Many wine lovers will think of the rise of New World wines as being something of a recent phenomenon, so they may be surprised to learn that Chilean wine production dates back to the 16th Century, when Spanish colonialists brought vines with them to the region. This was followed by the introduction of French grape varieties like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in the 19th Century. In the 1980s, however, great leaps in the quality of Chilean wines were achieved with the introduction of modern steel fermentation tanks and the increase in the practice of ageing in oak.
The regions of Chilean wine
Chile is an exceptionally long and narrow country, with the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Andes mountain range to the east. This creates the opportunity for a huge variety of climates in the country, allowing wine makers to select the most advantageous areas to make their wine. For the most part, this has led Chilean wine makers to be concentrated in a 800 mile strip of land between Atacama in the north and the Bio-Bio area to the south. This long strip of land offers a variety of micro climates, from the hotter and drier areas in the north to the wetter, cooler areas in the south and this allows the Chilean wine makers to create a great variety of wines.
Official Chilean wine areas
In 1994, Chile designated the following official Chilean wine areas in an effort to reflect the typical characteristics from each region. The regions include Atacama, Coquimbo, Aconcagua, the Central Valley, Alto Maipo, Central Maipo and Pacific Maipo. Moving south, the regions continue with the Cachapoal Valley, the Colchagua Valley and Southern Chile. With the natural boundaries of the Pacific Ocean to the west, Atacama desert to the north, Andes Mountains to the east and the vast wastes of Antarctica to the south, Chile is an isolated country and this has been instrumental in keeping the dreaded Phylloxera louse away. This means that Chilean vineyards do not have to graft their rootstock and hence planting costs are lower.
Understanding Chilean wine
Clearly, there is a great variety of Chilean wine on offer and many gems to be uncovered. The Gilbert & Gaillard wine guide is designed to let wine lovers quickly understand these wines and select the best that this great wine producing nation has to offer.