Chilean wines

By Gus Clemens

With Chile’s Concha y Toro recently named world’s top still wine brand, closer look at the country.

Chile has 14 spectacularly diverse wine regions spread across 1,000 miles of radically different climates. Dramatic day-night temperature variations and rainfall are defining elements.

In the north, Elqui, Limari, and Choapa regions experience less than two inches of rain a year and temperatures drop 60 degrees at night. Add Pacific morning fogs and vineyard elevations of 7,000 feet, and you have a wine region like no other on earth producing limited amount of excellent wines—creamy sauvignon blanc, chardonnay packed with minerals, vibrant and complex syrah.

The middle produces most wine and wines most people know. Chile’s viticulture heartland has classic Mediterranean climate with Chile twist: ocean winds chilled by Antarctic-influenced Humboldt Current and breezes sweeping off snow-topped Andes. That makes for 40-degree day-night temperature shifts. There is slightly more rainfall than in the north, but not much – typical vineyards get less than 10 inches a year. Regions and signature wines:
• Aconcagua – syrah, red blends.
• San Antonio – pinot noir, syrah.
• Casablanca – pinot noir, sauvignon blanc.
• Maipo – classic cabernet sauvignon.
• Chachapoal – more delicate cabs.
• Cochagua – carménère.
• Curico – warm valley, mostly bulk wine.
• Maule – wine producer since 1500s, cabernet franc, cabs, carignan.
Southern regions are dramatically different. Here, 50 inches of rain a year is normal, production limited.
• Itata – old traditions, small output of cinsault, pais, muscat.
• Bio Bio – even harder to find pinot noir.
• Malleco – Chile’s Oregon, its chardonnay and pinot noir are worth the extra effort.

Tasting notes:
• Rios de Chile Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2010. Pleasing, jammy nose; blueberry, black fruit; serious tannin, big oak, vanilla, chocolate. $12
• Montes Cabernet Sauvignon-Carmenère 2011. Juicy, delicious; black cherry, chocolate, blue fruit; appropriate vanilla, oak; nice nuances; Chile winner. $16
• Conde de Velázquez Condesa Real 2010. Cab-syrah-merlot blend; big dark fruit, cherry, plum; creamy oak, smooth tannin; Conde’s flagship red. $25

Last round: Sometimes I wish life was easier, then I think “If life was easier, how could I justify all the wine I drink?”

Email Gus at Follow tasting notes on Twitter @gusclemens.