WineHandpicked by IWSC

Six of the best Chilean red wines

Chile was famously dubbed the ‘Volvo of the wine world’ in the 1980s and 1990s for its safe-but-unspectacular wines. 20 years on however, the Volvo is now a sleek sportscar producing increasingly exciting wines

Words by IWSC experts

Elqui Valley vineyard in Chile
Handpicked by IWSC
Grapes are grown right across Chile, even in the Elqui Valley that borders the Atacama Desert in the north

The reliability of Chilean wine has, in a strange way, been its Achilles heel. For some wine drinkers, Chile is the go-to country for great-value wines that won’t break the bank. But understandably, the country’s winemakers are keen for people to spend a little more and dip a toe in the premium end of the market.

Chile was famously dubbed the ‘Volvo of the wine world’ a couple of decades ago – a jibe at the safe-but-unspectacular wines that were being pumped out at the turn of the millennium. But 20 years on, the Volvo has been replaced by something sleeker and sportier, and there are now some spectacular wines made right across the country.

The pivotal moment for the reputation of Chilean red wine came at a tasting in Berlin in 2004. Two wines from Chile – Viñedo Chadwick 2000, and Seña 2001 – were voted in first and second place ahead of some of the most heralded wines from France and Italy, including Châteaux Latour and Lafite from Bordeaux, and Sassicaia from Tuscany.

Just like California after the Judgment of Paris tasting in 1976, the word was out, and Chile’s reputation was sealed. And since that day, the quality of Chilean wine has got better and better.

Carmenere vineyard
Carmenère - often incorrectly labelled as Merlot - used to be the most widely planted grape variety. Cabernet Sauvignon has since stolen its crown

In the 1980s and 1990s, Chilean reds were dominated by Carmenère – incorrectly labelled as Merlot much of the time. Today, Syrah has rightly become Chile’s premium red grape, thriving in the country’s coastal regions, and delivering beautiful, elegant reds studded with pepper, black fruit and spice. Syrah is the second most planted red variety in Chile, behind Cabernet Sauvignon – which also took the lion’s share of Chilean IWSC awards this year.

Pinot Noir is going great guns, too, and is exceptional value for money compared with Pinots from Burgundy and California. There’s even been a mini-revival of the historic variety País, the original red grape planted for sacramental purposes – vines were first introduced to Chile by the conquistadores in the 16th century.

Eduardo Chadwick, the man behind those two winning wines at the 2004 Berlin tasting, sums up Chile’s position in the wine world: ‘There’s lots of work to do: more miles, more education. It’s still early days: this is just the beginning.’

Scroll down to discover six award-winning Chilean reds from this year’s IWSC.