The Last Article on “Chilean Wine”
Chilean Wine Regions
It’s not that you won’t be hearing about Chilean wine in the future, quite the opposite in fact. As a major wine producing region, Chile has arrived at a tipping point. We rarely look at French wine as a general topic, but focus on the regions of Bordeaux or Burgundy, for example. Similarly, Chilean wine is too vast a subject; each of its 14 diverse regions deserves a more focused discussion.
Ancient vines and modern styles, coastal and mountain-side vineyards, Spanish conquistadors, and flying winemakers all contribute to Chile’s story. Considered a New World region, Chile is a mash-up of history and technological innovation, and continues to surprise with the variety and quality of its wines, wine styles, and vinification techniques. But the true story here is the range of terroir, not just north to south but also east to west.
In California or Burgundy, we see climate affecting wines with more sun in the south yielding riper fruit. In Bordeaux and the Loire Valley, climate and soil change in an east/west manner. In Chile, the climate and geography change from all directions: closer to the equator, more ripeness; higher in the mountains, cooler nights; and near the Pacific Ocean, look for saline notes. Each region’s micro-climates are further affected by the Humbold Current and a “rain shadow” from the Andes mountains, making the diversity of wines a distinct reflection of terroir and climate.
At a tasting led by Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer, a brand ambassador for Wines of Chile, we drank this diversity, through the same grape made in different locales. The examples below highlight why it’s no longer enough to simply say “a Sauvignon or Syrah from Chile.” Tell me more…
Known for its cool climate, Casablanca Valley’s higher elevations express red wines best, but some exciting, crisp, and fruity whites are gaining renown in the lower, cooler regions. Terrunyo (Spanish for terroir) celebrates its granite soil, which is ideal for Sauvignon Blanc. The vineyard is in the western region of the valley, where it’s cooler and the grapes take a little longer to ripen. This gives the grapes time to develop their powerful aromas of minerality and gooseberries, a light salinity on the nose, and crisp yet creamy mouthfeel. Dexheimer explains that the wine has the “minerality of the Old World, but the fruit and volume of the New World.”
Ritual’s vineyards are more to the interior of Casablanca Valley, and the warmer climate and barrel-aging give the wine more texture on the palate. This sub-region is warmer, allowing the tropical fruit notes to explode, followed by a lightly herbal finish. In contrast to the cool climate fruit notes in the Terrunyo, Ritual Sauvignon yields tropical mango and pineapple flavors. Both wines are from the Casablanca Valley, and although friendly neighbors, they are distinctly different expressions of the same grape.
Thin and rocky soil dominate the terroir in this newer wine-growing region. San Antonio Valley’s vineyards are grown on cool, steep slopes and are close to the Pacific Ocean. The vines struggle a little more here, and concentrate granite flavors and aromas. Mint and basil notes heighten the passionfruit and citrus, which “jump out of the glass,” says Dexheimer.
Back in the Casablanca Valley, but higher in the mountains, warm and frost-free elevations make a perfect locale for Syrah. Due to the red granite soil and the deft hand of winemaker, Ximena Pacheco, this Syrah was the lightest of the three we tasted. The rich black cherry, coffee, and dark plum notes keep the high alcohol content (14.5 percent) in check, yet come together for an elegant and aromatic balancing act.
Errazuriz came to renown with its famous win in Berlin, and it’s still producing world-class wines. Whereas Rhône Valley Syrahs have the mistral, the Humboldt winds keep the inner Aconcagua Valley warm in the day and cool at night, lengthening the growing season by two or three weeks more than other regions. Black fruit and subtle floral notes add elegance to smoky, meaty tones, heightened by the firm structure from the old vines.
The newest region in Chile to grow Syrah, the Limari Valley is know as the "land of cold light," closer to the Equator but still cool from the Camanchaca fog that rolls in each morning. Rare in Chile, the soil is high in calcium carbonate, which offsets the bright fresh fruit. This wine was the most fruit-forward of the three with a long tannic finish, full of coffee and chocolate notes.