Winemakers are forever pushing and breaking boundaries in search of new terroir to produce exciting and unusual wine. Long, narrow Chile bordered by the Pacific, Andes and the Atacama Desert to the north is a winemaker’s playground.
Explore the spectacular Elqui Valley wine region
The arid Elqui Valley wine region, 400km to the north of Chile’s capital, Santiago, lies at the very southern edge of the Atacama Desert. Hot and dry, surrounded by desert and largely uninhabited, Chile’s northernmost region for now - pioneers are already aiming as far north as the Atacama - is not your run-of-the-mill wine region.
The region was traditionally focussed on producing table grapes and the country’s trademark Pisco, its somewhat addictive Moscatel-grape-based spirit, used to produce the very moreish cocktail Pisco Sour. You can still visit Pisco distilleries where they distil the grapes in traditional copper stills and taste the fiery spirit with the region’s spectacular scenery in the background. However, its vineyards are now producing bright, extremely aromatic wines in these most harsh of conditions.
Elqui Valley wine region – a mecca for star gazers
The region is famous for its limpid crystalline skies and bright sunshine and draws star gazers in their droves. A number of astronomical observatories make their home here, high up on the magnificent mountains, where enthusiasts can take advantage of the region’s pure air and clear skies to gaze heavenward at the moon and the stars. There is also a higher level of solar radiation here than in any European wine region, which impacts on wine styles too, allowing winemakers to craft remarkable wines with amazing vibrancy and intensity.
The highest planted vineyards in Chile
Wineries all over Chile are focussing on altitude in their search to produce exciting wines in extreme terroir and the Elqui Valley wine region now boasts the highest planted vineyard in Chile at 2,200m, on a par with those across the border and the Andes in Argentina’s Salta. Its high altitude, cooling ocean influence in places and warm, bright days followed by fresh, cool nights mean that Elqui Valley wine grapes maintain intense varietal character and refreshing acidity as well as having thicker skins, thus giving a greater concentration of everything – aromas, flavours and colours. Elqui Valley wine makers are harnessing these benefits to craft increasingly exciting and unique wines.
Explore the intoxicating landscapes of the Elqui Valley wine region
The dramatic Elqui Valley wine region is centred along a series of spectacular transverse valleys which supply melt water from the Andes to the region’s vineyards. The narrow valleys are now home to around 280 hectares of vines mostly situated along the region’s rivers. In the local Quechau language, Elqui means ‘narrow valley’, a fitting name for this stunningly, beautiful region. Towering granite mountains line the valley on either side, resembling a kind of high-altitude northern Rhône, except perhaps for the fact that the steep grey rocky hillsides are occasionally also brightened up with a dash of green from its avocado plantations.
Like the northern Rhône, one of Elqui Valley’s key varieties is Syrah with serious producers crafting award-winning, gutsy cool climate reds from this Rhône variety. The region is also home to Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Carménère and Pedro Ximénez.
Taste impressive wines in spectacular surroundings
Let our local experts at Wine Paths help you to discover the Elqui Valley wine region, one of Chile’s most up-and-coming regions and its wines, such as impressively elegant Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and cool-climate Syrah and Carménère. And make sure you don’t forget to build in some time for star gazing and sipping Pisco Sours too.
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