Chilean Wine Country Part I

I’m sipping a glass of Carménère while writing this post.  I’m reminiscing about this past week that I spent in the Chilean wine country.  When you think of wine countries, you think of Napa Valley in California, the Loire Valley in France, and Tuscany in Italy.  You have to admit, your first choice at wines wouldn’t be from Chile.  I just came back from a trip to the Chilean wine regions, Maipo and Colchagua and I’m here to report that these were some of the best wines I’ve ever tasted.  I chose the Maipo and Colchagua valleys for their proximity to Santiago, the country’s capital.  In 2 hours and less, you can visit and taste some of the best red wines in the world.

We knew our patience would be tested during this road trip with a partially-functioning GPS, roads that were not marked, and the Chileans’ propensity to only draw you diagrams without mentioning street names or distances.  But this was an adventure so we accepted it as part of the journey.  We started the trip at Concha y Toro, the 2nd largest winery in the world.  You know you’re at a commercial winery when there’s a light show in the cellar.  We went from a very large winery to smaller more boutique ones.

In Chile, you have to make reservations for a tour and tasting beforehand which is very different from what we’re used to in the US.  At first, I thought this was annoying and a bad business decision.  After I went on all the tours and tastings, I understand why it’s necessary.  The wineries in Chile really want you to learn about the whole process from growing the grape, to pruning, and harvesting the grapes.  They want you to know how they make the wine from fermentation to aging in French oak barrels and finally bottling and distribution.  They take the time to show you the different types of grapes they grow and the differences in the shape of the leaves.  They stress the importance of the weather in Chile and the terroir (land) as was frequently mentioned as being the most important element to a great wine.  Most of the wineries we visited stressed the importance of being holistic and doing everything by hand.  Employing the locals was very important to them.

The Argentinians have their Malbec, the Chileans have their Carménère.  It’s not a well known wine around the world because it was virtually extinct and constantly confused as the Merlot grape.  It was only about 20 years ago that it was rediscovered and now it can only grow in Chile.  Read more about Carménère here in this interesting article.  Many of the tour guides said that it will take a few more years for all the winemakers to figure out the Carménère grape and the process to make a perfect blend.

What really stood out to me during this trip was how vast all the wineries were.  I only have Napa to compare this trip to but I couldn’t believe how far and wide the vineyards would go.  We would be the only 2 people for miles and miles.  I also noticed that we were the only Americans everywhere.  We had great conversations with the locals on our theory as to the reason.  I said that it is a really far trip (my flight was around 10 hours) for most people.  In reality, it’s an easier trip than to Europe because there’s enough time in the flight where you can have at least 8 hours of sleep and there’s virtually no time difference (1 hour).  Someone else said that maybe Americans don’t know about Chilean wines.  I think it’s a little bit of both.

In terms of the wines, my favorite was the Carménère which is spicy and like no other red wine you’ll ever taste.  Cabernet sauvignon of all things.  I went to Napa 2 years ago and was sorely disappointed because it’s Cab Sauv country out there and I didn’t like it.  The cabernets in Chile tastes completely different than the ones from Napa.  I even loved the Merlot which has got a bad rap since the movie Sideways.  White wines don’t grow in this valley, they grow in Casablanca which is on the coast.  Before my trip, I was clueless on wine making and tasting…do you smell blackberries and leather?  Um, no I smell wine!  What I did learn about wine is that there are thousands of variables that contribute to how a wine tastes.  The vintner decides the most important factors to focus on.  Wine making is a very intentional and labor intensive process that is more chemistry than pure luck.  This trip was a learning experience for me and it really taught me to appreciate what’s been poured into my glass and finally, Chile is GORGEOUS.  Sorry this post was so verbose, I had a lot to share! xo

{Casillero del Diablo at Concha y Toro}

 {Cabernet Sauvignon tasting at Concha y Toro}

 {The architecture of the building is a replica of the mountains at Almaviva}

 {Almaviva Winery}

 {My boyfriend helping out with the barrel tasting at Vik}

 {The only way to tour a vineyard is via horse back at Vik}

 {Stunning views at Montes winery}

 {View of the vineyard from our hotel room at Terraviña}