At this point of my trip to Chile I had visited wineries from the Aconcagua and the Casablanca Valleys. Now I visited a few wineries closer to Santiago in the Maipo Valley, then headed south to the Colchagua Valley.
A Visit to Wineries of the Maipo Valley Around Santiago
Around Santiago is the Maipo Valley, which is the oldest wine producing region in Chile. Here I visited one of the oldest wineries in Chile; Viña Santa Rita.
In the 19th century, Santiago’s rich moved to the valley around Santiago to try their hand as a landowner. They planted vineyards and built large estates. Despite Santiago’s growth and rapid consumption of arable land the Mapio Valley still thrives. It lies between the Andes and the coastal mountains, which keep the climate dry and sunny. Some of the best vineyards are planted at elevations above 2,000 feet at the foothills of the Andes which gives hot days and cool nights, and helps build rich, complex, balanced wines. This region is regarded with great respect as it is considered the heart of Chile’s wine-making tradition. Fine Cabernet Sauvignon is grown on over 60% of over 10,500 hectares (25,200 acres) here. Others varieties include Merlot and the exquisite Camenère, as well as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
I met two of Santa Rita’s wine makers in the past through their visits to Vancouver, and now it was my turn to see the winery. Mr. Jose Ignacio Villalobo gave me a tour of their winery as well as pointing out the historical sites that are within the winery. One of their lines of wine is the “120” series. An entry level series that provides good quality wine and is named after the historic event in which 120 soldiers took refuge in Santa Rita’s cellars in 1814 during Chile’s war for independence. Mr. Villalobo had selected 5 wines for me to taste: 2 Sauvignon Blanc, 1 Carmenere, and 2 Cabernet Sauvignon. These wines were from their entry to to their premium levels.
A few wine notes. The Santa Rita Casablanca Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2008 had a mix of asparagus and citrus on the nose. Medium acidity, with more asparagus flavour as well as some herbaceousness and citrus. The wine had medium body and a bit of roundness. For a red, I’ll point out the Santa Rita Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2007. This one was deep garnet in colour, with cassis, back cherry and a hint of vanilla on the nose. Lots of black cherry flavour, with a bit of meatiness. The tannins were medium and allowed for a smooth mouthfeel. Nice.
The second winery of the day was Viña Undurraga. Their grounds and winery were beautiful, just like Santa Rita. I’d love to just spend a day at each on their grounds enjoying the sites. At Undurraga I met with a wine maker named Pilar. She led me through a tasting of 5 different wines; 2 whites, 2 reds, and 1 sparkling. I found out that Undurraga has a range of sparkling wines. Checking now in 2020, I see that the BC Liquor Stores carries one of their sparkling Rosé wines.
A white from Undurraga was the Sibaris Sauvignon Blanc 2008 from the cool climate, Leyda Valley (cooler than the Casablanca Valley). This wine was light lemon in colour. It had a sweet and saltiness to the nose with lemon and a herbal note. It was quite high in acidity making it quite refreshing. I tasted green fruit, herbaceousness and some lemon. It had a long length with a spicy finish. On the red wine side, I enjoyed the Sibaris Carmenere 2008 from the Colchagua Valley. This wine spent 23 months barrel ageing in French and American oak. It was deep purple in the glass with good legs. It had tarry, meaty, cassis ad a bit of capsicum aromas. On the palate there as tar, vanilla and black cherry. It was quite smooth in the mouth with a slight peppery and dark fruit finish.
The third winery of the day was from Viña Tarapaca ex Zavala. This winery was a bit out of the way but well worth it. It has 8 km of private road that leads you to the winery. You drive through their vineyards along the side of the valley overlooking I think the Maipo River. Once there, there is beautiful grounds, and a private airstrip!
Mr. Edward Flaherty, winemaker, led me through the tastings of his wines. Edward is originally from California, but has been living in Chile for many years. A white wine I enjoyed was the La Isla Sauvignon Blanc 2009 from the Leyda Valley. This wine ha a herbal nose with some green pepper, some floweriness and some lime. It had a ice round mouthfeel which was balanced with medium acidity in the glass. Green pepper and herbal flavours, with a long length. For the reds, I enjoyed the Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 from the Maipo Valley. This wine was deep garnet in colour. very aromatic. Tar, ripe black fruit and cassis aromas. On the palate, there was tar, cassis, and black cherry. The tannins were medium, leading to a dry, sweet ripe black fruit finish. Very tasty.
Driving from Santiago to the Colchagua Valley
At this point I said Adios to my driver, and I rented a car in Santiago so that I could drive down to the Colchagua Valley. It is about a 2-3 hr drive along Highway 5, but along the way there is always adventure. I always enjoy visiting Farmer’s Markets as you get to see and try fresh fruits and vegetables. As it was spring in Chile during my visit, strawberries were available. They call strawberries frutillas. You can hear the vendors shouting “frutillas, frutillas, frutillas”
You also don’t know when you will see some Chilean gauchos riding their horses by the side of the road.
My highway route in case you visit Chile in the future.
Visiting Wineries in the Apalta region in the Colchagua Valley
My first day in the Colchagua Valley I spent visiting the premium wineries Viña Montgras and Viña Montes. In the morning I met with Mr. Santiago Margozzini from Montgras. He led me through a tasting of their wines as well as drove me through part of their Ninquen vineyards. I was pleasantly surprised to see the Canadian flag flying at the winery in honour of my visit.
