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Dublin, Ireland
Hi, I'm Dermot Nolan, and I became a Master of Wine (MW) in 1997, and resigned from the Institute of Masters of Wine in 2023 after being an MW for exactly 26 years. I opened a wine shop in Dún Laoghaire, Ireland, called The Wine Library, which closed in 2018, and this is my personal wine blog. I will do my utmost to be fair and responsible in my posts – please read my Who Pays article in re the ethics of wine trips and writing. I have worked in wine education, retail, and consultancy since 1990. I was a Director of the Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW) from 2008 to 2014 and was also a member of the Events Committee, founder of the Trips Committee, and member of the Governance Committee. Having had problems with potentially libellous comments from unidentifiable posters, I now require that if you post a comment, you must identify yourself properly or it won't be published. Please note that I do not review products or services on request so kindly don't ask. I value my independence and I believe my readers (few that they may be) do so also.

Monday, June 21, 2010

More Chilean topography

I recently posted a short item about the importance of the east-west axis in Chile. here are a few more thoughts, to hopefully help you to understand the wine regions of Chile better. If you visit the excellent Wines of Chile website you can look at the maps to see the way the country looks from a topographical point of view.

Basically, the main mountain range is the Andes - duh! In almost every part of the country you can see the snow-topped peaks in the far distance to the east. From these mountains both cold air and water flow down into the vineyards helping to moderate the warm t hot climate in the main regions. Along the coast, there is another smaller range of mountains, known (duh!) as the Coastal Range. For the first-time visitor these can be confusing as they seem to be all around and it's hard to spot north, south, east and west. Between these two ranges, there is a series of large bowl-shaped valleys which more or less interconnect. Together, these form the Central Valley.
The most important valley is probably the Maipo Valley, based around Santiago. While a wide range of grapes is planted here, the valley is renowned for its cabernet sauvignon wines, particularly from the Alto Maipo or Puente Alto DO. Here, close to the Andes, with exceptional soils for cabernet sauvignon some of Chile's finest icon wines are produced.
To the north is the Aconcagua Valley, formed by the Aconcagua river as it meanders from the Andes to the coast. This valley is nor directly linked to the Central Valley and has a cool sea-breeze affecting the western end and an Andean breeze affecting the eastern end. Between Aconcagua and Maipo are the three specifically coastal valleys of Casablanca, San Antonio and Leyda. All are renowned for cool-climate white wines (in particular sauvignon blanc which I intend to cover in another post) as well as some seriously interesting and good pinot noirs and syrah! Strange to see both of those mentioned in that sentence but that's one of the beauties of Chile.
To the north of the Aconcagua are the three newbies - Choapa, Limari and Elqui. Paradoxically while going further north might be expected to result in warmer zones these are all known as cool-climate areas. This is entirely due to the strong maritime effect of the cold Pacific.
South of Maipo is Rapel, with its two sub-valleys of Colchagua and Cachapoal. The former is well known for carmenere but also makes some superb wines from cabernet sauvignon as well as syrah. One of Chile's finest vineyard sites, Apalta, is here. Colchagua has a number of zones with cool coastal areas, south-facing cool areas and warmer interior areas. Fun, huh? Cachapoal is similar in style to Maipo, with the upper zones certainly giving Puente Alto a run for its money in terms of high quality wines.
The central zone then becomes the Curico Valley and then Maule which is the widest and biggest of the valleys. Here there are definite differences between the coastal, central and upper zones but there are still good wines from here, including not only carmenere but also some excellent old-vine carignan.
Finally, the cooler zones of Itata and Bio Bio, which wines I haven't yet tasted but are renowned as cool-climate zones with pinot noir apparently doing well in the deep south.
Any bowl-shaped valley has three basic zones from west to east - cool, warmer, hot, warm and cool being the basic rule. For this reason, the Chilean industry is lobbying for a change to origin legislation to include Costa, Media and Alto DOs to reflect the climatic changes. I hope this is clear enogh - if not, you'll just have to visit for yourself!!

1 comment:

firstpress said...

Let's hear it for Bio Bio Pinot Noir!! I want Chile to be a Pinot destination.

(What's with the duh? I know a lot of people who like to be told that the Andes are important to the Chile industry without being made to feel stupid at the same time! They're the ones who bring a compass so they don't have axis problems..)

Hi to Paul from a sunny Ireland.