Chile has made wine since the Spanish brought wine vines to the country in the 16th century, but it is only more recently that it has been recognised for its top quality wines. Chile became renowned in the '80s for its inexpensive and fruity wines made for export but its near perfect grape growing conditions and low cost land and labour brought foreign investment, expertise and modernisation to the industry in the '90s, giving rise to leaps in the quality of the wine produced. Whilst today many producers are focused on making top-quality wines Chile still maintains a reputation for a top value tipple.
From north to south, Chile stretches for roughly 2,700 miles but is only 96 miles wide at its narrowest point. It is sat between the Pacific Ocean to the west and the massive Andes mountains to the east. To the north is the Atacama Desert and to the south, across the sea, the frozen floes of Antarctica. Within these natural barriers the wine regions of Chile are largely nestled in vine-friendly temperate valleys. Chile has five large wine regions: Atacama, Coquimbo, Aconcagua, the Valle Central, and Southern. The first two are desertlike, and the Southern region is the coldest, so Aconcagua and Central Valley are where some of the best vineyards are found, enjoying lots of sunshine during the summer and dry, mild winters.
Although there is a trend in Chile towards diversity in grape growing mainly international varieties are grown and plantings are dominated by black grape varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Bordeaux-style blends dominate exports for red wines, along with Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay for white wines. Chile’s signature grape, Carmenère, is also prized for its intense flavours.