Chile and Argentina: Going to extremes

Electric and refreshing flavours are cropping up in unlikely pockets of Chile and Argentina, at altitude and near the sea. Patricio Tapia discovers the risks and rewards of viticulture in uncharted territory

Chilean & Argentinian terroir: accepted wisdom

Traditionally, the influence of terroir on Chilean wines has focused on the cooling effect of the Pacific or the proximity of the Andes and their breezes. It is, then, a division from east to west, from the mountains to the sea. Now this is reflected in the law, which since 2012 has allowed the use of the terms ‘Andes’ for wines that are born nearby, ‘Entre Valles’ for wines from Central Valley, between the Andes and the Coastal Range; and ‘Costa’, for wines located near the sea. Although latitude is important in Chile (consider the rainy south or the dry deserts to the north), much more so is the influence of the Pacific or the fresh breezes coming down from the Andes.

In Argentina the action is based on altitude, hence almost all the vineyards define the personality of their grapes in relation to how high up they are into the Andes. The higher altitude vineyards are in the Valles Calchaquies, to the north, reaching 2,600 meters above sea level. The Uco Valley, south of Mendoza, is the most popular high-altitude area with Gualtallary as its peak, at around 1,600m. Patagonia is the exception in the hunt for altitude, with some 3,000ha (hectares) planted along the Río Negro River, of a total 217,000ha in Argentina.

Argentina: principal wine regions

Mendoza
Total hectares planted: 154,214
Terroir defined mainly by: altitude, ranging from 600 metres to 1,600 metres
Best wines made with: Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay
Star producers: 55 wines, Achaval Ferrer, Alta Vista, Altos Las Hormigas, Bressia, Carmelo Patti, Casarena, Catena, Dominio del Plata, Doña Paula, Lagarde, López, Luigi Bosca, Rutini, Trapiche, Weinert, Zorzal, Zuccardi

San Juan
Total hectares planted: 47,227
Terroir defined mainly by: altitude, from 780 metres to 1,330 meters
Best wine made with: Malbec and Syrah
Star producers: Finca Las Moras, Graffigna

Valles Calchaquíes
Total hectares planted: 5,100
Terroir defined mainly by: altitude, from 1,600 metres to 2,600 meters
Best wines made with: Malbec, Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon and Torrontés
Star producers: Colomé, El Porvenir, Etchart, Finca Las Nubes, Lavaque, San Pedro de Yacochuya, Tacuil

Río Negro
Total hectares planted:
1,733
Terroir defined mainly by: the wind. A very windy zone, refreshing the arid and hot climate.
Best wine made with: Malbec, Pinot Noir, Semillón
Star producers: Canale, Chacra, Infinitus, Marcelo Miras, Noemía

Chile: principal wine regions

Curicó-Maule
Total hectares planted: 45,850
Terroir defined by: proximity to the sea and altitude up to 1,000 metres
Best wines made with: Carignan, Sauvignon Blanc, Carmenere, Syrah
Star producers: Clos de Fous, Gillmore, J Bouchone, Louis Antoine Luyt, Miguel Torres, San Pedro, Valdivieso, Via Wines

Colchagua
Total hectares planted: 23,368
Terroir defined mainly by: proximity to the sea and altitude up to 700 meters
Best wines made with: Carmenere, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon
Star producers: Casa Lapostolle, Casa Silva, Cono Sur, Koyle, Luis Felipe Edwards, Montes, Viu Manent

Maipo
Total hectares planted: 12,432
Terroir defined mainly by: altitude up to 1,100 meters
Best wines made with: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Carmenere, Syrah
Star producers: Aquitania, Concha y Toro, Cousiño Macul, Domus, De Martino, Santa Rita-Carmen

Casablanca
Total hectares planted: 4,605
Terroir defined by: proximity to the sea
Best wines made with: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah
Star producers: Casas del Bosque, Morandé, Montsecano, Quintay, Veramonte, Villard

Limarí and Elqui
Total hectares planted: 2,766
Terroir defined mainly by: altitude (up to 2,200 meters) and proximity to the sea
Best wines made with: Syrah, Carignan, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay
Star producers: Falernia, Maycas del Limarí, Tabalí, Tamaya, Viñedos de Alcohuaz

San Antonio/Leyda
Total hectares planted:
1,385
Terroir defined mainly by: proximity to the sea
Best wines made with: Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Syrah
Star producers: Amayna, Casa Marín, Matetic, Viña Leyda

Aconcagua
Total hectares planted: 1,098
Terroir defined mainly by: proximity to the sea and the winds coming down from the Aconcagua river, born in the Andes
Best wines made with: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc
Star producers: Errázuriz, San Esteban, Von Siebenthal

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