South of the equator and hanging on the edge of the world, Chilean vineyards roll down from the foothills of the majestic snow-capped Andes mountains all the way to the extensive jagged Pacific coastline. Chile is blessed with a Mediterranean climate and a longstanding agricultural tradition that is now shifting towards sustainable and biodynamic farming practices. Chilean vineyards are producing high quality wines that reflect their terroir, creating a buzz in the international wine community and showing up in the finest restaurants around the world. A wine exploration with the opportunity to taste and experience Chilean wines is best planned during harvesting time from March until May or during the growing season from October to late January.
While the major wine producing regions are within a day’s trip from the capital city of Santiago the recent spurt of high end hotels in the wine country with gastronomic restaurants onsite provide an option to stay and experience not just the wines but relax in these architectural and design wonders. The principal wine regions all within a one day radius from Santiago produce varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, the ubiquitous Carmenere and also smaller quantities of Petit Verdot, Pais, and the Carignan. The Wine Route, a stretch of highway that winds through the five major wine valleys, nestled between the flanges of the mountains with scenic vistas around every bend provides easy access by road.
Establishing a base in the capital city of Santiago with its wide choice of lodgings at small boutique hotels like the Aubrey or large international chain hotels at different price points is a viable option. Sightseeing in the city is facilitated by the inexpensive subway metro that connects to Plaza des Armas, The Costanero Norte, the tallest building in South America, the La Moneda and Paseo Los Dominic’s for local handicrafts. After a day’s jaunt into the regions wine country you can end the day by experiencing indigenous produce and seafood served at restaurants such as Chef Rodolfo Guzman’s Borago, 99 Restaurant by chef Kurt Schmidt and scores of local eateries and bars. Most restaurants pour a varied selection of Chilean wines for a complete food and wine experience and you might get a second taste of a wine tasted at a winery earlier in the day. Or switch to the Chilean national drink, the Pisco Sour.
A few wineries worth a visit in the major wine producing valleys:
The high summer temperatures are conducive for the production of mainly the Carmenere along with other varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Pinot Noir reflected in the fine reds from the valley. One of the 30 plus wineries in the valley, Viu Manent in the center of the valley, is a family-owned operation just 80 miles south of Santiago. Chief winemaker Patricio Celadon is often on hand to relate the story of the first Chilean Malbec introduced by the winery in 1993 and the “El Incidente” named after the real life incident of a hot air balloon crash into the nearby Santa Cruz market . The small museum onsite has an interesting display of artifacts and family treasures reflecting the wineries storied past . After the degustation in the beautifully appointed tasting room you can hitch a ride on a horse drawn carriage through the vineyards to the barrel rooms followed by a lazy lunch at the onsite restaurant. Opt for the wine pairings from the Grand Reservation the Secreto or El Incidente to accompany the Chilean fare.
Luis Felipe Edwards
This family-owned Chilean winery recently won the Best of Nation 2017 at the International wine competition in San Francisco. At the foot of the Andes, nestled amongst the valleys and terraced foothills, the ideal climate allows for production of the ubiquitous Carmenere, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and other varietals. The stunning views from the tasting room accessed by a bumpy ride in a four wheel drive with a precipitous drop below are incomparable. Its bougainvillea covered colonial building, antique carriage and all while being technology forward are worth a visit. Try the Dona Bernarda Private Reserve, a bold red blend from named after the owners wife with her cameo on the label.
Sheltered by coastal ranges from the cool winds off the Pacific lies this picturesque alluvial valley with a diversity of terroirs and micro climates. The Vina Vik is much more than a winery with its stunning design by architect Smiljan Radic. The boutique hotel on the premises boasts designer flourishes, an art collection, a spa and a gastronomic restaurant offering a luxe wine country experience. The ubiquitous Carmenere as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, as well as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc flourish in the valley’s vineyards while the holistic wines are a harmonious blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Carmenere, Merlot and Cabernet Franc varietals.
The winery is located underground, with a fabric roof to optimize the thermal amplitude of the valley while the artistic running water installation overhead acts as an additional cooling element. The high end wines are as stunning the sun lit visual of the high tech, sustainable operation. Visitors get an opportunity to make their own blend in the tasting room with a backdrop of a modernistic frescoe by Eduardo Cardoza. Cocktails amidst the art collection in the formal great room precede a world class dinner before slipping into the Frette sheets for a food and wine induced stupor. Waking up to views of sunrise over the Andes you can line up a spa visit or just hand by the pool and plan to spend more than a night as you might never want to leave.
More than 40% of Chilean wineries are located in this valley with a broad temperature differential due to cooling nighttime breezes from the Andes. The tasting room seems afloat on a lake as it juts out into the water making it perfect for a lazy afternoon of wine tasting while watching the swans float by. At a distant 260km from Santiago, it’s not ideal for a day trip but can be combined with a visit to other wineries in the valley. San Rafael the wineries flagship vineyard lies at the foot of the Descabezado Volcano, which means headless, a landmark of the valley with its active fumaroles. It’s easy to get distracted by the views while sipping the iconic Chilensis Lazuli at the extensive San Rafael Estate where the owners live on site.
Miguel Torres vineyards cover 160 acres of the region and the brand is sold in over 100 countries. One of the largest producers, Fair Trade certified and promoting sustainable viticulture it has also revived old varietals like Muscat, Carignan and Pais. The gastronomic Curico restaurant on the premises serves a variety of Chilean dishes if the chocolate and cheese pairings in the tasting room don’t suffice. The ivy covered barrels room are best visited before tasting the range of wines from sparkling to the Gobernador Pisco.
Concha y Toro
As one of the largest producers in Latin America this winery is a well established international brand and its high end wines like Don Melchor are poured at the finest restaurants around the world. A wine tour at the winery takes visitors through the park like gardens, a small vineyard planted with 26 varieties of grapes the barrel rooms and the Casillero Del Diablo. The 19th century legend of the wineries devils line of three premium wines comes alive with sound and light effects in an underground vault during the amusement park like tour of the winery.
Santa Rita opened in 1814 is more than a winery with its huge parks, museum and the Dona Paula restaurant serving traditional Chilean cuisine under its painted wood-beamed ceiling. Accessible by metro and taxi or with even a bike tour the historical winery also offers a glimpse into the regions culture. If the fermentation cellars, the bottling plant, or the tasting at the wine bar are not interesting enough then there is museum displaying pre- Colombian artifacts. The wines range from everyday drinking 120 to the pricier Bougainville 2012 and Casa Real 2012 a beautiful, smooth Cabernet Sauvignon.
Visitors to this estate enter a long avenue defined by a water feature leading to the original structure housing the underground cellars, stately tasting room impressive wine bar and patio restaurant. Off in the distance a spectacular modernistic structure atop a hill houses the new Icon Winery with a sustainable design and operation. It’s worth a visit not just for the design but for its internationally recognized wines like Don Maximiano Founders Reserve 2014. The tasting option of three wines offers choices from the premium wines is the way to go.
This much smaller operation by a Swiss winemaker started operations fairly recently in 2007 and has a distinct style that differs from other wineries with its New World perspective. If wine is a pleasure for you then you experience it in the wines like the Tatay de Cristobal the icon wine with its basis of complexity. The small tasting room has a wine shop adjacent to it and the owner and his wife are on the premises to share their passion and stories. The ruby red Toknar has a good possibility of ending up in suitcases on the trip home.