Chile is one of the largest wine producers in the world whose success as an exporter has been based on making good value, commercial style Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay that is appealing to consumers in many countries.
The industry is dominated by a handful of wine companies, such as Concha y Toro the largest wine group in Chile, whose business are export driven and are not keen to amend a model that works.
Chilean wines tend to be quite similar in style with quite a bit of oak and a relatively high level of alcohol. Nowadays there is trend to making wines from grapes grown in specific vineyards and regions to make wines that express more of Chile’s regional diversity. For many winemakers and producers this is key to establishing Chile as a producer of really top quality distinctive wines.
Cabernet Sauvignon is by far the most widely planted variety and Cabernet blends the most popular wines. Chliean Wine made from Carmenere can be very good. Also, Mediterranean varieties such as Garnacha and Shiraz are showing a lot of potential from the Alto Maipo area as well as Aconcagua, Colchagua, and further south in Curicó.
Chile has a Mediterranean climate with warm dry summers and cool wet winters. The snow from the Andes provides water and the cool Pacific breezes keep the vineyards cool during the long summer days.
While Chiles leading wineries are equipped with state of the art technology this was not the case for many of the nations vineyards. However, changes area also now taking place on the land. For example in the large planes of the Maipo Valley, vineyards were traditionally watered by flood irrigation. This is very inefficient and in order to change to drip irrigation, vineyards have to be replanted because the plants roots have grown outwards seeking water rather than downwards. At the same time mountainous areas that had never planted are proving to a source of very elegant fruit.
Chile is also establishing itself as a leader in producing natural wines. What are natural wines? Basically where organic or biodynamic farming practises are followed, no foreign yeasts or bacteria are used in wine production, no sugar or acid adjustments in the wine, no new oak, minimal filtration and minimal or no sulphur when bottling. All in all, a world apart from the squeaking clean, technically perfect wines that consumers around the world associate with wines from Chile. In fact Bodega Emiliana is the largest biodynamic vineyard owner in South America, their wine ‘Coyam’, I think is one of the best Chilean wines that I have tasted.
In the years ahead Chilean wines will continue to be consistently reliable but with more variety and individual character. I am looking forward to my next tasting.