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Published: Tuesday, 11/14/2006

Popular Chilean wines include familiar names

South America's entry into the world wine market has been powered by Argentina and Chile.

The countries possess rich, volcanic soil, mountains that offer warm, splendid exposure to the sun, and climates to match California's.

As had happened in Argentina, Europeans settling in Chile in the 16th century brought with them plantings and winemaking skills. These settlers had greater success than those in English-speaking North America did two centuries later.

The heart of the Chilean vineyard is a narrow, 300-mile-long strip parallel to the mountains. Many of the best sites are along narrow valleys that carry water to the growers. Some of these valleys are more fruitful than others, and proud winery proprietors commonly put the identities of these locations on their wine labels, along with the varietal identification.

Among the few most essential, you might look for bottles from Aconcagua (generally regarded as the most important); Maipo, snuggling up around Santiago, and Colchagua.

Just as the first Spanish-speaking settlers were accompanied by or were themselves accomplished growers and winemakers, so European interest and investment continues to contribute to Chile's prosperity. Chilean vines were never infected by the dread phylloxera, which very nearly wiped out French and German wine grapes in the 19th century.

Today, Chile produces and markets varietals at very favorable prices with which American customers are familiar. Six firms are said to produce almost 90 percent of Chilean wine exported to the United States: Cousino Macul, Errazuriz, Santa Rita, Concha y Toro, San Pedro, and Vina Undurrage.

Next week, I'll focus on Argentina.

Contact Robert Kirtland at: rkirtland@theblade.com.

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