Dreams Can Come True

by Liz Caskey on December 9, 2015


What if you could make your dream a reality? Would you sell everything you own, move to another continent, and dedicate all your passion and energy to making that happen? That’s what Michael Paravicini did. The Swiss-born owner of Vira Vira Hacienda Hotel, in Southern Chile, decided on his 50th birthday that the time was now. And he acted on it.

Paravicini always had a dream to build and run a small boutique hotel since he was a boy. He first visited Chile in his youth in 1976 with his family and was awe stuck by the beauty of Pucon, Villarrica, and the Chilean Lake District, an hour’s flight south of Santiago. That smitten feeling lingered, even while pursuing a career in IT in Switzerland. A few decades later, he searched, and found, his perfect corner to build the boutique hotel he’d envisioned just outside Pucón. It was the right place to grow his seed. He cited Chile’s safety, unmatched beauty, hardly-touched national parks, and a variety of activities ready to be developed as the right conditions to bring it to fruition. He then gathered a top-notch team of architects, designers, and the support of his wife, Claudia, with her incredible taste for interior design.

Vira_Vira_Pucon_12 Vira_Vira_Pucon_7

We visited Vira Vira when it was just a “newborn” last spring. At that time, not all the grass was planted, some details were still being sorted out in the villas and suites, and the service team was just coming together. However, Michael cared. And it showed. His belief and commitment to his dream had an infectious trickle down effect in everyone at Vira Vira. They wanted to do their best. In the months to come, not only would Vira Vira flap its wings and fly, but would go on to surpass any initial expectation. Imagine, at the tender age of one year, it has become Chile’s newest Relais & Chateaux property.

Given it was our infant daughter’s first trip on an airplane (three months old at that time), we couldn’t help but notice the parallels between a dream and a small child. Both needed nurturing and love to grow. Vira Vira was so accommodating to us as a young (new) family as we set up “home” from their a handsome split-level villa facing the babbling Liucura River. Clad in local lenga and alerce wood, the villa was tastefully decorated with colorful, hand-crafted woolens. Micaela fell in love with Vira Vira’s iconic wooden sheep that grace every room and many corners of the hotel. Michael kindly sent them for her nursery in Santiago so we remember Vira Vira every day.


Most of the time, though, Vira Vira felt more like visiting a friend than being in a high-end hotel. Sure it was all-inclusive, high design, and activities galore, but it had a different scale. It was human and personalized (it only has 21 rooms total). A highlight of Vira Vira was the food. They truly employ the farm-to-table concept. In this day of industrialized food and production chains, it is a rare, connective experience to wake up each day knowing where your meal comes from. Vira Vira grows its own organic grains like rye, wheat, and oats (which are milled for their own flours in a special imported machine); organic seasonal vegetables (some even foraged); has all types of dairy like eggs, milk, yogurt, and different kinds of cheeses (including their exquisite mature Parmesan); raises and slaughters (ethically) free range fresh meat like poultry, turkey, goose, duck, goat, sheep and wild boar. This coming year, Michael proudly mentioned they would be starting their own in-house production of smoked fish and artisan sausages.



Guests at Vira Vira accompany him on a tour of the (working) Hacienda to get a sense of his vision, the wholeness of the project, and where their meals come from. It’s a link to humanity and nature not seen in most hotel projects—anywhere. We walked along the edge of the property near the river, past Paravicini’s home (who lives there much of the time), moved by the beauty, care, and effort going into this place and every single detail. It was done the way it should be…but most importantly, with love. Michael confesses that, from a purely commercial point of view, many of his hotel decisions may not be considered the best return on investment (at least in the short term). However, his larger commitment to his dream is clear. His belief that his guests deserve the best, regardless of the cost.

Every night, the tasting menu was an adventure and foray into seasonal vegetables, perfectly prepared meats and local foods. Anything nature was bearing at that time of year was game. Dihuenes (sweet golden funghi growing on lenga trees) were made into a limey-pineapple ceviche. The succulent sautéed morels came with toasted cashews and a honey-merken dressing. I could have lived on their handpicked green salads alone, present at every meal. The flavors were pure, clean, healthy, and delicious. The well-curated wine list showed a similar level of care in selecting wines representative of Chile’s diverse terroir.

