8 December 2016 by Julia Hudson
What draws perhaps more travellers to Chile than any other reason is the country’s reputation as a haven for the wild and wilderness. From the peaks and glaciers of Patagonia to the pristine Lake District and otherworldly Atacama Desert, Chile has more natural treasures packed into its borders than many nations three times its size. These landscapes make for more than just unforgettable treks, however—they also set the stage for some of the world’s finest wines to grow.
Because of its long narrow shape, Chile benefits from cool coastal air to the west and the Andes Mountains provide similarly temperate conditions to the east. These make for ideal wine-growing conditions, as the grapes retain acidity rather than developing into the cloying sweetness that can develop in overripe vines. You’ll also find that grape varietals vary more east to west than north to south, perhaps a surprising fact for a country that is sometimes only 40 miles wide.
An aerial view of a vineyard in Colchagua, Central Chile.
If you’re wondering what to sample on your way through Chile—or, for the armchair traveller, what to pick up to sip as plan your next trip—here are our favourite Chilean wines and how to best enjoy them.
Chilean Sauvignon Blanc is often grown in the coastal valleys to the west of Santiago. This central region is home to many of the country’s top vineyards, and geographically mirror’s Argentina’s famous Mendoza region, across the Andes. Expect a bright, acidic burst of flavour with a large dose of citrus and peach.
Seafood is a natural match for this light, zesty wine, as it cuts through fat the same way a squeeze of lemon would.
When travelling in Chile, you have to try a sample of this wine, because before long they may well all be replanted with Cabernet Sauvignon. País used to be the most widely grown grape varietal, but has become less popular as the grape yields less juice in comparison with others, and the wine, though certainly passable, has never been considered in particularly high esteem (though in recent years some local producers have been working to change that reputation). Expect a thinner-bodied, medium-acidity wine with top notes of cherry and red berries.
Lighter meat and vegetable dishes won’t overpower the wine. Legumes and corn also make strong foundations for the wine to play off of.
Having surpassed País as the most widely-planted grape varietal in Chile, Cabernet Sauvignon here takes on a lighter character than in other countries. The grapes produce a lighter-coloured wine with a less tannic character, particularly in the Colchagua and Rapel Valleys—bolder wines often come from the Maipo Valley.
Roast beef makes a strong partner for Cabernet, as do mushrooms, sausages, and hard cheeses—anything with a big personality of its own or a high fat content will be able to play off the flavours of the wine.
A true standout, these grapes are almost synonymous with Chilean winemaking, having become most popular here after originating in Bordeaux. The resulting red wine is often described as herbal or mineral, reminding many drinkers of fresh, mild flavours like bell peppers and raspberries. You can find Carménère grapes growing in the Maipo and Colchagua Valleys.
Hearty, medium-fat meat dishes such as beef stew or lamb benefit from the wine’s peppery brightness. The green notes pair beautifully with herbs and gentle spices like peppercorns, capers, dark leafy greens and bean soups.