10 April 2013 - webeditor - Editor's Blog, Wine Talk

Editor’s Blog: Navigating Chilean wine labels – do you need a GPS?!

Choosing the right wine can be a difficult task, for any occasion.  Not only do you have to think red or white, which wine region, which wine producer, which wine variety, but you also have to decipher the other information on the label with words like Reserva or Winemaker’s selection! What does this mean, and how do you navigate through the Chilean wine section to find your perfect wine? Or is it best just to go for the pretty label?

The more choice we have with wines today, the more challenging it is to make a good selection.  We worry about whether the wine will be good, whether it’s too expensive, whether it will be okay for our dinner guests etc. In theory, the information on the wine label is there to help us.  However, the more I learn about the different wine regions of the world and their wine appellation systems that also effects wine labeling, the more I see that the exceptions are now becoming the rules and every wine country and region leaves things open to interpretation and confusion.

How is Chile tackling the situation? Chile has quite a simple classification system for its wines.  To be produced in a certain named valley, 85% of the grapes must be produced in that valley.  Below this level, if the grapes are from more than one valley, the term “Central Valley” will usually apply. Even today, many people arrive in Chile expecting to go be able to go to the Central Valley and are quite disappointed to find it’s more of a generic term for an area several hundred kilometers long!  Often private label or supermarket own brands have Central Valley on the label.  Santa Helena’s Varietal Sauvignon Blanc is labeled as Central Valley, for example.








The same 85% rule applies to grape varieties.  By law, if you have 85% or more of one variety in your wine, you can write only that variety on the label  eg. Cabernet Sauvignon.  However, if you have 15 % or more of other varieties, you have to also write their names on the label.

In Chile there is no protection of the terms ”Reserva” or ”Gran Reserva”.  Usually a vineyard will use these terms to indicate their better quality wines, reflected in the quality of the grapes, terroir, oak barrel treatment etc.  Vineyards such as MontGras and Casa Silva use these terms as an accurate reflection of the quality they want to achieve in their wines.  However, sometimes vineyards with good quality wines do not even use the term Reserva or Gran Reserva.


Terms such as ”Winemaker´s Selection” may refer to a smaller selection of high-quality grapes from the vineyard, but it doesn’t necessary guarantee a good quality in itself.  The same similarly applies to ”Single Vineyard”. A vineyard that produces a Single Vineyard wine will usually be aiming to produce one of their best wines, and in some cases they will use the term ”Lot” eg. Lot 21 to indicate a very small patch within the vineyard used to produce a very special wine.

Most Chilean vineyards will produce one top wine, or icon wine, while some vineyards may produce several wines but in different brands.  How do you recognize them?  Chilean vineyards are traditionalists and there is a lot of pride put into the making of these wines.  The top wine will come in a heavy bottle, and the wine will have its own name and be produced in a named valley.  Many top wines are a blend of several varieties hence there is often no mention of the grape varieties on the front label.  The price for these top wines will vary from $60 – $300 USD per bottle.


Happy wine navigating and check out my Wine Explorers Blog for more wine tips and reviews:

Wine Source Chile > Wine Talk > Editor’s Blog.


Best Wishes



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