Welcome back once again to our 6th instalment of the Noble Green Wine School Blog, where today we have hopped across the Atlantic Ocean and across the Andes to explore the North, South and Central areas of Chile’s wine regions.
The first vines were brought over in the 16th and 17th century by the Spanish and Portuguese conquerors. After initially using them for religious regions, in the 19th century, the vines were planted for domestic use. Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots are the familiar varieties with Pais (known as Mission in California). Among the favourites here, there’s also spattering’s of Carmenere, Chardonnay, and Moscatel still present even after the replanting of the 19th century.
Chiles wine industry boomed when the rest of the world was hit by the Phylloxera devastation leaving much demand in Europe for their wine. After the 80s and 90s, Chile saw more political freedom with foreign investors such as Rothschild and Torres modernising the industry and removing traditional Rauli (evergreen beech vats) for stainless steel ones that allowed temperature-controlled fermentation.
The Carmenere grape is a staple of Chilean wine, initially mistaken for ‘Late Merlot’ because of its later ripening age. It wasn’t until Ampelographer Jean-Michel Boursiquot identified it as Carmenere. Originally a grape from Bordeaux in France, it wasn’t replanted after the Phylloxera devastation. Still, for the Phylloxera free soils of Chile, it got mixed in with the Merlot plantings and lost its identity. Sharing similar characteristics with Merlot, Aurelio Montes points out the keys differences being the long ripening time required and picking early, producing unpleasant vegetal flavours and picking too late, making it very sweet.
We start in the North at heights of over 1000 meters above sea level near the Atacama Desert. The Elqui Valley use the local grape of Pisco along with some interesting Syrah’s. The Limari Valley is next with its cool climate caused by a little mountainous shelter from the Humbolt Current. This Viognier from Tabali is produced, giving off peach and stone fruit flavours that’ll match perfectly with a white fish dish. Limestone outcrops house some vineyards that offer superb Chardonnays as well.
Slightly south are the sub-regions that make up the Aconagua region. Sub-region Aconagua sources some great Bordeaux inspired reds, and the Casablanca Valley being more established, produces fresh Sauvignon Blancs and Chardonnays and some Pinot Noirs in its cooler climate. The San Antonio sub-region shares similar characteristics with a cool and slightly damp climate but avoiding the late frost. However, the standout sub-region here is the Leyda Valley.
Off to the Central Valley Region, Maipo is a region that sees warmer temperatures and has had more plantings thanks to its proximity to the Capital. Sub-regions of Rapel, Cachapol and Colchagua are great examples of the Carmenere grape that produces a balance of fruit, sweetness and low tannins that balance well with curry dishes.
Curico is a region that sees much more rainfall but has less influence from the ocean thanks to the shielding of the coastal mountain range.
Vigno is the term used to describe Maule because it’s the oldest area and produces some superb old vine Carignan and Pais as well as some Carmenere, Merlots and so on. Experiencing ten times the rainfall of the North, some old vines are grown in traditional manners by clambering into trees. Caquenes, located in the middle of Maule, produces Pais and Moscatel as a local light style table wine. Exports of this wine see extended maceration, extraction, and oak ageing by using the same mould as Cabernets and Merlots do. Usually, a tricky skill in the winery to get the right balance, Pais’s don’t have much trouble in the Vineyard.
The southern regions are made up of Itata, Bio Bio and Malleco. Naturally a cooler and wetter climate, they suit aromatic varieties of Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Rieslings and also produce some great Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.
Join us next time when we’ll cross the mountain range of the Andes and into Argentina to explore the fantastic wine regions this country has to offer. Thank you for reading and Salud!