Wines from Chili

Chile is a long narrow country located along the southwest coast of South America. It was the Spanish conquistadors who introduced vine cultivation to Chile in the mid-16th century, but it was France that had the greatest influence on wine production in Chile.

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Stretching from north to south between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Chile is a country 4,300 km long and 177 km wide. Chile is made up of 14 wine-growing regions, which define the appellations (D.O. Denominación de Origen). These regions can be grouped into three main parts:

- to the west towards the Pacific Ocean, are the coastal areas (Costa areas)

- to the east, close to the Andean Cordillera, are the so-called Andean areas

- the whole central part, i.e. the regions between the Andes (Entre Cordilleras areas).

Imported in the 16th century by the Spaniards, the cultivation of vines was encouraged in the following centuries by successive governors of Chile, especially for religious purposes (mass wine). In the XVIIIth century, the country produced wines in full quantity and at low prices, against the advice of Spanish wine producers. Chilean winegrowers also began to produce their own Vinifera plants, making themselves independent of their Spanish governors. In the 19th century, at the time of independence, Chile began to import from France (the Ochagavia family hired José Bertrand, a renowned oenologist) several French grape varieties, mainly from Bordeaux (Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Carmenère). When, between 1860 and 1890, North American Phylloxera destroyed all or part of the European vineyards, Chilean plants were brought back to Europe, thus saving varieties that had otherwise disappeared. Indeed, Chilean vines were spared from this scourge thanks to its soils and its climate, so peculiar due to the Andes Cordillera. During the dictatorship of Pinochet, production was greatly slowed down, but between 1987 and 1993, the surface area of vines increased by 10,000 ha, making Chile the 9th largest wine producing country, most of which is exported.

As soon as Chilean wines flooded the world market, they quickly became successful. As New World wines were in fashion, the grape varieties were already known and above all the prices defied all competition.

Since then, as new production areas (Australia, Argentina, New Zealand, USA) have also entered the competition, Chile has lost some of its uniqueness in the global competition and without its specificity as an original, pleasant and cheap wine.

As the climate is too hot in the north and too cool in the south, most of the vines are located in the central part of the country, which is temperate and close to the capital, Santiago. On the other hand, the winter rains followed by long periods of drought, the temperature differences between day and night, as well as the protection of the desert in the north and the Cordillera are all factors favouring a healthy and dry ripening of the grapes. Rarely suffering from mould or plague, the Chilean vineyard can be considered one of the most naturally ecological and organic in the world.

The white grape varieties are: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Chenin Blanc and Semillon. In red, the grape varieties are : Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir. But Chile's current big star is Carménère, a vine imported from Europe several centuries ago and having disappeared, it reappeared in the 1980s, creating a great craze for this comeback.

The Concha y Toro and Almaviva wines (a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Carménère and 3% Cabernet Franc) are among the best known.