Chile is a wine-producing country, also known under the name “Bordeaux of the South”, and has become one of the most significant wine-producing countries of the world, qualitatively as well as quantitatively. The first vines were already planted in the middle of the 16th century. Spanish conquerors brought grapes to South America. But proper viniculture only started with the immigration of French vintners, who brought various grapes with them. An area of about 200,000 hectares is cultivated in Chile. On about half of the area, table grapes are grown.
Chile is mainly popular for its red wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon on the front, followed by Merlot, Pais, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Carmenere and Syrah. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are classical white grapes, but on most of the old wine yards, Tocai Friulano is the most important white grape.
The conditions for growing wine are ideal in Chile. The climate is warm and dry, and due to the isolated location, there are not many problems caused by grapevine diseases, like blight or phylloxera.
There are still many ungrafted vines. But when planting new vines, rootstocks are used as a precaution, which are resistant against phylloxera. After the vine pest in Europe, the grapes from Chile were again reimported.
In 1965, the Chilean wine marked came to a standstill during the Christ democratic government. During the expropriation of the socialist government in 1980, the whole wine economy finally collapsed. Three years later, a fresh start with modern cellar technology was possible due to French and American investors.
Because of its great spacial expansion, Chile is influenced by different climatic zones. The country is a geographic exception – it extends over 4,000 kilometres from north to south. Most of the vineyards are located between the 30th and 40th degree of latitude. The detrital of the Andes, which is washed into the valleys by meltwaters, is very rich in minerals, which is why the usual fertilization is almost dispensable. The summers are hot, dry and with low precipitation. From the Humboldt Current cool pacific winds emerge, which cause cold night temperatures in some valleys and make it possible to also grow white vines. Thanks to the hot summers, the vines mature well, and high differences in temperature between day and night implicate a full aroma.
The most important cultivation areas lie between the western river valleys of the Andes at a height of 500 to 1,100 metres.
The Chilean wine law only exists since 1985. It determines the areas of origin and the grapes, which are admitted for the production of quality wines. The names of the vine stocks almost always appear on the wine label. The wine has to contain at least 75 percent of the grape. This percentage also applies to the origin and the vintage. Chaptalization (adding of sugar) is prohibited in Chile. Acidification (souring), however, is permitted.
There are lawful indications of origin for three kinds of wine. Pisco indicates Chilean brandies from the Zona Pisquera, which can only be produced under special conditions. Pajarete is a particular desert wine, also from the Zona Pisquera, which has to have an alcohol content between 14 and 17 percent. The third, Vino Asoleado is a sweet wine from the Zona de Secano.
Chilean red wines have a high content of polyphenol and cyanide and therefore a good colour. They are hearty, silky and full-bodied with a good aroma, very smooth because of its tannins and can be consumed young.
Chile’s white wines are fresh, elegant, fruity and bloomy with a special character.
The best known vineyards are located in the centre of the country, where high quality wines are pressed. The wines, which are produced here, are similar to the ones from Bordeaux. In the warm north, table wines and sweet wines from the Muscadine grape are pressed. The wines from the north are mainly sweet with a high alcohol content. The wines from the south are simple and good. The biggest part of the pressed wines, however, stems from the southern part of the country.
Wine experts from all over the world expect the quality of Chilean wines to improve remarkably.
Viniculture is localized in four regions, which are again divided into subregions.
1.) The wine region Coquimbo (Valle del Elqui, Valle de Limarí, Valle de Choapa)
2.) The wine region Aconcagua (Valle del Aconcagua, Valle de Casablanca, Valle de San Antonio)
3.) The wine region Valle Central (Valle del Maipo, Valle del Rapel, Valle de Curicó, Valle del Maule)
4.) The wine region Valle Sur (Valle del Itata, Valle del Bío-Bío, Valle del Malleco)