Memories of Chilean Wine and Hospitality – Santiago, Valparaiso, and the Casablanca and Aconcagua Valleys

Chile flag

Chile flag

With the lockdown on travel due to COVID-19, I thought I’d look back at some of my trips to wine regions around the world.  One of my memorable trips was to Chile in October 2009 where I toured around Santiago, the capital, then rented a driver with a car to take me the coastal city of Valparaiso and some wineries in the Aconcagua, Casablanca, and Maipo Valleys before dropping me off again in Santiago.  I then took driving into my own hands, renting a car, then driving down to the Apalta region in the Colchagua Valley to visit more wineries. Come and reminisce with me as I show some pictures from this trip along with my recollections for each picture.  Note that October in the Southern hemisphere is Spring time. Santiago is about at the same latitude as Los Angeles so image Spring weather in L.A.

Note if you travel to Chile, it is useful to learn a bit of Spanish before you arrive as a minority of people speak English.  You can be assured that at hotels at least one person at the front desk can speak to you in English.  I speak some Spanish, so was able to understand people I met in restaurants, at Farmer’s Markets and other locations.

In Santiago

Costumed dancers parade in Santiago

Costumed dancers parade in Santiago

You never know what you will see when you travel, like parades, whether it is a celebration or a protest.  Here is one that showed dancers in many different indigenous costumes.  The parade went for several minutes.  I think it was in protest but the dancers were all very respectful.

Santiago Metropolitan Park via the Funicular of Santiago

Santiago Metropolitan Park via the Funicular of Santiago

You can catch a funicular to travel up to the top of a tall hill in Santiago Metropolitan Park and get a scenic view of Santiago with the Andes Mountains in the background. At the top of this hill is a large white statue of the Virgin Mary. I think this balances out the Corcovado, which has the statue of Jesus, in Rio de Janeiro in Brasil.  I’ve been there as well.  Maybe I can find some of my Brasil photos for another article.

A traditional meal in Chile

A traditional meal in Chile

I don’t remember the name of this meal, but I had similar dishes in Chile with meat and assorted vegetables, and a beer or a glass of wine. I believe this one is called “cazuela”.

In Valparaiso

Valparaiso is a coastal city known for its steep funiculars and colourful, clifftop homes, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is about a 1.5 hr drive on the highway, but it took a whole day for me with the driver as we stopped along the way to visit a few wineries.

A funicular in Valparaiso

A funicular in Valparaiso

There are many funiculars in Valparaiso so that you can travel more easily in this steep and hilly city. The funiculars in Valparaiso are built between 1893 and 1915. The “cars” are built of wood and does take some faith that they are in good condition for riding. I did take this one.

Murals painted on stairs and walls in Valparaiso

Murals painted on stairs and walls in Valparaiso

I enjoyed viewing all the street art in Valparaiso. It is quite common for you to look left or right and see a painted staircase or a wall that shows some common street scene.

The colourful houses of Valparaiso

The colourful houses of Valparaiso

Once you travel up in elevation with a funicular you have a beautiful view of the city and the coast. The houses are painted a rainbow of vibrant colours which makes the city even prettier.

Rapa Nui

Have you heard of Easter Island?  It is off the coast of Chile and is where Darwin was inspired to write “On the Origin of Species” (1859).  The other thing that makes Easter Island famous are the stone Maoi.  To see these Maoi most people have to travel to Easter Island.  But there are two Maoi that had been  gifted by the people of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) to the Fonck Museum in Viña Del Mar, which is a city adjacent to Valparaiso.  My driver knew about the museum and brought us there where we saw this Maoi and went inside to learn about other things about Chile’s history and varied insects, birds and other animals.

A stone Maoi from Easter Island at the Fonck Museum in Viña Del Mar

A stone Maoi from Easter Island at the Fonck Museum in Viña Del Mar

Visiting Wineries in the Aconcagua and Casablanca Valleys

Viña Errazuriz

The Aconcagua Valley is North of Santiago, where you can visit Viña Errazuriz.  It is about a 1.5 hr drive.  When I visited their new winery was not yet completed, but very close to completion.  I received a tour and of course a tasting of their wines.

Entering Vina Errazuriz

Entering Vina Errazuriz

My winery guide at Vina Errazuriz

My winery guide at Vina Errazuriz

Mr. Pedro Olivia Farias from Vina Errazuriz was my guide. He told me that the Errazuriz winery, which started in the late 1880’s and is owned by 4 family members.

The vines in the Spring at Vina Errazuriz

The vines in the Spring at Vina Errazuriz

As you can see the vines are newly planted in the background at that time in 2009. They should now be 11 years old and producing delicious wine for us. This vine at the front of my photo is of course older than the vines in the background. So by October, their Spring, this is what you can expect for vine growth. Also, I should note that as you go North in Chile, you are moving toward the equator so that climate gets warmer so the vines grow more quickly. As you go South, you are moving toward the south pole and cooler weather.

