Though once known for mass-produced bottles and big-brand estates, Chile is seeing a viticultural revolution like never before. Today, the country is steadily exporting a larger quantity of wine from small family-owned producers, many of whom are increasing their efforts on the organic farming and sustainability fronts.
What Are Chile’s Main Wine-Producing Regions?
Chile can be broken down into five main wine-producing regions: Atacama, Coquimbo, Aconcagua, Central Valley, and Southern Chile. Most of the country’s production is centered around the Aconcagua and Central Valley regions, which are home to the Aconcagua Valley, Casablanca Valley, and San Antonio and Leyda Valleys, as well as the Maipo, Rapel, Curicó, and Maule Valleys.
Which Grapes Are Used in Chilean Wine?
There are a number of grapes planted in Chile, though the most popular varieties include chardonnay and sauvignon blanc for whites, and carménère, país, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot for reds. Carménère and país have become the country’s “signature” varieties.
What Is the Terroir Like in Chile?
Chile’s topography is about as rich and diverse as it gets. The country is home to a handful of natural dividers, including the Pacific Ocean, the Andes Mountain range, and a handful of deserts. Chilean vineyards’ isolation from other wine-producing countries has also allowed them to flourish without the presence of phylloxera, meaning that many of the country's old vines are ungrafted. Chile experiences an overall steady climate, which leads to very little vintage variation. Cool air from the nearby Andes mountains helps moderate vineyard temperatures, which can reach scorching levels during daytime hours. The wine harvest in Chile generally takes place from late February through late April.
What Does Chilean Wine Taste Like?
On the whole, Chilean wines tend to be fruit-forward and flavor-packed. The red wines tend to be fuller-bodied, with carménère and merlot-based wines often showing a tinge of greenness. Pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, and other varieties typically cultivated closer to the coast frequently show a hint of salty sea influence, whereas cabernet sauvignon, país, and carménère cultivated further inland tend to be bolder and fruit-driven.
Many wines from Chile tend to pack a pretty hefty punch, as the country’s warm growing regions allow for high levels of sugars in fruit, which in turn, translates to high levels of alcohol in the wines. However, wines produced at higher altitudes or marine- or coastal-influenced areas often show higher acidity and lower levels of alcohol.
What Are Good Food Pairings with Chilean Wine?
Due to the country’s array of varieties and styles, there’s a Chilean wine that will pair with nearly every food you can think of. One approach is to sip these wines with the country’s foods: empanadas, sopapillas, asado, pastel de choclo, and beyond. For full-bodied reds, seek out flavorful stews and meat-based Chilean specialities. For zesty white wines, salty shellfish, ceviche, and rich cheeses are all ideal matches.
These are five bottles to try.
J. Bouchon Pais Salvaje
In terms of quality-to-price ratio, this bottle might be one of the greatest deals on the market. This wine is crafted from organically cultivated dry-farmed 100% wild pais hailing from 120-year-old vines in the heart of Chile’s Maule Valley. Rustic flavors of wild berries, red cherries, strawberry, campfire, and sweet spice jump from the wine’s thirst-quenching palate. J. Bouchon crafts this wine using 30% carbonic maceration and native yeasts, and bottles the wine unfiltered. No oak is used during the vinification process so as to preserve the fruit’s innate characteristics. Serve it chilled for maximum enjoyment.
Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Carménère (Apalta Vineyard)
Not familiar with carménère? The grape has become associated with Chilean wine production, and this stellar expression from Lapostolle is a wonderful place to dive in. The fruit for this wine comes from Apalta, located 170 kilometers southwest of Santiago in the heart of the Colchagua Valley. All grapes are biodynamically farmed, hand-harvested, and fermented with native yeasts prior to aging for 12 months in French oak barrels (15% new). On the palate, flavors of dark berries, blackberry jam, dill, fresh cut herbs, and potpourri dominate the wine’s medium-to-full-bodied palate. Silky tannins and fresh acid lead to a long palate-coating finish.
Leyda Sauvignon Blanc Reserva
Can’t get enough zesty sauvignon blanc in your life? This reserva bottling is for you. The fruit for this wine comes hand-harvested and fermented in stainless steel tanks at low temperatures followed by sur-lie aging for five months, which adds texture, weight, and a hint of yeastiness on the palate. Lively flavors of grapefruit, tropical fruits, and lime leaf lead to a sharp acid-laden finish. Additionally, Leyda’s vineyards are planted along the Pacific Coast, which brings a distinct marine-influenced salinity to the estate’s refreshing wines. Enjoy this bottle cold with fresh seafood or crisp salads.
Rogue Vine Grand Itata Blanco
Founded by Leo Erazo and Justin Decker in 2011, this estate produces its small range of wines from organically cultivated dry-farmed bush vines in the heart of the Itata Valley. All its wines ferment with native yeasts and are vinified in concrete globes and/or neutral barrels prior to bottling, which is done with little-to-no added sulfur. This aromatic blend of moscatel, chasselas, and riesling jumps with flavors of pithy citrus, stone fruit, melon, honey, and a touch of flint. Two days of skin contact adds a hint of texture and grip on the palate. Serve it chilled with a variety of hors d’oeuvres: cheese boards, hummus, and other mezze.
Wildmakers Sabático Garnacha-Cariñena
Produced by Luca Hodgkinson and Jose Miguel Sotomayor, this tasty blend of garnacha and cariñena packs a serious punch of flavor. Fruit for this wine comes from organically farmed and unirrigated 80-year-old bush vines in Chile’s Maule Valley. Post native yeast fermentation, the wine ages for 18 months in neutral French oak barrels, which adds a touch of sweet spice to the wine’s flavor-packed finish. On the palate, expect notes of jammy red fruits, black cherries, raspberry jam, tobacco leaf, and potpourri to lead to a concentrated and wildly long-lasting finish.