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The nation of Chile is mostly defined by geography – the Pacific Ocean is its western border and the Andes Mountains is its eastern border; the country is essentially a 2,670-mile strip of land north and south that is only 217 miles at its widest point east to west. While the natural ocean and mountain borders were ideal barriers for carving out a sovereign nation, about an 800-mile stretch of the country is also within the latitudinal southern wine belt (for a visual and more information on the Wine Belt, read our High Altitude Wines newsletter), which proved to be ideal for growing Vitus vinifera. The cool winds from the Pacific are steady and predictable and encounter lakes, river basins, valleys, and hills that are all protected from competing weather from the eat by the towering extensive Andes Mountain chain that runs the length of the South American continent. The result is one big microclimate and lots of sub-microclimates, although there are three overarching microclimate types in Chile: Costas, Entre Cordilleras, and Los Andes. The Costas are coastal regions that tend to be cooler with little temperature fluctuation, while the Entre Cordilleras are the warm inland valleys with hot summers, and Los Andes are the high-altitude microclimates (for more on high-altitude wines, read our High Altitude Wines newsletter). There are six major wine regions in this 800-mile stretch, and most of them include a combination or all three of these overarching types.

As a result of Chile’s unusual climate-controlled 800-mile strip of land, Chile, which is a relatively small nation (ranking 37th in the world in geographic size and 65th in population), is the fifth largest producer of wine in the world and the fifth largest exporter, having been surpassed as fourth only recently by Australia in the latter category. The first Vitis vinifera vines were planted by Spanish missionaries who tagged along with the Conquistadors in the mid-1500s. They planted what they thought was the hardiest varietal from their native Spain, what they called the “common black grape,” as they were hoping that its seeds would grow in this foreign New World terrain so that they could create a New World supply source of Holy Communion wine. They hit the jackpot. We now know that this grape is Listan Prieto, which was renamed Pais in Chile (Criolla Chica in Argentina and Mission Grape in the United States) and is still a staple varietal in the country.
Chile's Geography makes it a natural for Viticulture
The three wines are from Maipo Valley, Colchagua Valley, and Bio-Bio Valley
Although the Spanish brought Vitus vinifera to Chile and their imperial colonization ensured a heavy influence of Spanish culture, Chile’s modern viticulture, ironically, is much more directly linked to France. In the mid-1800s, French grape varietals were introduced, and Chilean viticulturists never looked back. To seal the deal, in the late 20th century an influx of French immigrants settled in Chile and added their brand of viticultural knowledge to the varietals that had already taken hold and were thriving. In fact, one of the most popular varietals in Chile is Carmenère, which is a varietal that was ubiquitous in Bordeaux before the phylloxera louse wreaked havoc on it and the varietal disappeared in its native France. On a related note, Pais has also disappeared from Spain for the same reason. And on the topic of phylloxera, the louse never took hold in Chile, so the country has some of the oldest original strains of these vines in the world.

By now, you might imagine why it was so difficult to choose three wines for a Chilean theme. Considering the country’s importance in the winemaking world, we should really be doing wine club editions for regions within Chile (which we are not ruling out for the future, by the way!), but because we took this plunge, we decided the best way to approach this edition would be to select three single-varietal wines from three different subregions. As such, of course we had to feature the original Vitus vinifera varietal, Pais, and then logically the most planted grape, Cabernet Sauvignon. From there we needed a white varietal, and we left this up to what we tasted, and it happened to fall within one of the more up-and-coming subregions.


Colchagua Valley is in the middle of the country’s most prodigious and extensive of the six major regions: Central Valley. The Colchagua Valley subregion stretches from the foothills of the Andes in the east to the Coastal Mountain Ranges abutting the Pacific Ocean in the west. Most of the subregion’s important vineyards are in the foothills of this Coastal Range where Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, Syrah and on the white side, Chardonnay, are grown in a temperate climate as full-bodied wines. If not for the constant cool Pacific breeze and high altitudes, the area would be too hot for these varietals as it is only 34 degrees from the equator, but instead they absorb lots of sun during the day but cool off considerably in the evening.
Featured March Amaro Wine Club Chilean wine: Los Vascos Cromas Chardonnay Gran Reserva Valle del Colchagua (2022)
VARIETALS: Chardonnay

Los Vascos was purchased by the Bordeaux giant Domaine Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) in 1988. The estate is at the foot of Mount Cañeten, and its 1,581 acres of vineyards are the most extensive in Colchagua Valley, and one of the most extensive in Central Valley. With such geographic breadth, even Los Vascos single varietal wines profit from blends from grapes of vineyards many miles apart in varying terrain and even climate. The Chardonnay grapes for this wine, for example, come from the Peralillo and Litueche subregions of Colchagua Valley. Peralillo is about 25 miles from the sea on flat terrain where the temperature heats up in the summer, and Litueche is 12 miles from the sea in hillier land and where the Pacific winds keep the temperature controlled and moderate throughout the growing season.
The grapes from each vineyard are macerated separately with their skins and the juice sits in their must in tanks for 10 days before fermentation. The Peralillo grapes are then fermented in stainless steel tanks and the Litueche grapes are fermented in oak barrels and foudres, and about 10% of the blend is allowed to undergo malolactic fermentation and kept on the lees.

FOOD PAIRINGS: mushrooms, pasta with pesto, seared scallops, chicken or fish in cream- or butter-based sauces, charcuterie board, wide selection of cheeses
Los Vascos vineyards are at the foot of Mount Cañeten.


