Chilean viticulture dates back to the Spanish settlers of the 1500’s, who brought the first European vinifera vines (cuttings of native French grape varieties) like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc, and Semillon; they were first imported in the 1850’s.
The French wine making tradition remains strong in Chile, wines from here tend more towards the elegant European style than towards the heavier, more concentrated style found in much of the rest of the New World.
For many years Chile’s wine industry was stunted by a lack of foreign investments and capital. However, the situation changed dramatically in the early 1980’s when Chile began to aggressively develop wine as a source of export income.
Similar to North American wines, Chilean wines are marketed primarily by varietal labelling, like ‘Merlot’ rather than by regional appellations (like ‘Maipo’ or ‘Central Valley.’)
Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely planted of the reds, with Merlot becoming increasingly significant. Most Chilean wineries also produce outstanding white wines; Sauvignon Blanc remains the most consistent. Chardonnay is an up-and-comer, however generally warm conditions in many regions has meant that Chilean Chardonnays often lack crispness and definition.
Located in the northern part of Chile’s Central Valley, a narrow, 300 mile long valley set between the Andes and a coastal range of mountains is the Maipo Valley–the heart of the Chilean wine industry. Farther south, numerous sub-regions have developed. Many producers blend wines from a number of these smaller regions, with the object of producing well balanced reds and whites that combine the flavors of several regions.