Chile

Chile’s reputation is for good quality ‘entry-level’ reds, which is much deserved, but the country has so much more to offer. It is a great wine producing nation with wonderfully bright sunshine tempered by cool sea-breezes or sloping vineyards and higher altitudes. It is also a relatively pristine environment that seems to bring real purity to the wines. There is such an interesting variety of flavoursome, mid-range wines to explore, as well as powerfully dense, top-end stars. It’s Chile’s lateral valleys that run down from the Andes, across the Central Valley and through Coastal Range, that bring variety to the table. Great, gluggable glasses of Merlot and Carmenère are here for the taking, but if you search further you will come across the more complex blends, with a curranty claret-like edge to the Cabernet-dominant wines. The Maipo Valley which fans out from capital city, Santiago, is Chile’s most established vineyard area and the first region of the fertile Valle Central or Central Valley. It is home to the original ‘grandee’ companies of Chilean wine and is the heartland for lovely Bordeaux-inspired reds. Pressure from real estate development here has steadily pushed Maipo’s vineyards eastwards onto the slopes of the Andes, which has actually improved the finesse and elegance of many reds. This Alto Maipo sub-area probably has the best terroir and is now producing world-class reds. One grandee is Cousiño Macul – a family-owned operation with some 267 Ha of vines – which has jumped ship from the encroaching suburbs to Buin. Santa Ema is owned by the Pavone family, who originated in Piedmont, and is situated at El Peral in the Isla de Maipo sub-area, surrounded by 50 Ha of the company’s own vines.

The next region south is the Cachapoal Valley around the town of Rancagua which is now the main wine-producing area for Santiago. Then you come to Colchagua which is fast developing as a prime production area with many new wineries springing up. It’s the stronghold for Luis Felipe Edwards (LFE), an important family company which produces our Pacamaya wines, amongst others. Sutil Family Vineyards are also in Colchagua, but they source grapes from other top regions too, making the superb Cucao range as well as top red blend Acrux. It was founded by energetic entrepreneur, Juan Sutil, in 1995. The Lolol Valley, a sub-area in south-west Colchagua, is the Chilean home of François Lurton, of the famous Bordeaux wine family, who produces flavoursome biodynamic wines at Hacienda Araucano. Colchagua and Cachapoal grapes can be used together in wines labelled ‘Rapel’. Two hundred kilometres south of Santiago, the Curicó region, along with its neighbour, Maule, is relatively sheltered from the maritime weather by the coastal range, but the vineyards can be dry-farmed, without irrigation, to produce excellent reds and whites. Famous Catalonian wine producers, Miguel Torres, has been in Maule since 1979. These regions, from Maipo down to Maule, can all provide grapes for wines labelled ‘Valle Central’. Vineyards are also being planted in the Coastal Range near the Pacific Ocean, benefiting from the cooler breezes that blow inland. Just north of Santiago, the Aconcagua Valley is warmer, making very good Merlot-based reds. West of Santiago is Casablanca, on the way to the Pacific port of Valparaiso, which produces world class whites with brilliantly fresh flavours. South-west is San Antonio with its better-known enclave, the short Leyda Valley which is reputed for top quality Pinot Noir. In the southern region, at latitudes similar to Tasmania and NZ’s South Island, the vineyards of Bío-Bío, Itata, Malleco, Cautin and Osorno – these last two being in the Lake District – are most suited to aping Burgundy and Germany, such are the vagaries of the weather. Way north of Santiago, the vines of the Limarí, Chopapa and Elqui Valleys – in the Coquimbo region – need altitude and morning fog to mitigate against the intense heat. Sadly, they have been suffering from lack of water in recent years. Huasco is on the edge of the Atacama Desert whereas Copiapó is within it.

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