Chile is one of South America’s most important wine producing countries. Occupying a thin strip down the western coast of the continent, it is home to a wide range of terroirs, and an equally wide range of wine styles.
The Chilean viticultural industry is often associated in export markets with consistent, good value wines, but some world class white and reds are also made. For red wines the initial export mainstays have been Bordeaux varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Like many New World countries Chile has adopted a signature grape variety, here it’s Carmenère, once widely grown in Bordeaux.
White wine plantings are led by Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Viognier, Riesling and Semillon are among those varieties grown on a smaller scale.
Chile spans 2700 miles of land running north-south between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains. The geography is very favorable to viticulture, and despite the fact that Chile is only 100 miles wide, most climatic variation in the wine-growing regions happens from east to west, rather than from north to south. The Pacific, with its Antarctic Humboldt Current, brings cooling breezes to coastal vineyards, while the sheltering presence of the Coastal mountain range makes Chile’s Central Valley relatively warm and dry. Along the eastern edge of the country, in the foothills of the Andes, high altitudes and abundant meltwater rivers make for a different terroir again.
Chile has been a wine-producing country since the first European settlers arrived in the mid-16th Century. The original vines, to make sacramental wine, were brought by Catholic missionaries.
Throughout the 20th Century, Chilean wine was limited to a domestic market, but a push toward quality in the latter half of the century saw an uptake in the international market. Whereas Chilean winemakers had traditionally used tanks and barrels made of beech wood, in the 1980s stainless-steel tanks and oak barrels were introduced, marking the start of a technology-driven era.