By Gretchen Richter de Medeiros
When people would ask about our itinerary before we left, I would often answer with short descriptions of what we’d planned to do. “We’ll visit Inca ruins in Peru”. “We’re going on Safari in South Africa”. “We’re looking for a language-immersion school in France”. In the case of Chile, my standard comment was “in Chile we’re going to drink wine and sit on the beach”. I wouldn’t have guessed that those two things would end up being the perfect summary of our stay here.
While I’d spent a lot of time researching our visit to Peru (in fact, have been dreaming about it since I was 22!), and planning the details (ooohhhh, was the family unhappy when they learned that I’d scheduled us to take the 5:07 AM train to Machu Picchu!), I can’t say the same about Chile. During one Sunday planning brunch I found an apartment in Santiago for our first week, and Heather’s VRBO search turned up a cute beach cottage near Valparaiso for our second week. We figured that we’d find lodging for the third week later.
And that was it. That was the extent of the planning for Chile. Well, almost all of it… Rodrigo had said multiple times that for him, Chile was about wine tasting. “Like our trip to Napa in ’95,” he’d said.
So while we were in Peru, we started casually chatting about what we wanted to do. Lonely Planet described Santiago as being hip with lots of good restaurants and a few urban wine tasting opportunities. At our lodge in Ollantaytambo, a honey-mooning couple from New York told us about a wine tour they’d reserved with a company that specializes in the Casablanca Valley. Our oenophilic journey began to form.
After several days in Santiago I was ready to leave. The restaurants we ate at did not impress and our apartment was a little too small and dingy to be comfortable (although the cute mini-Schnauzers in the apartment across the alley did make everyone smile!). So I did a quick search on TripAdvisor, found a B&B in the Colchagua Valley and we were off!
The first winery we visited was Casa Silva, one of the oldest wineries in Chile with a tradition of horse-raising and Polo-playing. We saw this trend repeatedly throughout Chile. While it doesn’t surprise me, wine and horses can both be expensive habits/lifestyles, I haven’t particularly noticed this in other wine-tasting regions.
Before tasting, we had a delicious lunch in an open-beamed, white-washed, black-and-white-tiled restaurant with a giant fireplace and a view of the Polo field. We then toured the grounds including dark tunnels reminiscent of the dungeons near the Doge’s Palace and a collection of vintage cars. The tasting was by-the-glass, good, but we weren’t inspired to buy a whole bottle - their gran reserva red was great, but expensive.
Our B&B - Bellavista - was lovely despite the fact that they were constructing a new wing with two new suites. We had hearty snacks and grilled-cheese sandwiches that night and played a rousing game of Uno. The hostess, Oriana, helped us plan our wine-route for the next two days.
Our second day started with MontGras, which turned out to be one of our favorite experiences. Wine tasting in Chile is far more civilized than, say, in Woodinville.
MontGras was where we first treated to a personal, sit-down tasting with someone who really knew what he was talking about – the grapes, the different vineyards, and the unique climate of the Colchagua Valley and the history of the company. The “tastes” were actually 4-oz pours; we soon learned to split two degustacion servings between the three adults.
Our server – Marcelo Osorio – greeted us warmly and took just a few minutes to set up our table in the sunny courtyard. The table had glasses for all, including enough water, cheese and crackers for the kids (who, I admit, did each get to taste tiny sips along the way). He was both joke-y and knowledgeable, making everyone (including Marco and Bella) feel comfortable. Bella commented that he looked like a Chilean version of Marty McFly’s father.
We started with the Sauvignon Blanc, which was crisp, clear and quite refreshing. He then poured a glass of Pinot Noir and we chatted for a bit about the indie films Sideways and Bottle Shock. Next we moved on to the Carmenere, Marcelo explaining how this grape got "lost" during the early days of Chilean winemaking (often confused with Merlot) and rediscovered in the 90s… thank goodness it was "found"! Delicious. We left with two bottles in hand.
We visited two other wineries in Colchagua. At Laura Hartwig a caretaker had to hunt down someone to pour and the kids and Rodrigo took a carriage ride through the vineyards. Viu Manent’s Malbecs were amazing, and their pours extremely generous, but there was a hint of snobbishness about them. We were scolded heartily for being late to our appointment. (Another Chilean wine-country trend: directions to the wineries are sketchy at best and highway/street signage in the Colchagua Valley practically non-existent!)
Our visit to Colchagua Valley was a perfect introduction to Chilean wine-country hospitality and pride. It whetted our appetite for more… luckily, the Casablanca Valley is located just a short drive away from our rental house in Las Cruces on the Chilean coast.