A great climate for sensational wines

The vine first came to South America in the mid-16th Century with early Christian missionaries who used the grapes to make communion wine.

As South America became more colonised, winemaking spread.

The success of Chilean wine comes mainly from the climate and topography.

While the heat ripens the grapes, this is tempered on the west by cool sea breezes off the Pacific. Although Chile is a very dry and arid country there is an almost unlimited water supply from Andean snowmelt. The rich alluvial soil holds on to moisture and nutrients so the vines thrive.

Interest in Chile has been growing steadily since the 1980s. The true success came with foreign investment and 'flying' winemakers from France, Australia, California and New Zealand. Estampa is expert in the blending of different varieties to attain the best possible wine, and one example is the Estampa Gold Assemblage Reserve, Vina Estampa 2002.

On the other side of the Andes is Argentina, the world's fifth largest wine producer. The successes have been the black Malbec grape used in Bordeaux and Cahors in France and the white Torrontes, which can rival Viognier in the production of off-dry flowery whites, such as Coleccion Torrontes de Cafayate 2004 Michel Torino.

- Alan Johnson is managing director of Elegusto Wines.

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