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home > food & wine dictionary > Chile

Food and Wine Dictionary

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 Chile    [CHIHL-ee, CHEE-leh]

Chilean vineyards were first established in the mid-sixteenth century by Spanish missionaries. These viticultural pioneers planted the grape known as Pais, which is similiar to the MISSION grape widely grown in California and the Criolla variety grown in Argentina. For the next 300 years the Pais was Chile's primary grape and still comprises about half the total vineyard land. In 1851 a Spaniard, Silvestre Ochagavía, brought in French wine experts, followed by cuttings of CABERNET FRANC, CABERNET SAUVIGNON, MALBEC, MERLOT, PINOT NOIR, SAUVIGNON BLANC, and SÉMILLON. Other varieties were subsequently planted, including CHARDONNAY, GEWÜRZTRAMINER and RIESLING. The next four decades saw the establishment of numerous wineries that are still prominent estates today including: Cousiño Macul (1861), San Pedro (1865), Errazuriz (1870), Santa Rita (1880), Concha y Toro (1883), and Viña Undurrage (1885). These six wine estates plus those of Caliterra, Los Vascos, Santa Carolina, Saint Morillon, and Walnut Crest account for almost 90 percent of the Chilean wines exported to the United States. Chile seems to have an ideal environment for growing grapes. The vineyards have never been infected with PHYLLOXERA and seem to be permantly protected by the Andes Mountains, the oceans, and the desserts. To the envy of viticulturists in other areas like France and California, this means that Chilean vineyards can be planted with original rootstock, rather than having to be grafted onto those that are phylloxera-resistant. Most of the vineyards are in the central section of the country from about 50 miles north of the city of Santiago to about 150 miles south. From north to south these growing areas are: the Aconcagua Valley; the famous Maipo Valley, which has vineyards within sight of downtown Santiago; Casablanca, near the coastal city of Valparaiso; Rancagua District; Colchagua District; Curicó District; and the Maule Valley. Most of the areas are dry and aren't beleaguered by rains spoiling the harvest. But they do have plenty of water from the melting snows of the Andes. The tremendous potential of the Chilean wine industry is attracting the investments of several foreign wine-producing companies including Spain's Miguel TORRES, France's LAFITE-ROTHSCHILD, and California's FRANCISCAN VINEYARDS.

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Material adapted from the The New Food Lover's Companion

© Copyright Barron's Educational Services, Inc. 1995 based on
THE FOOD LOVER'S COMPANION, 2nd edition, by Sharon Tyler Herbst.

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