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Chilean wine



Along with its Argentine neighbor, Chile is the leading wine-producing nation of South America. Although its viticulture has a history stretching back 500 years, Chile used to be mostly been known for cheap, fruity reds and only in the past couple of decades has wine quality improved tremendously.


Wine grapes were introduced in the early 1500s by the Catholic missionaries who followed in the steps of the Spanish Conquistadores and needed the drink for sacramental purposes. The País grape took so well to the Chilean climate that vineyards were quickly planted throughout the country, from the Limarí Valley in the north to Bí­o-Bío Valley in the south, and wine consumption spread well beyond religious celebrations. Indeed, thanks to its mild climate, Chile is the New World’s natural home for wine: long daytime hours of Mediterranean-like sunshine, plus nights cooled by the Andean air help maintain acidity levels in the ripening fruit. Springtime frost is rare, as is rain during the February to May harvest season.


In the mid-19th century, wealthy Chilean landowners introduced noble varieties from France, such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot and malbec. Then the phylloxera pest devastated European vineyards and sent desperate French winemakers to South America, bringing with them experience and techniques. With such favorable conditions, no wonder that Chile had over 40,000 hectares of vineyards producing some 275 million liters by the beginning of the 20th century. Then high taxes, state protectionism and restrictive regulations held back the progress of the wine industry until a new turn in the 1980s. A whole revitalization process saw Chile propel itself into the premium market and to the position of fifth largest wine exporter in the world, its main markets being the UK and the USA.


Again, foreign influence proved decisive, as winemakers such Miguel Torres of Spain brought in new techniques which boosted quality. Imported oak barrels and stainless steel tanks replaced the traditional rauli beechwood ones that gave the alcohol an unpleasant taste. Joint-ventures between Old World and New World wineries created new brands, like the Almaviva produced by Château Mouton Rothschild and Concha y Toro. Chile’s signature grape Carménère also appeared at that time. The ancient red Bordeaux grape, thought to be extinct, had in fact arrived in Chile before the phylloxera crisis. It matures into a deep crimson wine with berries aromas. Good Carménère include Concha y Toro’s Terrunyo and De Martino’s Single Vineyard.


Yet the most distinctive Chilean wine is the one made from the cabernet sauvignon grape, which is planted in roughly one third of the country’s 118,000 hectares of vineyards. It is known for making easy drinking wines with soft tannins and flavors of green bell pepper, mint and eucalyptus. Try Perez Cruz’s Reserva, Grande Reserve by Los Vascos or Concha y Toro’s Terrunyo. If you want to stray from red, which accounts for the three quarters of Chilean wine production, dip your lips in Casas del Bosque's Sauvignon Blanc or Miguel Torres Santa Digna Reserve Sauvignon Blanc.


Nearly all regions in Chile grow wine, but the most accessible valleys for travelers wishing to go on wine tours are Maipo, the country’s oldest wine region, Casablanca, with large plantings of white varieties, Colchaga, where organic viticulture is developing, and Maule, whose geographical diversity translates into varietal diversity.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Chile: Social and environmental issues, When to Go to Viña del Mar, Wiring Money, Rock Art, Shopping in Santiago, Chile Phones, Chile Internet access, WiFi and Internet cafes, Chile by numbers, Banks and Money & Costs .

By Andrea Davoust
After more than two years of working and living out of a suitcase in Eastern Europe and in various improbable African countries that no-one has ever...
06 Jul 2009

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