The Red Varietals of Chile


Cabernet Sauvignon has been grown in Chile since the 1800s, on vines originally imported from France. More Cabernet is grown in Chile than any other variety, totaling some 100,000 acres. Cabernet ripens later than other red varietals and is most at home in the Aconcagua, Maipo, Cachapoal and Colchagua, the areas with the longest growing season.

Though far less is planted, Merlot has centuries-old traditions in Chile. A total of almost 25,000 acres of Merlot grow in Chile, found in all but the southern wine region. What was making the Merlot so spicy in some areas of Chile turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. Thought lost to phylloxera in France, the full-bodied Carmenere Bordeaux was in fact growing intermingled among Merlot vines, a discovery not made until the mid-20th century, though the grape had been planted there for over 200 years. Today some 22,000 acres of Carmenere grow in Chile. This darkest of all wine grapes, the Carmenere requires a long growing season and cooler climate than some wine grapes can tolerate, making it well-suited to the growing conditions of Chile, particularly the Peumo sector of the Cachapoal Valley.

Though far less Syrah (also called Shiraz) is produced in Chile than Cabernet and Merlot, a total of 15,000 acres, it is not because the conditions aren’t right. Syrah got a late start. The taste of Chilean Syrah varies according to the climate where it is planted, producing a spicier version in the cooler northern and coastal wine valleys.

Being quite particular about its growing conditions, Pinot Noir is a challenge to grow. In the wine regions of Chile that have a cooler climate, morning fog and sunny afternoons, viticulturalists have had some success with the varietal. Just 7,100 acres of Pinot Noir are planted in Chile.

Malbec, the star of Argentina reds, is grown only in the Colchagua zone of the Central Valley’s Rapel sub-region. The grape loves sun and heat. Because the Chilean growing conditions produce a more tannic Malbec than in Argentina, it is used in blends instead of being bottled as a varietal.