A mainstay of the restaurant blackboard, Chile has so much more to offer! There is now such an interesting variety of flavoursome mid-range wines as well as powerfully dense, top end stars to explore.

hile focuses on its valleys in both the Andes and Coastal Range to bring variety to the party… and table. Wonderfully bright and pure, Chile has a reputation for good quality ‘entry-level’ reds which is much deserved. Great, gluggable glasses of Merlot and Carmenère are here for the taking, but if you search further you come across the more complex blends, with more than a touch of Northern Rhône coming through in the Syrah-rich reds, and a curranty claret-like edge to the Cabernet-dominant wines.

Maipo and Mid Chile have Chile’s most established vineyard area with the Maipo vineyards fanning out from capital city, Santiago de Chile. It is home to the original ‘grandee’ companies of Chilean wine and the heartland for lovely claret-like reds. On Santiago’s southern side, pressure from real estate development has steadily pushed Maipo’s vineyards eastwards onto the slopes towards the Andes, which has actually improved the finesse and elegance of many wines, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon-based reds. This Alto Maipo sub-area probably has the best terroir and is now producing world-class reds. One ‘grandee’ is Cousiño Macul, family-owned with some 267 hectares of vineyards, whose winemaking operations have now escaped Santiago suburbs to Buin in the southern Maipo. Owned by the Pavone family, originally from Piedmont, Santa Ema is situated at El Peral in the Isla de Maipo sub-area surrounded by 50 ha of the company’s own vines.

The next regions south are the Cachapoal Valley (previously called Rapel) which is now the main producing area for Santiago and the Colchagua Valley, 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 belonging to the Edwards’s who produce our Pacamaya wines amongst others. Viña Sutil, makers of the superb Cucao range, was founded by energetic entrepreneur Juan Sutil in Colchagua in 1995, but also sources grapes from other top regions of Chile. In the Lolol Valley, a sub-area in the south-west of Colchagua, François Lurton of the famous Bordeaux family produces flavoursome biodynamic wines at Hacienda Araucano.

Vineyards are also being planted in the Coastal Range near the Pacific Ocean, benefiting from the cooler breezes that blow inland. Due west of Santiago, and making waves, is the San Antonio region and its better known enclave, the short Leyda Valley which is now a mecca for top quality Pinot Noir. Travelling towards Chile’s second city, the port of Valparaiso, you drive through the Casablanca Valley, a hit for stunning whites. The influence of cool sea breezes here produces brilliantly fresh flavours in world class white varieties. Just north of Santiago on the road to Argentina, the Aconcagua Valley is warmer, making very good Merlot-based reds.

Curicó and Southern Chile sees the climate becoming cooler and latitudes similar to Tasmania and South Island New Zealand. Curicó and Maule valleys are relatively sheltered from the maritime weather by the coastal mountain range, and have ‘dry-farmed’ vineyards that receive enough rain through the year to produce excellent red and white wines. A further couple of hours in the car, through the Itata region and on past the coastal city of Concepción, brings you to Bio-Bio Valley where Riesling and other aromatic varieties are making their names. Now some 400 miles south of Santiago, producers are pushing the viticultural boundaries in the Malleco Valley where you’re almost in Chile’s Lake District and the vagaries of the weather are much more influential. The results in these southerly regions can be very exciting.

Originally Limarí and Northern Chile produced mainly Pisco (grape spirit) and table grapes. New French grape plantings however have stood out for their quality, and only an increase in temperature and a reduction in water caused by climate change can hold this region back. The Limarí, Elqui and Huasco valleys are all hot areas so their vineyards have been planted up the slopes and higher up the river valleys, thereby increasing the altitude which in turn mitigates the heat you find this far north. Although relatively early-days for these regions, varieties such as Syrah and Viognier cope well here and País, a variety originally brought by the conquistadors, is making interesting light reds too.

Dry White

Various Grape Varieties
There are plenty of cooler spots in Chile’s various valleys where aromatic grapes such as Gewurztraminer flourish, especially in the more southern regions, whilst Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne thrive in certain spots too.

Sauvignon Blanc
Fresh and pin-bright, Chile’s Sauvignons have plenty of clean juicy fruit that’s not quite as full-on as those from New Zealand.

The most established quality Chardonnay vineyards are in the Casablanca Valley – now justifiably famous – and there are big new plantings in the Coastal Range, on the seaward side of the Colchagua Valley.


Made a little darker, fuller and off-dry when compared to a classic French rosé, the quality of cassis-laden Cabernet Sauvignon comes through well, and works with lighter dishes.


Various Grape Varieties
Pinot Noir is making strides forward while Syrah can make excellent examples resembling the Northern Rhône, but it’s Chile’s flagship grape Carmenère that really leads the line-up with highly gluggable, chocolatey wines. For the best expression of what Carmenère does in a blend, try the top wines from the Colchagua Valley; they are beautifully tempered.

Merlot, the variety that put Chile on the map, is still a dependable choice for easy versatile red wine although, like all popular wines, can be a target for over-cropping resulting in mass-market diluted wines. There are important plantings all the way down from Maipo into the cooler parts of the Central Valley.

Cabernet Sauvignon
The quality of Cabernet Sauvignon in Chile is excellent. If you want a softer, more generous style than claret but still keeping elegance and finesse, this is a good hunting ground. Blackcurrant and cigar box flavours are hallmarks.