From north to south, and from the Pacific to the Andes, this sliver of a country boasts a collection of distinct terroirs—and wines to match.
The Colchagua Valley lies about 100 miles south of Santiago and runs west from the Andes foothills to the Pacific Ocean. According to Parra, Colchagua’s terroir is influenced by a warm, breezy, dry climate.
With vineyards planted from approximately 650 feet to 3,110 feet above sea level, there are hot spots on the valley floor and cool pockets higher up the hillsides.
“Soils are a mosaic of granite, volcanic, clay and schist,” says Parra.
Colchagua is often compared to California’s Napa Valley. Warm-weather red varieties thrive here, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère and Syrah, with some Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot thrown into the mix.
Closer to the Pacific, some wineries are growing Syrah in a cool, windy area called Marchigue (pronounced mar-CHEE-way). Meanwhile, just miles inland from the sea in a subzone called Paredones, a trio of wineries (Casa Silva, Santa Helena and Koyle) is forging ahead with Sauvignon Blanc. The wines are similar in style to those made in the Leyda and San Antonio valleys to the north, although the Paredones wines are even stronger in acidity.
Colchagua’s Apalta subzone, located on the north side of the Colchagua Valley near the village of Cunaco, has already carved out a global reputation. This horseshoe-shaped area, with southern, southwestern and southeastern exposures, is a monster in terms of size, with more than 1,700 acres of vineyards shared by numerous wineries, including Lapostolle, Montes, Ventisquero, Neyen and Santa Rita.
The terroir at Apalta, according to Parra, is defined by granite bedrock, hillside plantings and southerly exposures that ensure optimal ripeness. The best wines are a product of Apalta’s granitic soils and the slightly cooler temperatures derived from exposition and altitude, creating the quintessential marriage of stony minerality, raw power and structured balance.
If the terroir is rocky and slightly cool in the Apalta hills, it’s another world on the valley floor.
Chile’s finest Malbecs—Viu 1 and a vineyard-designated bottling—hail from Viu Manent’s San Carlos property. Unlike Apalta, the San Carlos vineyard sits in flatlands atop deep, porous clay soils with excellent drainage.
José Miguel Viu, managing director for his family’s winery, says San Carlos, planted some 80 years ago, sings of Colchagua’s diversity.
“Like any great wine region throughout the world, there’s a human factor in Colchagua,” says Viu. “We have an inspired group here that has given our valley a dynamism and sense of community that doesn’t exist elsewhere in Chile. On the other hand, the valley offers natural conditions and diverse soils and climates that allow us to make wines from many varieties, and in many styles.”
Top Colchagua Valley Wines
93 Lapostolle 2009 Clos Apalta (Colchagua Valley). Typically intense, with aromas of graphite, cola, berry, spice, coconut and wood. Flavors of clove, herb and black fruit dominate. This Carmenère-led blend needs another few years to fully settle. Terlato Wines International. Cellar Selection.
abv: 15% Price: $90
92 Emiliana 2009 Gê (Colchagua Valley). Gê is one of Chile’s best blends, mixing Syrah, Carmenère and Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose is spicy yet suave, with berry, herb and olive aromas. Ideal in feel, with olive, pepper, cherry, cassis, coffee and chocolate flavors. Banfi Vintners. Editors’ Choice.
abv: 14.5% Price: $92
91 Viu Manent 2009 San Carlos Single Vineyard Malbec (Colchagua Valley). The bouquet shows extracted blackberry and leather aromas. The palate is healthy and well structured, with berry, toast and herb flavors. Baystate Wine & Spirits. Editors’ Choice.