This month we zero in on the Maipo Valley, one of four wine regions within the vast Central Valley of Chile. Maipo lies immediately east of Chile’s capital city Santiago (in fact, Maipo’s border starts within city limits). It is one of the oldest wine regions in Chile—the first vines were planted in the 1540s, around the time that Santiago was founded. Viticulture expanded in the 1800s and many new wineries opened, including estates that remain iconic today such as Cousiño Macul, Santa Rita, and Concha Y Toro.
While many grapes thrive here—merlot, syrah, carmenére and chardonnay—this is cabernet sauvignon territory. It is by far the most planted grape in the Maipo, and produces some of the best cabernet sauvignons in Chile. Maipo is sometimes referred to as the “Bordeaux of Chile” for the richly structured cabernets it has turned out over the past two decades.
Maipo is divided into three regions. Alto (Upper) Maipo spreads over the foothills of the Andes Mountains, gaining 2,600 feet of altitude in some areas. The mountainside effects of thin soil, warm days, and cool nights combine to create cabernets with bold fruit flavors and dense concentration. The warmer Central Maipo lies below these foothills on clay-based soils, producing riper, more rustic cabernet sauvignons and some wonderful carmenéres. Lastly, the Pacific Maipo is home to more winemaking facilities than vineyards. The vines that do grow here are tucked up against hills to protect the vines from the whipping winds off the Pacific Ocean.
Try some of the best of the Maipo for under $50:
VIÑA SANTA CAROLINA “Reserva de la Familia” Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 (Maipo Valley) $20
CONCHA Y TORO (www.conchaytoro.com) “Terrunyo” Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (Maipo Valley) $36
ANTIYAL Carmenére 2011 (Maipo Valley) $49
Have a favorite cabernet from Maipo? Tell us about it here.
Photo Credit: Concha y Toro