Guide to Chile
Vineyards unfurl against a backdrop of snow-capped peaks in this 2,700-mile-long ribbon of land wedged between some of the planet’s most stunning mountains and an icy sea. And with the country averaging only 110 miles in width, people say that in Chile, you’re never more than a two-hour drive from the snow or the Pacific Ocean.
While wine regions the world over boast of “sheltered microclimates,” Chile can legitimately make the claim. Unique from the rest of the world, Chile is protected from pests and disease to the east by the towering Andes, to the west by the frigid Pacific, to the north by the arid Atacama Desert and to the south by the chilly reaches of Antarctica.
This isolation saved the region from phylloxera, the vine root-eating insect that decimated the European wine industry in the late 19th century. The epidemic spurred French winemakers to seek other lands in which to ply their trade, and Chile was one of them.
For a long time after Chile’s commercial wine industry began in the 1850s, winemaking was limited to the areas closest to Santiago. Today, however, grape growing has spread to the north, south and west of the nation’s capital. Chile’s winegrowing area now spans 800 miles, divided into 14 regions. Approximately 75 percent of wine-producing vineyards grow red grapes, with the balance made up of various white varieties.
—Mike DeSimone & Jeff Jenssen
Accounting for one-third of Chile’s grape production, it flourishes in Maipo, Colchagua, Aconcagua, and the Rapel valleys. Warm, dry conditions bring out notes of black cherry, cassis, tobacco, spice and pencil lead, while coastal influences and elevation elicit herbal flavors.
One to Try:
Casas del Bosque 2012 Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon (Maipo Valley); $17, 89 points. This dark, heavily oaked Cabernet is lemony on the nose, but also full of typical cassis and black fruit aromas. The palate is muscular, with firm tannins. Flavors of black fruit are matched by resiny oak, leading to additional notes of licorice on the finish. Drink through 2017.
Chile’s proprietary grape, it’s widely grown in Maipo, Aconcagua, Cachapoal, Colchagua and Maule. Smooth flavors of spicy berries, black pepper and bell pepper combine with notes of smoke and dried herbs.
One to try:
Montes 2012 Purple Angel Carmenère (Colchagua Valley); $85, 92 points. As per usual, Purple Angel is a full-force experience. Hailing from a warm year, this is dense and purple in color, as it should be. Aromas of graphite, oak, tobacco and black fruit set up a jammy, full palate with saturated flavors of spice-laden blueberry and boysenberry. Finishing notes of tobacco, herb and oak cement this big-boned wine’s ripe, beefy status. Drink through 2018.
It thrives in the cool climates of Casablanca, Leyda and Limarí. Expect tropical-fruit flavors, green apple and light hints of citrus. Oak aging adds flavors of vanilla and caramel; unoaked stainless steel-fermented versions can be lean and minerally.
One to try:
Errazuriz 2013 Aconcagua Costa Chardonnay (Aconcagua Valley); $25, 90 points. Popcorn and white-fruit aromas are toasty, nutty and appropriate. This is zesty and well-cut across the palate. Flavors of apple, peach, papaya and buttered movie popcorn finish oaky, briny and elegant, with a chiseled, acid-driven feel.
It excels in the cool-climate areas of Casablanca, San Antonio, Leyda, the Aconcagua Coast and the Elqui Valley. Flavors trend toward citrus, tropical fruits and Granny Smith apples, with herbal qualities suggestive of grass and clover.
One to try:
Concha y Toro 2013 Terrunyo Costa Los Boldos Vineyard Block 5 Sauvignon Blanc (Casablanca Valley); $30, 91 points. Minerally citrus aromas are the greeting on this high-end, pure SB. Stony minerality and citric acidity make for a fresh, polished mouthfeel, while flavors of lime, passion fruit and grapefruit are focused and smooth, and not at all soft. When people talk about fine cool-climate Chilean SB, this is what they should be referencing. Editor’s Choice.