Chile is now the world’s fourth biggest exporter of bottled wine and its wine industry is more dynamic and varied than ever before. Winemakers are now producing dry and sweet, still and sparkling, white, rosé, red and even the odd amber-coloured wine from more than 70 different varieties. However, red wines are still very much in the majority, accounting for 74% of Chile’s vineyard area, while just 26% of it is planted with whites. Here’s a quick overview of 10 of its top red varieties – some more indepth articles will be coming soon.
Chile has an incredible 43,000 hectares of this, the world’s most planted variety, ranking only second after France in terms of area planted. Cabernet Sauvignon thrives in Chile’s Mediterranean climate, producing blackcurrant-fragranced, juicy wines with high tannins and acidity. Some are lighter-bodied and fruity, while others are big, mouth-drying wines; both styles pair well with red meat and other strongly flavoured food.
Another arrival from Bordeaux, Merlot tends to be softer and more velvety than Cabernet Sauvignon, with aromas and flavours of black plums and other black fruit. A comforting red wine and a good option for red meat, casseroles or richly flavoured oven-bakes.
This is the Bordeaux variety that was thought extinct until a wine grape expert discovered it among Merlot vines in Chile in the 1980s. It thrives in warm temperatures and makes wines with softly spicy aromas, smooth body and rounded tannins, a good choice for accompanying spicy dishes.
Like its neighbour, Argentina, Chile makes some very fine Malbec wines. When the grapes are from warmer areas, the wines are more opulent, with lower acidity and lots of black fruit aromas. Those from vineyards cooled by being close to the ocean or high in the mountains can make lighter, more elegant wines with refreshing acidity and floral and red and black fruit aromas.
Like Merlot, Syrah wines are influenced by the climate in the vineyard, so a wine from a coastal or high-altitude vineyard may have aromas of black pepper, red and black fruit and firm acidity, while one from a warmer area can be big, generous and jammy. Try pairing it with lamb or an aubergine bake.
Centuries ago, Spanish missionaries took this drought-resistant variety with them to new countries so they could make communion wine. It now goes by different names in places as varied as California, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia and Chile. País is the third most planted variety in Chile and winemakers are now experimenting with new styles of wine, including refreshing sparkling wines and light, fruity reds.
A Mediterranean variety much used in red blends in southern France, some old-vine Cinsault is now being made into outstanding rosé and red wines here in Chile. Ruby-coloured, with lovely aromas of red fruit and wild herbs, they make delicious lighter wines with fresh acidity, ideal as an aperitif or for accompanying lighter meals, like salad, chicken or fish.
A warm-climate variety that is at its best made from the small, concentrated grapes of old, unirrigated vines in the Maule region. These are wines with aromas and flavours of wild herbs and red and black fruit, refreshing acidity, high tannins and good body, great with dishes containing red meat or tomato sauces. Watch out for wines labelled “Vigno”, an association of 16 producers who are making very special old-vine Carignan wines.
It can be easy to overlook the elegant father of the all-popular Cabernet Sauvignon, but there are some superb wines being made with it in Chile. Depending on the winemaking, it can be a soft, paler-coloured wine in a refreshing style or denser and bigger-bodied. Either way, look out for soft red fruit aromas (like raspberries), a hint of green peppers and a lovely smooth texture in the mouth that pairs well with a range of food.
A warm climate variety well-known in southern France and Spain, Grenache can make seductive red wines packed with red fruit aromas and flavours, like strawberries and raspberries. These wines can be high in alcohol and are usually best enjoyed young.
A version of this article was published first by The Best of Santiago.