Producer: Vina Millaman
Region/Appellation: Central Valley – Chile
Country Hierarchy: Chile
Food Suggestion: Beef and Venison
Wine Style: Red – Bold and Structured
Central Valley – Chile Wine
The Central Valley (El Valle Central) of Chile is one of the most important wine-producing areas in South America in terms of volume. It is also one of the largest wine regions, stretching from the Maipo Valley (just south of Santiago) to the southern end of the Maule Valley. This is a distance of almost 250 miles (400km) and covers a number of climate types. The Central Valley wine region is easily (and often) confused with the geological Central Valley, which runs north–south for more than 620 miles (1000km) between the Pacific Coastal Ranges and the lower Andes.
Vineyard workers during harvest © Matt Wilson/Wines of Chile
A wide variety of wine styles and quality can be found in this large area, from many different terroirs. They range from the fashionable (and relatively expensive) Bordeaux-style wines produced in northern Maipo, to the older, more-established vineyards of Maule; from the coastal plains of western Colchagua to the Andean foothills of Puente Alto. With experimentation so popular in the modern wine world, however, it is the newer, cooler-climate areas which are receiving most attention, with the emphasis on the Andean foothills and the river valleys tempered by the cooling effects of the Pacific Ocean.
The Central Valley is also home to a variety of grapes, but plantings are dominated by the internationally popular Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Chile’s ‘icon’ grape, Carmenere, is also of importance here, just as Malbec is to Mendoza, on the other side of the Andes. The cooler corners of the Central Valley are being increasingly developed, as winemakers experiment with varieties such as Viognier, Rieslingand even Gewurztraminer.
Because the area covered is so large and the terrain so varied, the name ‘Central Valley’ on a label is unlikely to communicate anything specific about the style of wine in the bottle. Also, with a number of independently recognized sub-regions now in place (such as Colchagua and Cachapoal), most wines of any quality are able to specify their sub-region of origin rather than the generic Central Valley. As a result, the Central Valley title is mostly used for mass-produced wines made from a range of sources.
Merlot is a red wine variety with strong historic ties to Bordeaux and the southwest of France. It is the predominant variety in most wines from Saint-Emilion and Pomerol, the area in which the variety originated. The variety is now widely planted in wine regions across the world and, in terms of the volumes of wine produced internationally, it is rivaled only by its Bordeaux companion, Cabernet Sauvignon.
Merlot is an early maturing grape variety and can ripen fully even in slightly cooler climates. Its key drawback is that the early-developing flowers are more susceptible to frost damage in spring.
In France, Merlot is the most widely planted red wine variety of all, and it is also extremely popular in northern Italy and the warmer areas of southern Switzerland. The popularity of Merlot in the United States resulted in a significant increase in planting in the late 1980s and early 1990s, particularly in California and Washington on the country’s west coast. However, while Merlot-based wines were the height of fashion then, popularity has since dropped significantly in favor of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Pinot Noir in particular.
Chile, a country which has long been known as a source of good-value wine, has built its reputation mainly on its Merlot-based cuvees. The country has made good use of Merlot in both the high-production wines and some of its finer wines, particularly those from Apaltaand the wider Colchagua Valley.
The precise flavors that Merlot imparts to a wine are not easily grouped. It is a grape used for producing wines of a particular texture, rather than a particular taste, relying on organoleptic properties other than just flavor and aroma.
Smooth, rounded and “easy drinking” are common descriptions of Merlot wines. The main reason for this is that Merlot grapes are relatively large in relation to their pips and the thickness of the skins, in which tannins are found. For this reason, the variety is used to soften wines made from more tannic varieties. Chief among these is Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot’s main blending partner in the Medoc and in wine regions around the world (see Cabernet – Merlot for more information on this blend). Other southwest French varieties like Tannat (in Cotes de Gascogne) and Malbec (in Cahors) benefit from Merlot’s calming presence.
Merlot is often dismissed as a reliable blending variety. It is often used to great effect in this capacity, and is responsible (alongside Cabernet Sauvignon) for some of the most famous wines in the world. However, it is also widely used to make varietal wines at all quality tiers, mostly in the New World. The most famous varietal Merlot wine is undoubtedly Petrus from the Pomerol region of Bordeaux – a highly collectable wine that can fetch several thousand dollars, depending on its vintage.
Investigations into the genetics of Merlot suggest that it is closely related to Cabernet Francand Cabernet Sauvignon, its Bordeaux blending partners. Carmenere, a historic member of the extended Bordeaux family is also a close relative, and has been mistaken as Merlot for many years in the vineyards of Chile. Worthy of mention here is “Caberlot”, reportedly a crossing of Merlot and another variety (possibly one of the Cabernets, whence the name), discovered by Italian agronomist Remigio Bordini. This almost mythical grape variety exists only in a small vineyard in Tuscany, where it is used to make Il Carniscale’s varietally labeled Il Caberlot wine.
Food matches for Merlot include:
- Osso bucco (braised veal shanks)
- Pork belly baked in miso
- Feijoada (Brazilian pork and black-bean stew)
(sources : wine-searcher)