If you’re seeing more Chilean wines on the store shelves, you’re not imagining it: Chilean wine is having a moment. Exports have quadrupled in the last decade and the planted area has nearly doubled to a staggering 130,000 hectares under vine. Today, Chile has an estimated 8,000 producers creating masterpieces with their top four grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.
Why Chile? The South American country’s unique topography and climate make it a hotbed for numerous grapes. Set between the Coastal Mountains and the Andes Mountains, the winemaking valley stretches 800 miles, from the desert climate of the Atacama in the north to the cooler Bio-Bio region in the south. The rain shadow of the Coastal Mountains creates cool nights, which help retain acidity in both red and white grape varieties and make the resulting wines extremely food-friendly.
For reds, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carménère have cult-like followings, with parts of the Valle Central, in central Chile, covered in vines of the varieties. Many producers take a cue from Bordeaux, meaning consumers can find French-inspired bottles of both grapes at a fraction of the cost of famed chateaux. For whites, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay also take a page from the French styles, featuring crisp acidity and fresh fruit flavors rather than butter- or oak-heavy flavors of other New World wines. Both reds and whites pair well with food and many bottles retail, surprisingly, for less than $20.
Now, back to that shelf. Here’s your cheat sheet to Chile’s top grapes.
This article is sponsored by Wines of Chile. Taste the unexpected.