A flight of Viña Errazuriz wines both red and white

A flight of Viña Errazuriz wines both red and white

Chile is known for their big Cabernet Sauvignon wines and I enjoyed their Max Reserva line of Cabernet as well as Syrah and Carmenere.

While they are best known for Cabernet Sauvignon, one grape that people talk about, when they speak of Chile, is Carmenere. This grape was originally thought to be Merlot as it was planted together with the Merlot vines for many years. But the wineries noted that some Merlot did not ripen as fast and gave a capsicum type flavour. More recently a French ampelographer came to Chile and identified these vines that were not ripening as quickly as the French Bordeaux variety Carmenere. This grape variety is almost gone in France as it was difficult to mature with the cooler Bordeaux climate. In Chile this vine was doing quite well, but was not given it’s proper amount of time to mature. Once the wineries knew about Carmenere there was a push to grow Carmenere vines together and separate them from Merlot so that they can properly ripen and produce good quality wine. Carmenere was in the 1990s viewed as a signature red grape for Chile. I don’t know that if that is still the case, but you should try a bottle of Chilean Carmenere.

After the tour by Pedro, I was handed over to their winemaker, Mr. Rodrigo Zamorano. Rodrigo spent a lot of time with me and went into much depth about the Aconcagua Valley and each of the 9 different wines we sampled together. I tried 8 different wines, from the Estate Level, Reserve Level, and their top level wine, Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve. Top quality wine.

Vina Casas del Bosque

If you go west of Santiago to Valparaiso, you will first pass through the Casablanca Valley. This is a cooler climate region for growing grapes that does get coastal fog. More white wines, like from the Sauvignon Blanc grape, are grown here. It was here that I visited Vina Casas del Bosque.

Cool foggy spring weather at Casas del Bosque

Cool foggy spring weather at Casas del Bosque

The delayed vine growth with the cooler Casablanca Valley climate compared to the warmer Aconcagua Valley

The delayed vine growth with the cooler Casablanca Valley climate compared to the warmer Aconcagua Valley

Judith Ramirez Aquirre took me through some of the vines surrounding the winery. As it is spring here in Chile, there are no grapes yet. The vines have started to sprout leaves and some have the buds for the grapes which have yet to bloom. Grape vines I was told bloom in November in Chile.

After a tour of the vines and the wine making facilities it was time to taste wine in their beautiful glass-cased tasting room.

Me in the beautiful tasting room at Casas del Bosque with my winery guide

Me in the beautiful tasting room at Casas del Bosque with my winery guide, Judith Ramirez Aquirre

A flight of white Casas del Bosque wines to taste

A flight of white Casas del Bosque wines to taste

Judith led me through a tasting of 8 wines. We started with Sauvignon Blanc, then to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a red blend. All the grapes are from the Casablanca Valley, except for the Cabernet Sauvignon, which was from the Rapel Valley. A quality winery.

Miscellaneous Meals

To finish off this first half of my Chilean trip, I thought I’d show a few more dishes I experienced in Chile.  Then in the next article I will cover my visit to wineries in the Maipo Valley that surrounds Santiago and going further south to the Colchagua Valley, and specifically the Apalta region.

Pizza is popular around the world.  All countries I think have favourite toppings.  Here is what you can expect in Chile.

Two flavours of Chilean style pizza

Two flavours of Chilean style pizza

The foreground pizza is called “portofino” which had ground beef, chopped mushrooms, chopped heart of palm, and kernels of corn. The background pizza has sliced cured meat together with arugula I believe.

Grilled Chilean sea bass over vegetables

Grilled Chilean sea bass over vegetables

Being a coastal country, seafood is plentiful. Here is a grilled Chilean sea bass.  You also need to try grilled coger eel.

Hot dogs are a very popular fast food.  There are two major chains I noted; Domino and SchopDog.  Note the unique toppings compared to what we eat in Canada.

Domino fast food - hot dogs are very popular

Domino fast food – hot dogs are very popular

SchopDog is the competitor to Domino for hotdogs in Chile

SchopDog is the competitor to Domino for hot dogs in Chile

There is also abundant chicken and beef. This is a simple dish with chicken breast, tomatoes, potatoes, and mushrooms.

Chicken with potatoes tomatoes and mushrooms

Chicken with potatoes tomatoes and mushrooms

I hope you enjoyed my COVID-19 Chilean road trip memories so far and look forward to my notes about the rest of my trip in the next article.

 

Drink Good Wine. That is my motto and I really want to help you drink good wine. What is good wine? That can be a different thing for each people. Food also loves wine so I also cover food and wine pairings, restaurant reviews, and world travel. Enjoy life with me. MyWinePal was started by Karl Kliparchuk, WSET. I spent many years with the South World Wine Society as the President and then cellar master. I love to travel around the world, visiting wine regions and sharing my passion for food & wine with you. Come live vicariously through me, and enjoy all my recommended wines.