Chile’s Wine Routes: The Road to Terroir

by Liz Caskey on June 10, 2009

HarvestAn excerpt from a recent piece I wrote for LAN Airlines award-winning in-flight magazine, IN, the June Edition is all about South American wine. Here, I orient readers with a sampling of Chile’s varied terroir close to Santiago (only four valleys out of a dozen!), focusing on the general organized wine routes for more basic tours. If you are reading this with the intent of a trip south, please check out our company website. Our specialty is private culinary and wine tours with a personal focus on boutique wineries and winemakers.

Maipo Alto

Nestled along the foothills of the Andes, Maipo Alto is a new appellation within the Maipo Valley for wineries closest to the mountains. Here, you’ll find an organized route that includes seven vineyards, but the zone is also home to traditional, large-scale wineries that can be visited individually. Start your tour within Santiago’s sprawling city limits at the historic Cousiño Macul winery and get a taste of one of Chile’s aristocratic founding wineries. Continue south to Pirque, once a sleepy village, today dominated by wine heavyweight Concha y Toro, which welcomes thousands of tourists each year. Stay for the tour or install yourself at their wine bar to sip some tannin-gripping Cabs like the chocolaty Marqués de Concha or the sleek Don Melchor. Another option is Pérez Cruz, with its eco award-winning architecture and cleverly crafted reds. Combine lunch with a tasting at Santa Rita’s elegant colonial-style restaurant, La Casa de Doña Paula, followed by a tour of this gargantuan operation and a visit to the wonderfully curated Museo Andino. You can even stay at the exclusive Hotel Casa Real, located on the grounds of the winery in a colonial mansion surrounded by a magnificent park.

Colchagua

Two hours south of Santiago, Colchagua is Chile’s wine paradise. The highly consolidated wine route of 18 vineyards boasts a wide variety of attractions. Once a quiet agricultural valley, today the action is centered around the town of Santa Cruz, with vines stretching from the towering coastal mountains far into the horizon. Varieties that love heat – like Cabernet, Carménère and Syrah – thrive here thanks to the hot summers. Wines from Colchagua are bigger, bolder, more muscular. Begin exploring on the eastern edge of the valley at the charming Casa Silva winery, a historic monument with whitewashed walls and handsomely tiled floors. Down in the valley, stop at Viu Manent for a ride through their vineyards in a traditional horse-drawn carriage. Make sure to sip the house favorite, a delicious Malbec. Across the road in the horseshoe-shaped microclimate of Apalta, make time for Montes, the Chilean winery that pioneered premium wines abroad over 15 years ago. Next door, get ready to be blown away by Casa Lapostolle’s opulent Clos Apalta winery. Finally, explore the western reaches of the valley at Montgras where you can harvest grapes or even create your own blend. 



Maule

Traditionally considered the largest wine-producing region in Chile, the Maule Valley is now spearheading inspiring new winery projects that are giving birth to wines full of character. Maule’s tourist route includes 15 vineyards, plus several restaurant and lodging options. Head for Kendall-Jackson’s modern Chilean investment, Viña Calina, to try one of the valley’s signature Carménères, like the Alcance. Ten minutes away is Casa Donoso, housed on a historic colonial estate. Here, subtlety rules with its earthy Carménère-Cabernet blends. Heading southwest from Talca, towards the coast, in the pine-covered hills of Loncamilla, Gillmore is an ecological paradise and a prime example of the harmonious blending between handcrafted wines and passion. Be sure to try their specialty, Cabernet Franc. Finish up at J. Bouchon, where the winemaking tradition dates back to 1892. For a splurge, try a bottle of Mingre, pure Maule terroir.


Casablanca

Only 45 minutes towards the coast from the capital, Casablanca’s wine aptitude scores high for its crisp white wines like Sauvignon Blanc, cherry-laden Pinot Noir and the latest infatuation, cold weather Syrah. The Casablanca Valley tourist route includes 15 vineyards and a variety of dining options. Coming through the Zapata tunnel, start with Veramonte’s tasting room, where you can sip their delicious Primus by the glass. Down the road, stop by biodynamic pioneer, Emiliana Orgánico, with a new visitor’s center nestled amidst eco-friendly vineyards. A stone’s throw away, a tasting at the family-run Villard estate should include the lusty Syrah, Tanagra, made by winemaking brothers Sebastien and Charlie. In a western nook of the Casablanca, almost bordering on the San Antonio appellation, pop in to Casas del Bosque for stellar Sauvignon Blanc and cold weather Syrah before heading off for the farther-flung Matetic Vineyards to the west. Located in its own valley, Matetic is a nature and wine lover’s utopia – its silky Pinot Noir may just make you want to stay, and luckily, they have a charming colonial lodge.

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