Most of their vines are located in the Colchagua valley, but they also have some vineyards in the Leyda and the Maipo Valley. The BC Liquor stores currently (2020) have two of their wines in stock. From Leyda, I tried a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay. Their Amaral Sauvignon Blanc 2009 is 100% stainless steel fermented. They tried to minimize oxygen content with the grapes using dry ice. The wine has lots of lemon, lime and grapefruit aromas with a slight hint of greenness. On the palate it had high acidity, with more lemon, lime and grapefruit flavours. And a very long length. I also tried 7 reds with Montgras. All but one came from the Colchagua Valley. The MontGras Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 was deep garnet in the glass. Vanilla, black fruit, black cherries, cassis and tarry aromas. It had lots of fruitiness on the palate, with flavours of black cherry, vanilla, cloves, and chocolate. The tannins were soft but still provided a dry finish.
The afternoon I dedicated to the Viña Montes winery, and wine maker Mr. Aurelio Montes Jr. I had met Aurelio in Vancouver during the Wines of Chile events and arranged to meet him at the winery in October. Aurelio first drove me around the vineyard, pointing out the differences within the vineyard topography and how that influenced the varieties planted and how the vines were planted (e.g. training the vines, and vine density). He drove us up a very steep slope to the top of their Apalta region vineyard where they grew their Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon and other reds. It was quite a sight. I cannot imagine how difficult it is to manage this vineyard and pick the grapes. It takes dedication.
One of the curious things about Vina Montes is that they play Gregorian chants in their barrel room as the wines age. They feel that it improves the quality of their wines. I have read about how vibrations of various frequencies can affect plants, and we know that music can put us in a good mood, so why can’t it have an effect on the maturation of wine?
After we toured the winery, then onto tasting his wines. A few wines to talk about. I tried the Montes Sauvignon Blanc Limited Selection 2009 from the Leyda Valley. This one had citrus, nettles, herbal and green chile aromas. On the palate the wine had citrus, and green chile pepper flavours. Light in body but long length. Pair with some seafood. I tried 7 red wines, but the one I will talk about is the Montes Alpha Carmenere 2007. This wine was deep purple in the glass. Capsicum, back fruit and vanilla aromas. On the palate I taste red and black cherries, vanilla and a slight hint of capsicum. This wine had a soft, round mouth feel and a long length. Pair Carmenere with spicy Thai, Mexican or Indian food.
My first stop was with Lapostolle Wines in their Clos Apalta winery. This winery was specially designed for their flagship wine “Clos Apalta”. This is a Bordeaux blend with Carmenere, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot. The winery is dedicated to organic and biodynamic vineyard practices (which I enjoy and can note that it really does make a difference in your glass), and produces some very nice wines. Their winery is very beautiful.
The Apalta region is the premium red region in Colchagua and I believe in all of Chile. In keeping with my brevity in this article I will talk about one white and one red wine for Lapostolle Wines. For the white wine, I enjoyed the Lapostolle Sauvignon Blanc 2009 from the Rapel Valley. It had varied aromas of citrus, pineapple and apple. On the palate there was good acidity with pineapple flavour and medium length. This is the FIRST year that Lapostolle has used a screw cap on this wine or any of their other wines. An elegant wine which would pair nicely with seafood. For the red wines, I must talk about their Clos Apalta Limited Release 2007. I was the FIRST media person from North America to try this vintage of Clos Apalta and felt very privileged. This wine spends it’s first year ageing in all new French oak barrels with each varietal in it’s own barrel. In year 2, the varietals (Carmenere, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot) are blended and put back in the same barrels and aged for another year. After 2 years in barrel, the wine is bottled and then the bottle is kept in storage for a year before release. The 2007 vintage was very deep purple coloured in the glass. It had vanilla and sweet black fruit on the nose. On the palate there was vanilla, sweet black fruit, red cherries, cloves, and cinnamon flavours. The flavours came out more as I swirled the wine in my glass exposing the wine to oxygen. To get the full effect of the wine please decant it. The wine had a nice round mouth feel with a balance of medium tannins. It finished dry with cherry and vanilla flavours lingering on the palate for a long time.
After visiting Lapostolle Wines, my next stop for the day was the Viña Viu Manent winery, just a short drive away. I was given a short tour of the winery, with an opportunity for a barrel sample of a Merlot and a Cabernet Sauvignon, followed by a horse drawn carriage ride through the vineyard!
Malbec plays a very big part of the wines at Viu Manent with more being planted around their winery. It is interesting to see how they are producing Malbec very successfully, while this is the signature grape of Argentina. I sampled their Viu Manent Reserva Chardonnay 2008 from the Casablanca Valley. The wine has been released for almost a year. I was told that through the year in the bottle the wine has changed with the level of acidity decreasing, leaving the wine with an off-dry level of sweetness. This wine spent 6 months in oak barrels and as deep yellow in colour. It had a vanilla, apple, sweet and creamy nose. On the palate there was more of the vanilla, apple and creaminess. It was very soft and round in my mouth but also had a slight spiciness. For the red wine, I enjoyed the Reserva Carmenere 2008 from the Colchagua Valley. Deep purple colour in the glass. Vanilla, black fruits and a slight hint of capsicum on the nose. It was quite round in the mouth, with vanilla and ripe black fruit flavours, and a peppery finish.
All good things must come to an end. Driving back to Santiago, packed with wine and memories to bring back to Canada. I hope you enjoyed reading about my trip, and when COVID-19 has passed and we can more safely travel again, that you would consider travelling to Chile to enjoy their food, wine, and scenery.