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The development of Casablanca and San Antonio occurred seamlessly with the rising popularity of the fresher, brighter styles of wine. Both regions are included in the Aconcagua zone in Chile, although the climate is widely different than the hot, arid desert of the Aconcagua Valley. Founded in 1980 as the first designated Coastal region in Chile, Casablanca and neighboring San Antonio have boomed in the last 10 years, with an impressive growth of new and modern wineries. While there is certainly some variation in Chile’s climate as one travels North-South (smaller Limari and Elqui Valley in Coquimbo are also making some crisp Coastal wines), the differentiation in temperature from West-to East is so distinct that the government recently added an additional classification that divides the country in three zones; Coastal, Central, and Andes.
The popularity of the fruity whites and light reds from the coastal areas of Aconcagua reflect a new trend in Chilean winemaking. Far from the inky, ripe reds that have distinguished Chilean wines in the past, the fresh Coastal style has attracted tourists and investors alike. These food-friendly wines are popping up on wine lists in restaurants across the country. While the rich reds from inland regions are sure to stick around, Casablanca and San Antonio offer diversity and a refreshing counter balance to the Chile’s more serious offerings.
Just about 25 km East of the city of Valparaiso, Casablanca and San Antonio Valley have a unique position in the spectrum of Chilean wine. These regions are unique in that they are Coastal regions but are only partially guarded by the Coastal Mountains along the Eastern border of the country. This gap in the mountain range allows for cold Pacific air and fog brought by the Humboldt current to be drawn inland, creating a cool microclimate. As both regions are protected at two sides by the mountains, the root louse phylloxera that devastated most of the world’s vineyards never reached these vines. Most are on their original rootstock. With relatively low vineyard threats, organic and biodynamic farming is relatively common. Bodegas Emiliana in Casablanca claims the largest organic vineyard in the world.
Casablanca has relatively high cloud cover, which further increases the dramatic cool air. Compared to the majority of Chilean vineyards, which are further inland, the growing season here is very short; Casablanca is rated as a a Region I climate on the Winkler scale. The penetrating cool air allows for grapes to retain acidity. While these Coastal effects have a strong influence on the climate as a whole, the Humboldt Current acts to mitigate the temperature; Valparaiso is about the same distance from the equator as Pheonix, AZ.
San Antonio is slightly further inland from Casablanca and is less affected by the fog and cool air. San Antonio has four subregions: Leyda, Lo Abarca, Rosario, and Malvilla. Matetic in San Antonio is making very serious (seriously good) Syrah, especially from their EQ line.
Chile is traditionally known for its generous red wines, especially the Cabernet Sauvignon from Maipo and the Carmenere from Colchagua. The temperate inland valleys of Chile are perfect for ripening the fruit of these Bordeaux grapes, which characterizes the popular style found in New World wine regions. However, when grown in Chile’s coastal regions, the short growing season fails to physiologically ripen the grapes to their full extent. This results in “green” flavors and diminishes the typical ripe and luscious black fruits. Instead, the producers of Casablanca and San Antonio turn to high acid grapes that benefit from a longer growing season, which aids in the development of slow-giving and subtle aromatics that typify the area’s elegant style. White grapes are common here, especially Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Here the whites take on a zesty, fresh style, lovely with the seafood from Coastal Valparaiso. For reds, Pinot Noir is the king, although Syrah performs well in San Antonio. Bright fruits are present, but balanced with alluring spice notes and an elegant texture. Wines from this area area rarely over-oaked. Sparkling wines are increasing in popularity, typically made in the traditional method. -AT