The Maipo Valley is in the most northern part of Central Valley, considerably north of Colchagua Valley, just south of Santiago, the capital of Chile. The fact that it is so close to the capital is significant because the first vines in Chile were planted around Santiago as part of the city’s origins in the 1540s. However, it took until the 1800s for viticulture to seriously expand past the city limits, and this expansion was driven by wealthy Chileans who had returned from travels to France with intentions to plant French varietals and mimic French wine estates. As the region grew, it was sectioned into three subregions—Alto Maipo, Central Maipo, and Pacific Maipo—each reflecting one of the three major microclimates discussed earlier: Los Andes, Entre Cordilleras, and Costas, respectively.

Alto Maipo is renowned for its rich, distinctive Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux Blend wines. In fact, the region is known as the Bordeaux of South America. Whereas in Colchagua Valley the sea breezes are key to managing the necessary microclimate in an otherwise hot latitude, Alto Maipo does it with altitude as the vineyards are literally in the foothills of the Andes with vineyards at ranges from 1,300 feet (400 meters) to 2,500 feet (760 meters) above sea level. Central Maipo, which was the first part of the Maipo Valley to be settled, is influenced by the Maipo River in the lower, warmer valleys west of Alto Maipo. Cabernet Sauvignon is the most planted varietal there, too, but Carmenère also figures in prominently. Lastly, Pacific Maipo, or Maipo Bajo, is the youngest part of the Maipo Valley and closest to the ocean and is better known for winemaking than viticulture, although there are vineyards that grow predominantly white varietals, most notably Sauvignon Blanc.
Maipo Valley begins outside of Santiago, the capital.
The Los Ratones mountains loom over the vineyards.
Featured March Amaro Wine Club Chilean wine: Bodega Volcanes de Chile Tectonia Cabernet Sauvignon (2021)
VARIETALS: Cabernet Sauvignon

La Higuera estate is in the Morros area of Alto Maipo, which are sloping lands at the foothills of the Los Ratones Mountains at an altitude of 1,970 feet (600 meters) above sea level. The soils here were formed by the alluvial build-up of volcanic soils – breccia and lava that washed down from the mountains. The resulting soils provide permeability and drainage, but also force the roots to grow deep and work hard, which adds a complexity to the fruit.

Winemaker Pilar Díaz is exceptionally clued into the soil science of the terrain and monitors and analyzes the symbiosis of plant and soil condition to determine the optimal harvest time and then manually harvests the grapes concentrating on clusters. After destemming and fermentation, the wine spends almost a month in the tank before being transferred into French oak barrels (25% new, and the rest second and third use barrels), where it undergoes malolactic fermentation, and is aged for 12 months.

FOOD PAIRINGS: steak, barbecues, pork, game meats, hearty pasta dishes, cheeses, empanadas, spicy stews


The Bío-Bío Valley is in the South Region, which also includes the notable subregions Itata Valley and Malleco. For geographic reference, while Maipo Valley is just outside of Santiago and Colchuaga Valley is 100 miles south of it, Bío-Bío Valley is 270 miles south of Santiago. The valley is within the Bío-Bío administrative region, named for the Bio-Bio River that runs through it, and the third most populated administrative region of the country’s sixteen regions, with the bulk of the population in and surrounding its two major cities, Concepción and Los Ángeles.

Pais has traditionally been the grape grown in most of southern Chile as the cooler climate is more challenging and the Pais grape is a hardy workhorse. However, recently, viticulturists and winemakers of Bío-Bío Valley have been planting more Pinot Noir and have been experimenting with plantings of Central European white varietals, such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer. All of this makes sense as these varietals achieve their best selves in cooler climates with more rainfall than the central and northern regions. We will certainly be searching for wines made from some of these more recent varietals to the region to add to the store’s shelves, but for a Chilean wine club we thought we would be remiss to not have a wine from the first Vitus Vinifera grape varietal planted in South America more than 480 years ago.
Source: https://www.winesofchile.org/pt/wine-regions-map/
Featured March Amaro Wine Club Chilean wine: Roberto Henriquez Pais Verde Bío-Bío (2021)

Roberto Henríquez is a native of Concepción and began his formal oenology education with a degree from the University of Concepción, but then he struck out on an international quest to attain hands-on knowledge from winemakers around the world. He traveled to, and worked with winemakers in, Canada, South Africa, and eventually settled for a time in France, in the Loire Valley under the tutelage of the region’s innovative winemaker Rene Mosse who steered Henriquez into organic and biodynamic farming. When he returned to his native Concepción, he found that he could continue this organic and biodynamic journey by going backwards in time and adopting the traditional Pipeño methods of the original winemakers of Chile.

Henriquez works with long-term fermage agreements on carefully selected vineyards, which he farms himself along with farm animals in keeping with his biodynamic farming techniques. In the north in Itata Valley he works with old-vine Semillon, Corinto (aka Chasselas) and Muscat d’Alejandria, but in Bío Bío Valley, he works with Pais. The grapes are hand-harvested from foothills outside Nacimiento only half a mile from the Bio-Bio River. With this wine, he employs carbonic macerations and ages it in old Rauli wood barrels. He is aiming for light-bodied, translucent, refined, and full of character.

FOOD PAIRINGS: lentil stew with tomatoes, white beans, burgers, red bean vegetarian pâté