Chile has a geography all of its own Because of its incredible length some might be under the false impression that the distances from the equator are what play the most dominant role in the diversity of soil and climate. The truth of the matter is instead the diversity in terroir is has much more to do with the proximity to the Pacific ocean or the Andes Mountains in the East.
The combination of natural barriers and a coastal Mediterranean climate gives Chile the opportunity for sustainability and fortuitous development in the country's viticulture. Chile even has one of the largest organically farmed vineyards in the world. Chilean Wine Law's Chile like other new world wine producing regions makes it incredibly easy on the label by placing the name of the grape variety front and centre on the label. Chilean wine law requires that the producer use a minimum of 75% of the stated grape variety and also 75% of the stated wine geographical area and 75% of the stated vintage. Most produced stay well within this range and use 85% minimums so that their wines can be legally sold in Europe as well.
One thing to remember is the use of special terms on the label, which Chile regulates with the following: Reserva or Reserva Especial indicates that the wine is at least 12% alcohol. Reserva Privada and Gran Reserva elevate that requirement up to 12.5%. These terms however are a bit tricky and can be misleading to the average wine consumer because they do not ensure higher quality.
Grape Varieties of Note -Sauvignon Blanc: Chilean Sauvignon Blanc is incredibly aromatic and lively. It's similar in many ways to the racy Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand, however, the wines tend to be maybe a bit more herbaceous aromatically. Many of the best examples of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc come from the coastal Casablanca and Leyda valleys. The cooler weather regions that receive a good amount of breeze, but also have good sunshine for ripening the fruit are ideal for this variety.
Chardonnay - The Chardonnay in Chile can be very similar in style to California's Sonoma Coast and Santa Barbara, which are cooler climates that allow the grape to retain a great balanced and high acidity and avoid over-ripeness. Seek out the wines from ocean-influenced sub-regions such as Casablanca and Limari valleys, and if you can find Chardonnay from the Southern Malleco Valley it is well worth a try.
Cabernet Sauvignon - The Bordeaux varieties grown in Chile are simply put some of the best wines in the world at the top shelf level. Wines like Concha y Toro's "Don Melchor" approach classic collectable status in almost every vintage. Casa Lapostalle also makes a few top-end Cabernet's that are absolutely scintillating wines.
As we know, Cabernet Sauvignon loves the sunshine and in Chile, it does very well in the central valley which is located around Santiago. The four regions to really seek out for the best Chilean Cab's are Maipo, Maule, Curico, and Rapel. The flavour profile of these Cabernet's is unmistakable and they boast the most unique richness and racy herbal notes that the variety can offer.
Carmenère This is where Chile makes its ultimate statement with red wine.
Like the Argentine's with their Malbec or the New Zealander's with their Sauvignon Blanc, Chile is truly the only region that grows world-class Carmenère. It is the lost Bordeaux variety and is actually still permitted to be planted in Bordeaux's Medoc. For a century it has thrived in Chile and was commonly mistaken for Merlot for much of that time. The flavours profile of the grape is rather unique in that it displays plenty of green and somewhat vegetal notes. This of course in many wines is a total turn-off, but for some reason the in the best examples the green flavours of Carmenère are well integrated with rich black fruit flavours and an enormous textural experience.
Chosen with the right foods such as herb seasoned lamb chops, this wine can work wonders on the palate.
Syrah - Chile does amazingly well with producing cooler weather styles of Syrah. The wines are also very affordable in comparison with other similar styled wines from around the globe. The Northern valleys of Elquí and Limarí grow fantastic cool climates, high altitude Syrah that boasts great aromatic complexity and acidity. At their best, Chilean Syrah's are ripe and supple wines, but also contain peppery and bacon-like flavours.
Pinot Noir - Perhaps the most under appreciate variety in Chile is their Pinot Noir. This seems odd because of the vast length of the country and its proximity to the pacific coast. The cooler regions are starting to get acclaim for the quality of their Pinot Noir and it would be wise to seek the wines from the cooler valleys of Itata, Bio-Bio, and Malleco. At their best, the Pinot's from Chile show remarkable varietal integrity and stand up against the great wines of California's Sonoma and Russian River Valleys.
Carignan - After a devastating earthquake in 1939, many producers of wine in the Maule Valley planted Carignan because of its hearty nature and its ability to thrive in dry-hot climates. Today the region is chock-full of old-vine Carignan from this era and the wines are starting to garner a bit of acclaim. These old vines tend to produce tannic, high acid, and rich wines with gorgeous flavours of raspberry, black cherry, earth, spice, and cedar.
Chile is one of the most exciting wine countries in the world. Its geographical location between the Andes Mountains range and the Pacific Ocean plays a major role in shaping its diverse landscape and vineyards sites. The countries potential for producing world-class terroir-driven wines is now being fully recognised. The wave of investments in specific sub-regions around the country has been backed up by knowledgeable, dedicated, ambitious winemakers who are not afraid to push the boundaries. With the strong French influence during the middle of the 19th-century when the modern wine trade began, the majority of varietals grown are of French extraction, although the discovery of Carmenere there 20 years ago has seen this grape become something of the Chilean speciality. If it is diversity, vivacity and originality you are after - as well as exceptional value for money look no further than Chile.