In recent years, the world has begun to take notice of Chile’s wines. In 1998, Chile exported $502 million in wines to some 85 countries, and were third in total imports to the US, after France and Italy. Still more telling are the results of the VinExpo 99, in which some 40 countries presented their finest export wines. With a total of 67 medals and 3 out of 23 double gold medals, Chilean wines as a group ranked second only to France, the host country. Recent studies also indicate that Chilean wines boast the world’s highest levels of flavanol, a natural antioxidant, boding well for a health-conscious future.

This recent success caps over 400 years of wine-making tradition, but it is natural conditions – climate, soils, and rootstock – that are responsible for the quality of Chilean wines.

A mild Mediterranean climate, with long, dry summers, a daily fluctuation in temperature exceeding 60° F, and a relative humidity of 55-60%, promotes healthy root formation and the accumulation of sugars, aromas, and colors over a long ripening season.

Most soils in Chile’s wine growing region are alluvial or volcanic in origin. Variations in nutrient content, porosity, and other soil characteristics within and between valleys contribute to regional wine qualities.

Most of Chile’s finest rootstock was imported from France in the 1800’s – just in time, as it turned out, to avoid the disastrous phylloxera plague, which destroyed some 2.5 million acres of vineyards in Europe and across the world. Isolated by its imposing geography, Chile is now home to the only remaining strains of these original vines. Grapes for white wine grown here include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Chenin-Blanc, and Semillón. Grapes for reds include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Noir.

Chile’s wine region, from 30°-40° south latitude, includes eight separate valleys, each with its own characteristics and wines. The Casablanca Valley is generally considered the finest producer of whites, principally Chardonnay but with a growing reputation for Sauvignon Blanc. The Maipo valley, meanwhile, is Chile’s most traditional wine region and producer of the country’s finest Cabernets and Merlots.

The wine and gourmet tours listed on this page generally combine wine tastings with tours of historic haciendas and bodegas (wine cellars), some of which have been declared national monuments. Near Santiago, they make a great weekend escape or luxury vacation all on their own. For further information on the traditional cuisine of the Central Valley, click here.

Chilean Wine, the flavor of a privileged geography. ¡Salud!