Chile – a country of rich diversity in its landscape and wines

Chilean vineyards with the Andes in the background

Chilean vineyards with the Andes in the background - Credit: Archant

CHILE, the long thin country that measures 4.500km in length stretches from the arid Atacama desert in the north where some areas have never seen rain to the cold Patagonian icelands of the south; with the inspiring towering volcanic Andes mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean, the fourth western border.

Such a variety of landscapes lends itself to the production of a great range of wines from many grape types in different terroirs to suit all tastes. Since the last duty increase in the budget and exchange rate influenced price increases there has ironically been an increased interest in Chilean wines and at a price where their quality and style is noticeable. This is the case in terms of supermarkets and their own label wines through to distinctive wines from individual wineries.

The Central Valley Region was the key initial vineyard region with Santiago at the centre of the wine industry due to the establishment of the railway line.

Here in the hot Maipo, Casablanca and Maule amongst others many quality vineyards were planted with native varieties in the 16th Century and replaced with noble grapes such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet and Merlot in the 19th century when companies such as Concha y Toro began. Since then cooler climate areas have been sought out and vineyards planted in less hospitable environments, not at higher altitudes in the Central Valleys such as those owned by Viu Manent in Colchagua but in more extreme latitudes such as Elqui in the more arid north and Bio Bio or Malleco in the South.

As consumers are getting more confident about trying some of the less well known Chilean wines an initiative by Wines of Chile is helping to ensure this confidence is not misplaced.

The Sustainability Code has been developed to set the standards of Chilean Wine Production and is a tool to measure the sustainable practices. It sets out a far reaching set of parameters and standards in terms of vineyard and winery practices that are environmentally friendly and economically viable and geared towards maintaining quality.

Chile’s trademark wines are the delicious herby blackcurrant Cabernets, plummy Merlots, leafy citrus Sauvignon Blanc and pure fruit Chardonnays whether aged in oak or not.

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However, true to form the Chilean winemakers are experimenting and leading the way in South America with delicious lightly scented Rieslings, peachy Gewurztraminers, apricot and honeysuckle Viogniers, robust briary Syrahs and savoury peppery Carmenere that has in the last decade come into its own once released from being confused with Merlot.

In parallel with the exciting diversity of styles there are great food and Chilean wine matches. The aromatic perfumed crisp Rieslings are great with savoury and fish dishes as the light wines with a dry pears and apples flavour complement these dishes unlike the fuller limey citrus examples of Aussie Rieslings. The generously fruity Chardonnays with tropical fruit notes and a dash of vanilla oak are as you’d expect good with rich fish and white meat dishes.

Full robust Syrahs and Cabernets make a great pairing with red meats and plummy Merlots with spicy meat dishes. The unexpectedly good food and wine matches are made with the distinctive fragrant dry yet fruity roses that are good as aperitifs with canapés and light meat dishes.

The pièce de resistance are the delicious honeyed late harvest dessert wines often made from Sauvignon Blanc – great with fruit dishes or even poured on ice cream – check out Concha y Toro’s example!

So look out for Chilean wines – supermarket own label to independent wine merchants are all worth a try for taste and value for money.