The Wines of the Coquimbo Region
Some 1,250 acres in the Elqui Valley are planted in wine grapes, at elevations that range from sea level to 6,500 feet. About sixty percent are premium red varietals, mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, and small amounts of Merlot, Carmenere and Syrah. About ten percent are Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The sub-region is best known for the high quality Syrah it produces. For visitors traveling by car on their Chile tours, the route is an easy one since the vineyards of the Elqui more or less follow Highway route 41, starting near the coastal city of Serena, going east, and south at Rivadavia to Pisco Elqui. Visitors on Chile tours will find more vineyards than wineries here.
Wine grapes have been grown in the sub-region of Limari, south of Elqui, since the mid-1500s. The unique growing conditions of the area—foggy mornings, sunny afternoons and fewer than four inches of rain a year—are conducive to certain of Chile’s premium wines. As visitors will learn during their Chile wine tours, the mineral-rich soil gives a unique taste to the wines produced from grapes grown here. Of the 4,120 acres of wine grapes, two-thirds are planted in premium red varietals, mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, and between 275 and 475 acres each in Merlot, Carmenere and Syrah and Chardonnay. The sub-region contains seven wineries and one vineyard.
The 330-acre Choapa on the southern edge of the Coquimbo Region is a narrow sub-region between the coast and the Andes with little room for growing wine grapes. The small amount of premium varietals that grow here are Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
The Wines of the Aconcagua Region
Many white wine lovers find their way to the Casablanca Valley during their travel to Chile. Three-quarters of the wine grapes planted in the cooler, mostly coastal Casablanca Valley are white, twice as much Chardonnay as Sauvignon Blanc. The sub-region is best known for these two varietals. Of the reds, 1,063 acres are in Merlot, slightly less in Pinot Noir and a small amount in Carmenere. Wine grapes did not start being planted here until the 1980s explosion in the Chile’s wine industry.
The tiny 808-acre San Antonio sub-region is located west of the capital, within two and a half miles of the coast. It contains some of the newest and most innovative wineries in its four sectors, Leyeda, Lo Abarca, Rosario and Malvilla. Two-thirds of the acres are planted in Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The rest is mostly Pinot Noir with a few acres of Merlot and Syrah. Visitors on Chile tours will find four wineries and two vineyards here.
The Wines of the Central Valley
A total of 27,000 acres of wine grapes are planted in the Maipo Valley, the most famous area of Chile’s wine country. It has three sectors: Alto, Central and Pacific. Alto Maipo is the most easterly and highest, set in the foothills of the Andes where the great day and night temperature variations are an important component in the quality of the wine grapes grown here. The cooler temperatures and lower elevations of the Central Maipo contain the growing conditions conducive to red varietals. Containing fewer vineyards than the other two sectors, the Pacific Maipo vineyards are clustered around the Maipo River southwest of Santiago. Of the premium reds planted in the Maipo, three-quarters are Cabernet Sauvignon, 2,886 acres are Merlot and the rest are Carmenere and Syrah. Of the 3,429 acres of white wine grapes, two-thirds are Chardonnay and the remainder Sauvignon Blanc.
Below the Maipo Valley is the Rapel Valley. Within the valley are two zones, the Cachapoal and Colchagua. The smaller of the two is the Cachapoal Valley, extending to the foothills of the Andes, where 26,900 acres of wine grapes are planted. Twenty wineries are located here. Most of the wines produced are red, with almost two-thirds of the premium grape acreage planted in Cabernet Sauvignon, a quarter in Merlot and 2,125 acres in Carmenere. The zone contains about 2,973 acres of white wine grapes, split evenly between Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. To the south, the Colchagua zone contains 57,744 acres of wine grapes, about half of which are planted in Cabernet Sauvignon with 8,270 acres in Merlot, 5,792 acres in Carmenere, 2,650 acres in Syrah and fewer than1,200 acres in Malbec. The profusion of wineries and the high quality of wine produced here make it a popular stop for wine lovers during their travel to Chile to taste the full-bodied reds for which the zone is known.
The Curico Valley contains 47,175 acres of wine grapes. From Santiago, it is a straight shot south down Highway 5 from Santiago to reach the region. Of the premium reds, almost two-thirds are in Cabernet Sauvignon, half as much in Merlot and the rest in Carmenere. The valley contains 9,328 acres in Sauvignon Blanc and 3,546 acres in Chardonnay. Though wine grapes have been grown here for centuries, it was Spanish immigrants who introduced modern winemaking techniques to the region. The valley contains more wineries than most visitors have time for during their Chile tours.
Maule is the largest and one of the oldest of the Central Valley sub-regions, with 77,796 acres planted in wine grapes. Premium reds make up 34,222 acres, two thirds of which is Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest in Merlot and Carmenere. The 7,717 acres of premium whites are split between Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
The Wines of the Southern Region
Though 26,000 acres of the Itata are planted in wine grapes, all white, the area produces only small amounts of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc in a sub-region dominated by Moscatel de Alexandria, a multi-purpose variety of the Muscat grape.
More varieties of white wine grapes grow in the 8,700-acre Bio Bio Valley than any other of Chile’s wine regions. In addition to some Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, most of the acreage is planted in Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Moscatel de Alexandria and Gewürztraminer. Three wineries and two vineyards are located here.
The Malleco Valley lies at the southern edge of Chile’s wine country. The climate here makes successful wine grape growing more challenging than elsewhere in Chile’s viticultural regions. A few acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay have been planted in the Malleco Valley. This is an experimental region for premium grapes due to the higher rainfall that the area experiences compared to further north and a shorter growing season.
Most visitors on Chile tours choose to visit the more northerly of the country’s wine regions. Travelers heading to the Biobío River for some whitewater rafting or to the Nahuelbuta National Park to see its monkey puzzle trees may pass through the wine country’s Southern Region to get there during their travel to Chile. Southern Explorations offers many wine country excursions for passengers wishing to learn about and sample the country’s premium wines. These tour extensions make an educational and very pleasurable add-on before or after their Patagonia tours.