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Chile’s Cooler Side: Coastal Regions in Chile are Turning Out Some of the Country’s Best White Wines

Posted on  | May 28, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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Ucuquer Vineyard, Rapel Valley

Reliably delicious, readily available and remarkably affordable are words that have become associated with Chilean wine. But cool-climate? Not so much. While we tend to think of the South American country as a hot, arid place ideally suited for heat-loving red varieties like Cabernet and Carménère, in reality Chile is heavily dominated by the cooling influence of the Pacific which hugs the narrow country’s 3,000-mile long coastline.  

Coastal regions represent the new frontier in Chilean winemaking. In districts like Limarí and Casablanca, white grapes thrive and as winemakers increasingly explore new cooler-climate vineyard sites, white wine quality—and sales—have soared. Red wine production still dominates overall in Chile, but today Chardonnay is the country’s #1 varietal white wine, responsible for approximately 30% of EQ volume sales in the U.S. Chilean Sauvignon Blanc continues to enjoy steady growth, up 7.2% in dollar volume in recent months. Though from a smaller base, Pinot Grigio from Chile is increasing leaps by and bounds—up 72% in the same time period.

Limarí—Land of Chardonnay

Marcelo Papa, the winemaker for Casillero del Diablo and Marques de Casa Concha, first visited Chile’s northern Limarí Valley in 1996, when the region was known for growing grapes destined for Pisco (Chilean brandy). Located only a few miles from the ocean, Limarí possesses the sort of limestone-rich soils in which Chardonnay flourishes, expressing its intensely mineral side. Papa had heard people talk about minerality in wines from Chile, but hadn’t tasted it really for himself until he ventured to Limarí.

Along with a handful of other vintners, Papa helped build Limarí’s reputation as a white wine mecca. He started making Concha y Toro’s Maycas wines in Limarí in 2007; today the affordably-priced Casillero Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio are also crafted there, as well as the highly rated Marques Chardonnay.

Wines like these have fueled Concha y Toro’s international popularity: the brand was just designated the “World’s Most Admired Wine Brand” by Drinks International for the second year in row.

Casablanca—Sauvignon Blanc Central

Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc dominate the vineyard plantings in Casablanca, and rightly so: Still a relative newcomer with its first plantings as recently as the 1980s, Casablanca pioneered cool climate winemaking in Chile and quickly earned an international reputation for crisp, fresh whites. Casablanca Chardonnays are zippier and brighter than those from warmer regions, and its Sauvignon Blancs exhibit a greater depth of flavor enlivened by vibrant acidity.

Chile has emerged as one of the world’s best sources for Sauvignon Blanc—it’s one of the country’s fastest-growing wines. According to Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer, Chilean Sauvignon Blancs have “all the citrus and grass flavors of New Zealand examples with great minerality like those from France—they offer the maximum you can get from an unoaked white wine.” He maintains there is no wine that makes a better candidate for on-premise by-the-glass pours.  

Chile Gets in on Moscato Craze

Xplorador recently debuted a Chilean Moscato, which has taken the marketplace by storm. Priced in the $6–$9.99 range, Xplorador Moscato is positioned to     be a popular choice for Millennial consumers.

This Summer: A Wide World of Chilean Whites

Chile crafts outstanding white wines in every winemaking region in the country. The Excelsior Wine Company’s broad portfolio contains a vast array of Chilean white wines that span a range of styles up and down the price spectrum. What do they all have in common? Regardless of price, they taste more expensive than they are—and they are all being heavily supported this summer as part of Excelsior’s

Cool Coastal Whites Program, now through August. On-premise support includes ice buckets, branded chilled carriers and wine flight tools; in off-premise accounts, Excelsior is offering $28 rebates on all their white wines, $3 food IRC coupons for ingredients in a supplied Crab Cake recipe, as well as visual displays. For recipes and pairings tailor-made for Chilean white wines, go to virtualcookingschool.com.


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