A Guide to Chilean Wine: Choosing the Best Vintage for Your Collection

Guide to Chilean Wine

Any thorough guide to Chilean wine must include the Maipo region, which is famous for housing the country’s finest vineyards. Photo Credit: Wikimedia CC user Fsanchezs

 The wine world is expanding at a rapid pace. Just 50 years ago, most serious collectors only invested in wines from a handful of areas. In general, if the wine didn’t come from Old-World regions like Burgundy, Bordeaux, or Champagne, many collectors didn’t see much value in buying it. But this attitude is changing, and we’re seeing New World wine regions like Chile gain popularity among serious collectors and casual drinkers alike. In fact, Liv-ex lists Chilean wine as one of the top regions to follow in its latest 2017 Power 100 Report. The region’s top wines, especially offerings from Seña and Almaviva, are being sold on the secondary market in greater numbers this year, and these wines are expected to grow in value significantly over the next decade.

 
Yet many serious collectors aren’t sure where to start with Chilean wine. Should you pick producers from the Maipo subregion, or vineyards in southern Chile? Which styles of wine are age-worthy? Are there any legendary, must-have vintages? This essential guide to Chilean wine will help you make wise investment choices in this exciting up-and-coming region. You’ll learn which Chilean wines are worth cellaring, as well as which vintages are highest in quality and most valuable on the secondary market. By becoming an expert on Chilean wine, you’ll place yourself at the forefront of an emerging wine trend–more importantly, you’ll get the chance to drink some truly spectacular wines.

Chilean Wine Is Becoming More Popular

Chilean winemakers have been cultivating vineyards for centuries. So why is this region suddenly gaining in popularity on the global wine market? The answer lies in improved winemaking technology, high critic scores, and a number of new foreign investments in the area.

Better Winemaking Equipment

In the 1970s and 1980s, Chile was in the midst of political turmoil, which caused the country’s vineyards to suffer. Winemakers struggled to care for their vines, and many lacked the modern technology required to compete on the collectible wine market. But in the early 1990s, everything changed. The political climate stabilized and winemakers were able to invest in better viticultural tools. The country planted  10,000 hectares of new wine grapes, and today, the Chilean wine market is a multi-billion dollar export industry.

The Wines Receive Excellent Scores from Critics

Modern Chilean winemakers have also been cultivating more Bordeaux-style red blends since the early 1990s, and the supreme quality of these blends has caught the attention of famous wine critics like James Suckling. In 2017, Suckling surprised the wine world when he named Chile’s 2015 Almaviva his Wine of the Year. The critic gave the vintage a perfect score, and added that the wine is a great representation of Chile’s renewed commitment to crafting fine, age-worthy vintages. Suckling says that the “superb” wines “can compete with the best in the world.” Suckling isn’t the only critic who has praised Chilean wines over the years; Luis Gutierrez also adores many Chilean vintages and is a very vocal fan.

Foreign Investments Lead to Higher Market Value

The 2015 Almaviva vintage represents Chile’s modern interest in foreign partnerships. Many of the country’s top winemakers have teamed up with estates in Napa and Bordeaux to produce coveted wines that are becoming immensely popular among collectors. For instance, Almaviva is made by Chile’s Concha y Toro and Bordeaux’s Mouton-Rothschild–the estates supervise the technical winemaking details together. The combined efforts of the estates have created a top-quality wine that is highly sought-after on the secondary market. This wine, in particular, has increased in price every year and should continue to increase in value in the future.

If you’re looking for trendy Chilean wines to start your collection, consider 2015 Almaviva, 2014 Clos Apalta, and 2015 Seña. All three of these wines are made using the best winemaking techniques, received excellent scores from critics, and were collaborations with top producers from other regions–two were developed in partnership with French producers and one with California’s Robert Mondavi. Chile’s investment in producing great wine has resulted in vintages that are more than just pleasant to drink–they may also be worthy of long-term storage for profit.

Identifying Age-Worthy, Collectible Chilean Wine

Now that you understand why Chilean wine is becoming popular, you’ll need a guide to Chilean wine styles that will help you invest in the best wines for your cellar. The most important tip to remember is that Chile is so much more than just Bordeaux-style blends and fruity red wines. The country makes some of the most delicate, complex white wines in the New World. Consider tasting a wide range of Chilean wines to determine which of the styles below you most prefer.

Sauvignon Blanc

  • Location and Climate: Made in regions off the coast, with ocean winds and plenty of sunshine.
  • Flavor Profile: These wines are usually crisp and bracing, but still very ripe.
  • Age-Worthiness: Can be age-worthy, but most are designed for early drinking.
  • Collectibility: These are among the better wines that Chile produces, and age-worthy versions can be stored and resold on the secondary market for a profit.

Chardonnay

  • Location and Climate: Made in cooler regions throughout Chile.
  • Flavor Profile: These wines have a great deal of acidity.
  • Age-Worthiness: Fine versions are worth storing long-term, but you have to research the wine’s origins carefully. Only age wines that come from the top producers in the region.
  • Collectibility: Look for wines that have been aged in oak, as these will age well and are popular among collectors.

Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Location and Climate: Usually made in the warm Central Valley.
  • Flavor Profile: Very concentrated, full-bodied, and flavorful.
  • Age-Worthiness: These can last for decades in a cellar, especially in years when both acidity and tannin were high.
  • Collectibility: Puente Alto makes the best, most collectible versions of this wine. It’s rare to find 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon wines–the most collectible wines are Bordeaux-style blends made primarily with Cab and a mix of other grapes.

