Wines of Chile
My first experience of Chilean wine was back in my student days, when various supermarkets offered three bottles of wine for ten pounds! What a fantastic deal, if not a little irresponsible. Many of the wines available happened to be Chilean, often Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. As you can probably imagine, these wines were not of the greatest quality, but that most certainly wasn't my primary reason for buying them. As a result of deals like this, Chile is a wine producing country is that is associated with being cheap and cheerful. This has had the positive effect of helping Chile to get established as a major wine producing and exporting country. The problem, however, is that it has led to the preconception that you can't find top quality Chilean wine.
When I started studying wine, this left a slight negativity in the back of my mind that all Chile produced was bulk everyday wine. I couldn't have been more wrong! The further I studied and tasted from this unique country, the more I realised it was a wine making haven. 4000 kilometres long and 300 wide, Chile is nestled between the four 'walls' of the Andes, the Atacama Desert, the South Pacific and the Antarctic. These geographic features not only add so much to the diversity of vines that Chile can grow, but also make it one of the few countries not to have been affected by the outbreak of the vine destroying louse Phylloxera of the late 1800s.
Chile exports around 800 million litres of wine annually and almost half of this is transported in bulk, to be bottled at its destination. These wines are best drunk young and provide instant enjoyment for a reasonable price. These wines - although generally of a good quality - are not considered 'fine' and are not worthy of laying down to drink at a later date. Many wine producers create their house style wines at an affordable, entry level price, but also produce some more premium wines. This enables them to maintain a steady income as well as experiment with different winemaking and viticultural methods to create more complex high-end wine. Cono Sur, Errazuriz, Monte Alpha & the Garage Wine Co. are just a few names creating fantastic premium quality wine from exceptional fruit at affordable prices.
Food and wine
When choosing a Chilean wine to pair with food there really is no limit, I often struggle to think of a savoury dish that couldn't be paired with a delicious wine. You can get a big rich and round Cabernet Sauvignon to accompany sirloin steak, high altitude Shiraz to pair with lamb or even a Pais grape variety to pair with rustic bean stews and casseroles.
The Sauvignon Blancs from the coastal regions are among some of my most favoured in the world. The cooling influences from the Humboldt current moderate the temperature maintaining fresh and zesty characteristics within the wines. They are lovely for summertime drinking or great with food - try them with oily fish such as mackerel or sardines. Chardonnays with a small amount of French oak work well with richer white meat dishes or heavier fish - try Turbot or Halibut.
Follow your personal preference and have fun experimenting pairing foods with wines from such a unique and diverse country.