The country has a long viticultural history for a New Worldwine region dating to the middle of the 16th century (around 1554) when the Spanish conquistadors and missionaries brought with them vines, supplying the missions and the thirsty local population with wine. In the mid-18th century, Chilean wine took a leap forward when French vines such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were introduced to the region, largely replacing the inferior existing grapes. The new grapes thrived, and after the root louse phylloxera struck French vineyards later in the century, many French winemakers chose to relocate toChile.
Climate and Geography
Chile is a long, narrow country that is geographically and climatically dominated by the Andes to the east and thePacific Ocean to the west. Chile’s vineyards are found along an 800 mile stretch of land from Atacama Region to the Bio-Bio region in the south. The climate is varied with the northern regions being very hot and dry compared to the cooler, wetter regions in the south.
In the Valle Central, around Santiago, the climate is dry with an average of 15 inches of rain and little risk of springtime frost. The close proximately to the dry Andeshelp create a wide diurnal temperature variation between day and nighttime temperatures. This cool drop in temperature is vital in maintaining the grape’s acidity levels. Most of Chile’s premium wine regions are dependent on irrigation to sustain vineyards, getting the necessary water from melting snow caps in the AndesRange.
Casablanca Valley, which is a few miles west from Santiago to the coast, is one of Chile’s cooler wine region and is often compared to the Californian region of Carneros and grows similar grape varietals like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Casablanca’s growing seasons last up to a month longer than other regions, typically harvesting in April. This is rugged coastal country along the Pacific Ocean, where crisp coastal breezes hold back the rising heat of summer days. Grapes relax in the cooler temperature of the CasablancaValley, and the longer growing season yields bright, full-flavored grapes with a healthy dose of food friendly acidity.
About the Grapes
In the late 20th century as Chilean wines became more popular, wine tasters around the world began to doubt the authenticity of wines labeled Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. The wines lack many of the characteristics and typicity of those grapes. Ampelographers began to study the vines and found that what was considered Merlot was actually the ancient Bordeaux wine grape Carmenere that was thought to be extinct. The Sauvignon Blanc vines were found to actually be Sauvignonasse, also known as Sauvignon Vert, or a mutated Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon Cross. In response to these discoveries several Chilean wineries began to import true Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc cuttings to where most bottle of wines labeled Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc from vintages in the 21st century are very likely to truly be those varieties. Today, reversing many decades of isolationism, about 75 percent of Chile’s wine is exported, much of it to the United States.
Felipe Cueto, West Vail Liquor Mart