Syrah

  • Location and Climate: Made in high-altitude, coastal areas.
  • Flavor Profile: Plum and savory flavors are common.
  • Age-Worthiness: Wines from top producers can be stored for 10 or 15 years, but most of these wines should be drunk young.
  • Collectibility: These aren’t usually collectible, but they can be if you choose the right producers. The most collectible wines are made in the style of Côte-Rôtie (with a bit of Viognier).

Pinot Noir

  • Location and Climate: The Casablanca Valley, which is cool and mild, makes the majority of these wines.
  • Flavor Profile: Very cherry-like, balanced, and refined.
  • Age-Worthiness: These wines are worth cellaring for at least a decade if they come from top regions like Casablanca.
  • Collectibility: Many of these wines will be worth more on the secondary market in the next few years, as Chile produces some of the most refined-tasting Pinot Noir in the world.

Other Styles

Chile also produces a few region-specific grapes like Carmenère and Carignan. Sometimes, these styles are released on their own, but most of the time, producers choose to include a small percentage of these grapes in a Bordeaux-style blend. These varieties give Bordeaux-style Chilean blends a distinctively Chilean personality; Carmenère, for example, adds just a touch of green pepper flavor to the wine.

Each of the wine styles above have their merits, but in general, the most collectible, age-worthy Chilean wines are Bordeaux blends, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay.

Regions That Make the Highest-Quality Wines

Getting to know the different subregions of a winegrowing country can be a time-consuming educational process. It takes some sommeliers years to learn the styles and techniques of a country’s subregions. But you won’t need this deep level of expertise in order to invest in these wines right now. You only need a basic guide to Chilean wine regions, including which regions tend to produce the most collectible, age-worthy wines. Take a look at the map below for more information about the primary Chilean subregions, and which wine styles they produce:

chile-wine-map

If you’re just getting started on your Chilean wine journey, the wine regions that you should pay closest attention to are the Central Valley, Aconcagua, Malleco, Itata, and Bio Bio. These five regions typically make the highest-quality wines, whereas other regions in Chile are better known for producing inexpensive table wines. However, there are exceptions to this rule. Because Chile is growing more popular among wine lovers, experienced winemakers are establishing more high-quality vineyards in areas that were once known for producing basic table wine. By trying wines from a number of Chilean vineyards from around the country, you may discover a few high-quality wines made in unexpected places.

High-Quality Chilean Producers

One of the challenges of investing in Chilean wine is that it can be difficult to sort out the top producers from those who make table wine. Many of the viticultural areas are still very new, and producers are in the process of experimenting with different wine styles and techniques. Although this poses a challenge for collectors, it’s also an exciting moment to invest in Chilean wine. Unlike Napa or Bordeaux, which already have an established list of the best producers, Chile is still largely unexplored territory, even among well-known wine critics.

For this reason, you should commit to trying a wide range of Chilean producers before you begin investing heavily in any single one. If you’re looking for a basic guide to the Chilean wine producers that many people list as the best in the country, see the list below:

  • Concha y Toro (the Almaviva label in particular)
  • Carmen
  • Arboleda
  • Lapostolle
  • Montes
  • Santa Rita
  • Veramonte
  • Los Vascos
  • Matetic
  • Miguel Torres

Each of the producers in the list above has been rated highly by professional critics. You may find one or two producers on the list that impress you most, and these are the wines that you may want to invest more heavily in over the next ten years. As Chilean wine gains in popularity, you’ll want to buy these wines while they are still underpriced– the price-to-quality ratio for Concha y Toro, in particular, is spectacular.

Your Guide to Chilean Wine by Vintage

Due to the effects of El Niño and La Niña, Chilean wines often seesaw between rich, concentrated vintages and crisp, acidic years. In years when La Niña is in effect, wines tend to taste more acidic than usual, as the weather is typically cooler than average. Meanwhile, El Niño brings about warm weather, resulting in fruity, sometimes overripe wines. While the best producers can overcome some of the difference in weather year to year, you may want to pay close attention to the overall weather patterns for modern Chilean vintages all the same. If you prefer a crisp white wine, then vintages impacted by La Niña will be ideal. If you like richer-tasting whites and bold reds, then vintages impacted by El Niño may be more your style.

Take a look at our guide to Chilean wine vintages below to determine which years you may enjoy most:

Vintages that were elegant and balanced (due to even weather conditions):

      • 2003
      • 2005
      • 2006

The boldest, most concentrated red wine vintages (due to hot weather or lack of rain):

      • 2001
      • 2009
      • 2014
      • 2015
      • 2017

The coolest weather conditions, which produced the most acidic white wine vintages:

      • 2004
      • 2007
      • 2010
      • 2011
      • 2012
      • 2013
      • 2016

All of the vintages above produced high-quality wines that are worth drinking. If you want to invest in wines that can be stored long-term, then either choose the boldest, most concentrated vintages (for red wines), or the crispest, most acidic vintages (for white wines). Balanced vintages are also high in quality, but are usually best drunk young.

Chilean Wine Is a Reliable Investment for Most Needs

Whether you plan on drinking your wine while it’s young, or you want to store your bottles for decades and resell them for a profit, Chilean wine producers can provide you with both options. Chilean wine is fruity enough to be very enjoyable in the first few years of its life, but some of the finer vintages also have enough bracing acidity and prominent tannin to age for a decade or more. If you stick with the top producers, the highest-quality vintages, and the most sought-after vineyards, you’ll be in a perfect position to take advantage of this wine trend. More importantly, Chilean wine is shaping up to be so much more than just the latest market trend. This country is proving year after year that they are committed to crafting elegant, delicious wines, not just catering to the fleeting tastes of fashionable wine enthusiasts. In other words, fine Chilean wine is here to stay.

Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buyingselling, and professional storageContact us today to get access to the world’s finest wine.

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