Over the past few weeks, I’ve been sharing tips on how to examine wine labels from different regions. First with US wines, next France, then New Zealand. This week’s region was requested by a fellow grape geek, John. Let’s discuss Chilean wines!
Chilean Wines (Classified as New World)
Red grapes account for approximately 73% of the total acreage in Chile
Wine Regulation (systems of defining & regulating wine growing regions and practices)
- Established in 1995, instituted the 75% rule: vintage, varietal, and denomination of origin must, if listed on the bottle, comprise a minimum 75% of the blend. (although many wineries observe an 85% minimum for all three categories, in order to comply with EU standards for export).
- Only permitted varietals may be used, and hybrid grapes are forbidden.
- Must show a minimum alcohol content of 11.5%.
- Wines labeled “Reserva” and “Reserva Especial” must have a minimum 12% abv, and wines labeled “Reserva Privada” and “Gran Reserva” require a minimum 12.5% abv.
- In addition, “Reserva Especial” and “Gran Reserva” wines spend mandatory time in oak.
*In 2011, the Chilean Ministry of Agriculture amended wine law to support three new geographic terms: Costa, Entre Cordilleras, and Andes. On labels, producers may now append one of the pre-existing DOs with one of these three new appellations, which signify the proximity of a vineyard to the coast (“Costa”) or to the mountains. Entre Cordilleras – – “between mountains”- – describes the valley areas between the coastal range and the Andes (3/4 of Chilean wine grapes are grown here). In order for a wine to qualify for one of the new designations, at least 85% of the grapes must be harvested in the appropriate region.
From north to south, the regional Denominations of Origin (DOs) of Chile are Atacama, Coquimbo, Aconcagua, the Valle Central (Central Valley), and Sur (the Southern Regions).
Atacama and Coquimbo DOs
- Northernmost winegrowing region in Chile (requires irrigation)
- Pisco and table grape production dominate both regions but in Coquimbo’s northern valleys (Elqui and Limari) are developing a reputation for Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
- Subregions: Aconcagua Valley (warm climate) with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grape varieties
- Casablanca and San Antonio are located along the coast (cool climate) with Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grape varieties.
Fun fact:One of the premier reds of Chile, Errázuriz’s “Seña” (a Bordeaux-style blend), beat both Château Lafite and Château Margaux (remember those names from my earlier post?) in the 2004 Berlin Tasting… a true testament of the quality of Chilean wines!.
Central Valley DO
Chile’s oldest and most established winemaking region
Cabernet Sauvignon. Over 50% of the region’s more than 10,000 hectares are devoted to the grape, followed by Merlot, Chardonnay and Carmenère.
Subregions: Maipo Valley, Rapel Valley, Curicó, and Maule Valley
Puente Alto region produces some of Chile’s most premium red wines such as Concha y Toro’s “Don Melchor” and Errazuriz’s “Vinedo Chadwick” Cabernet Sauvignon varietal wines.
Itata, Bío Bío Valleys produce País and Muscat de Alexandria grape varietals.
Malleco Valley is a tiny region, with just a few hectares of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
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