I’ve not traveled to Chile, but be assured that it is on my list of place to go – as it should be on any wine-lover’s list of places to travel. The long (~2700 mile) and narrow (never greater than 150 miles wide) country is found on the west coast of the South American continent. It is nestled across a range of latitude with a Pacific coastline as one border and the Andes mountain range as another. All this combined with volcanic soils sets the stage for many microclimates that support superb growing conditions for many grape varieties.
As much as ten years ago, I first experienced Chilean wine in the form of Concha y Toro and Santa Rita, two commercially available economical wines found here in CT. The 1.5L of
Concha y Toro Merlot lent insight into a country with potential.
Chile has essentially sat on this rich potential for excellent wine and of course wine grapes. However, it has not been until recently that the introduction of growing and winemaking technologies has catapulted Chile into a notable wine-making country.
For the most-part, Chilean wines remain economical and those who try a Chilean wine can expect to get a nice experience for their money. Wine producers from around the world have set their sites on Chile and are investing in its winemaking future.
I recommend getting to know the main Chilean viticultural areas and to approach tasting on a single variety basis – simply to develop a frame of reference for a variety from a given viticultural area in Chile. Where possible, note any variations in the winemaking practice. That being said, some of the best Chilean wines are blends of Bordeaux grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, & Malbec) as well as Carmenere. Carmenere, originally a grape of Bordeaux, was brought to Chile by French winemakers and grew along side of Merlot for perhaps 100 years before its potential was recognized. Today, Chile seeks to claim Carmenere as its champion.
I can attest to that claim. When well-crafted, a 100% Carmenere wine can be a big and rich wine with layered tastes – a true conversation piece and in the good sense.
As a winemaker, I have made wine using Chilean grape and juice and have found the product that ships here to the US to be very suitable. Something to remember – Chile is experienced in packing table grapes for supermarkets. From a packing standpoint, that background yields a packing of wine grape that may even be unmatched here in the states.
Due to timing and an emerging interest in a spring winemaking season, only a select set of winegrapes may be available, but they are generally the most known and preferred varieties.
If you have ever considered seizing the opportunity to expand your wine cellar, introducing wine made from Chilean grape and juice is an excellent possibility. It not only gets something new into the mix, it provides the opportunity to further hone your winemaking skills. So, April is approaching, get out there and try some commercially available Chilean wines. They should be available at any reputable wine merchant and the merchant might also offer some suggestions. Use that experience to help you decide on your choices for the spring season.