Why Chile is perfectly suited to making delicious wine

Paul Hammond
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Chilean wine is a fascinating proposition

This week we attended a tasting run by one of Bordeaux’s leading negociants, CVBG. However, it surprisingly featured no Bordeaux wine, instead only Italian and Chilean.

The Place de Bordeaux is the wine trading system originating in the middle ages which sells 70 per cent of Bordeaux’s wine by volume into 160 countries.

What some may find surprising is that the Place now distributes some of Chile’s leading fine wines such as Almaviva, Sena and, for the first time this year, Clos Apalta.

The Bordelais selling Chilean wine is an indication of both how far the country’s winemaking has come and the realisation of its potential.

Chile is a long and narrow country, sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the snow-capped mountains of the Andes, the longest mountain range on the planet and the highest outside of Asia.

This keeps Chile isolated, which has an important effect on the wine industry.

Most of Chile’s wines are produced between 32 and 38 degrees south of the equator, which in the northern hemisphere corresponds with the southern tip of Spain to the north of Africa, so as you might expect it gets a lot of sunshine hours.

However, the maritime influence from the Pacific and the impact of the Humboldt current regulate temperatures.

Another advantage is its isolation, meaning Phylloxera, the pest that decimated European vineyards in the late 18th century, has not found its way there over the Andes.

Without Phylloxera, Chile's winemakers can plant on the original vitis vinifera rootstocks, making Chile unique.

The snow-capped mountains also supply clean, fresh water. With less risk of fungal disease and no Phylloxera, Chile is a viticultural paradise.

It is this potential that has led several winemaking giants to pursue joint ventures with Chilean winemaking powerhouses.

Sena was established as a joint venture between the Chilean wine estate Vina Errazuriz and the colossus Robert Mondavi; its inaugural vintage was in 1995.

In 2004 at a blind tasting in Berlin, a bottle of Sena 2000 tied for fourth place with Chateau Margaux 2001; Chateau Lafite Rothschild 2000 was third. This year’s release, the 2013, has already been awarded 99 points by James Suckling.

Almaviva was established in 1996 as a joint venture between Baron Philippe de Rothschild and Concha y Toro. Chile can now boast truly world class wines, both of which trade at around £50 per bottle.

While the conquistadors may not have found gold in Chile, what they discovered was worth even more to Chilean winemakers.


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