When visiting Chile there are many different Chilean wine regions to choose from, each offering a different experience and specializing in different wine varieties depending on the specific regions soil type and climate. Wineries in Chile can be searched by clicking on a region in the Chile wine regions map. Over 120 Chile wineries are integrated into our winery directory, and many wines are available direct from the winery or from wine merchants.
and the Andes Mountain Range in the east. The icy Humboldt Current coming up from Antarctica is a major cooling factor in the ocean. The Pacific Ocean off the west coast of Chile is actually very cold, making the vineyards in the western section of Chile cool-climate vineyards, with more cloud cover and fog. The chilly ocean air is partially blocked by the Coastal Ranges, but some does penetrate inland through the many river valleys carved into the rock. As one moves further inland, the temperature and amount of sunshine increases. At night, cool air flows down from the snow-covered Andes mountains, creating wide diurnal temperature ranges, perfect for helping to retain acidity in the grapes while they ripen.
In most wine-growing countries, we tend to think of climate change by latitude, or north-south, which is also how the original appellation system (Denomination of Origin) in Chile was set up in 1995 (see map). But, in Chile, we must also think of an east-west dynamic. Cabernet Sauvignon grown on the coast is very different from Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the centre of the country. An appellation such as Maipo Valley, for example, can have a huge diversity of vineyards, from high-altitude vineyards near the Andes, to coastal vineyards near the ocean, each producing very different wines. In general, wines from the coast, where the climate is cooler, will tend to be leaner and crisper, while wines from the warmer, sunnier regions further inland are most likely be fuller and richer.
A New Classification for Chilean Wines
In mid-2011, Chile officially recognized the differing wine styles from west to east by introducing a new classification of wine areas and denominations of origin for Chilean wines. Starting this year, wine producers can use three new terms to indicate where their wines come from – Costa (coast), Entre Cordilleras (between the mountain ranges), and Andes. The old Denomination of Origin (DO) system that most Chilean wine lovers are familiar with, naming wine regions from north to south, will also continue to be used. To see a map of the new appellations click here.
Chile Wine Country Map
While this system is intended to make it easier for consumers to understand the origin of the Chilean wine they are drinking, the system is not without critics. Peter Richards MW is one such critic. He says that certain areas have been classified into the new system inappropriately. For example, parts of Limari have been classified in the ‘Costa’ designation, while other parts of Limari, which are geographically more west, have been designated as ‘Entre Cordilleras’. He also states that designating the entire Casablanca region as ‘Costa’ does not account for the very different styles of wines produced in the much warmer easter parts of the region. Mr. Richards states that in order for producers and consumers to really be able to identify the origins of the wine, a classification system must be based on localities. For example, using the name Apalta, which isn’t currently legally recognized in Chilean wine law, would clearly indicate the style of wine in the bottle – a rich, lush red wine. To read Peter Richards full article click here.
Even some producers are expressing concern over this new system, especially about the very large ‘Entre Cordilleras’ designation which makes up 89% of vineyards. Aurelio Montes, president of Montes, and Eduardo Chadwick, president of Errazuriz, have both expressed concerns about the new system. They are skeptical that the classification will actually help consumers understand the style of the wine in the bottle. Will Maipo Entre Cordilleras really mean anything to consumers?
Important facts about Chilean wine
Chile is the only country the the variety Carmenére grows
The Chilean Central Valley has a moderate mediterranean climate with hot and dry summers. During the day, the thermometer climbs up to 32 degrees while at night the proximity to the Andes brings cold air. The soils have very different properties and are irrigated by the meltwaters of the Andes providing ideal conditions for growing healthy vines. A strong erosion caused by the Andean snowmelt and the natural boundary enclosing Central Chile within mountains and sea make Chilean vine cultivations resistent to infections and insect attacks such as the one of the vine pests, a representative of the phylloxera. In the 19th century, the phylloxera was responsible for devastating vine cultivations on a grand scale, first in Europe and later overseas. The parasite louse feeds on the roots of grape vines, resulting in the vines´ death. Thus, in all important winegrowing countries of the Old World, North America and Australia vines have to be grafted onto vine pest resistant rootstocks. Today , Chile is unique in growing all of its grapes on their own genuine rootstocks.
Chile is also the only country where the Carmenère grape is being cultivated. Until a few years ago, the Carmenère grape was mistaken for merlot. Since the Carmenère grape was brought from Bordeaux to Chile in the 19th century, it has thrived in Chile while it was wiped out in Europe by the phylloxera epidemic. Today, oenologists do their best to turn the Carmère into an outstanding “Chilean” wine.
Chile´s cultivation area is by far smaller than the one of the neighbor Argentina, but produces excellent internationally recognized wine. For the most part, around Santiago and in various river valleys of the Andes (see wine regions), European premium quality wines intended for export and excellent national wines are cultivated. The traditional país grape is used only for the production of simple table wines. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenère are the most important red grape varieties. Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are the outstanding white wine grapes. The most important winegrowing district is the Maipo River Valley close to Santiago. Particularly cabernet wines attract international attention. The most famous wine among the cabernets is Don Melchor from the winery Concha y Toro, taking up top positions at international contests. Chilean red wines have a very fruity as well as spicy flavor and contain a low concentration of tannins. White wines are character ized by a fresh and fruity taste, combined with an outstanding fullness.