Chilean wines are famous all around the world, most notably for their fair price-quality standard. But we often associate Chilean wines with cheapness. Does Chile only make cheap and entry level wines?
I don’t think so…
There are many interesting things happening today in Chile’s wine industry. But first and foremost, let’s start by introducing Chile as a wine producing region.
Chile is located in South America next to Argentina, Peru and Bolivia. It is part of the top 10 wine producing countries. With about 130,000 hectares planted in 2015, Chile has nearly doubled its production over the last 10 years! Its exportation has quadrupled. Yes, Chileans prefer to have beer or ‘piscola’ rather than wine. The consumption rate per capita is about 15 litres versus 40 litres of beer!
What is most Chilean wine? 74% of the wine produced in Chile is Red! It is predominately Cabernet Sauvignon. But that’s Carménère, an old grape variety from Bordeaux wine country in France, that represents the emblem of chilean wines.
Several people have described Chile as a ‘viticultural paradise’, like Miguel Torres in the mid-seventies. Then, we wonder: What makes Chile so unique for wine production?
It is the unique geography!
Yes, Chile is located between huge natural barriers including the Atacama Desert in the north, the Pacific Ocean to the west, Patagonia in the south and the Andes Mountains to the east! These natural frontiers protect Chilean nature from many diseases. That’s why Chilean customs seem so damn crazy when you arrive in their country.
- Did you know that Chile is one of the only countries in the world without phylloxera pests? Phylloxera is a small parasite that inflicted huge damages in the worldwide vineyards about a century ago.
- Did you know that sea breezes carried by the cold Humboldt Current penetrate inland during the day? Each night, cold air descends from the Andes Mountains. This has a big effect on the vineyards.
- Did you know that Chile has a coastline of more than 4,000 km? Yes, this makes Chile a paradise for water sport fans and sea food lovers! It also creates a cool climate profile for wines!
About the rules, there are not many. Its ‘vitivinicultural zonification’ was created a few years ago to help the consumer better understand what they’re buying.
- “Entre Cordilleras”
Why was this zonification made from the east to the west and not from the north to the south? Surprisingly, it’s not the distance from the equator that plays the dominant role here, but rather the proximity to the Pacific Ocean or the Andes Mountains. The biggest diversity in soil and climates is from east to west and not from north to south!
One important thing to mention is that the millesimal factor is not so important when comparing with others wine regions worldwide, due to what I’ve just said before. This is true when comparing quality. With quantities it can change a bit as Chile is subject to its natural risks (earthquake, flooding, volcanic eruption…). Also, in some regions the grapes are damaged by hail.
As I was saying at the beginning, the wine industry in Chile is changing. They started to understand the concept of ‘terroir. In my point of view, it has a lot to do with Pedro Parra.
Pedro is Chilean and is called ‘the terroir hunter’. He is one of the few « terroir consultants » in the world doing the fantastic work of conducting soil studies in the country or elsewhere. He says that, “Chile is blessed with diverse ‘terroirs’ and that strongly influences the characteristics of its top wines.” Many wineries are now making their high-quality wines with this kind of understanding. They are analysing the soils centimetres-by-centimetres, snatching some of their vines, and planting new ones for the vault of great wines!
This process goes on during the winemaking process, fermenting, aging and blending all these wines terroir by terroir…
To understand the concept of ‘terroir’, recognise that not every grape is good for any kind of soil or weather. You have to find the ideal terroir for the right grape to make a great wine. I promise to write a full article about this concept later.
To conclude, you have great wines in Chile from the entry level to top range. To me, it is just starting. Chile has an amazing potential for wine. I am sure we will hear more and more from that beautiful country in the near future!
Remember wine is unique and has its own identity depending from where it comes from. If you would like, please interact with this article in the comment section below.