Vira_Vira_Pucon_3 Vira_Vira_Pucon_9 Vira_Vira_Pucon_10Vira_Vira_Pucon_6

Besides eating, during our short visit at Vira Vira, we hiked in ancient forests with towering Araucaria (Monkey Puzzle trees) and walked past gushing crystalline rivers. We had high tea one sun-drenched afternoon on the shores of Lake Caburga. We visited an authentic Mapuche village where we met a traditional weaver. We explored the cutesy, albeit touristy, town of Pucon on a mission to find rhubarb jam (success!). On a future trip, we hope to do Michael’s favorite excursion, which is simply floating (on a raft) down the Liucura River. As he puts it, “It’s simply spectacular”.

In Michael’s eyes, Vira Vira is really about three things: “Enjoying a cozy, luxury hotel embedded in a beautiful and hardly touched landscape; savoring every day healthy, home-grown gourmet food; and, finally, experiencing unique excursions with some of the best guides in the region. The only thing we care about is that the client feels at home, enjoys every moment and truly feels that a personal dream has come true”.

What could be more delicious than sharing your life dream with the world? Well, for guests who come to Vira Vira, partaking and savoring his.


{ Comments on this entry are closed }

La Marraqueta

by Liz Caskey on October 8, 2015

Baguette_Bread_1La baguette. This slender loaf of bread symbolizes France and so much about its identity. The baguette defines the national identity, molding and giving it shape. During our time in France, nearly a month, we followed the hallowed daily ritual of la baguette. We savored it often still warm, just out of the oven, and ate it every single day. Every block had at least one bakery. Sometimes, there were three, maybe even four or five. All were small businesses. During “peak” times of the day, patrons would stand in lines waited quietly for their bread. One Saturday morning near our apartment in Batignolles, I was caught off guard when asked about the doneness of the baguette. Qu’est que c’est? She was asking if I preferred it pas trop cuite (not too cooked) or bien cuite (well done). Thinking in our one-year-old baby (and her lack of molars), I went with the first option.

In the mornings, I loved waking to the aroma of toasted baguette, slathered with a pat of salted butter from Normandy and a smear of apricot jam. Often while out, baguette would appear on the table at lunch. Some evenings, we decided that baguette with a cheese board and wine was a completely acceptable dinner option. Any baguette that passed the apartment door never lasted to the next day. And if it did, chances were that it was rock hard and only suitable to be crushed into crumbs.

The seemingly quotidian routine of going to the bakery always proved to be a pleasurable experience. Besides being able to practice my French, I loved inhaling the yeasty perfume and watching how they stacked their bread with such care. When I was lucky enough to time with baguette coming straight out of the oven, I would dote on its crusty, golden exterior and white, spongy, warm interior. Usually, I could not resist pulling off a piece, which was like biting into heaven. Nothing was more delicious in that moment–so elemental and totally handmade. Even Micaela, our baby daughter, couldn’t resist. She happily munched away in the stroller on a piece of bread (which we also discovered was a wonderful form of entertainment). With baguette, she learned how to properly chew and transitioned from purees to baby led weaning shortly after.

The baguette business in France is a serious one, so much that in 1993 they passed the law, Le Décret Pain, declaring that in order to be a baguette maison (homemade), only four ingredients could be used: flour, water, salt, and yeast. To be called a baguette tradition, no preservatives or frozen dough could be used. In a nutshell, this law sought to protect the integrity of French bread. It also recognized and protected the bakers and their small businesses who dedicate their lives to providing the French people with this primary food (a very honorable profession in France).

Baguette_Bread_3Landing back in Chile, I started to observe the bread culture here more closely. Certainly, Chile has its own bread tesoro (treasure), la marraqueta, which is actually called pan francés (French bread) in Valparaiso. Similar to France, it’s unthinkable that any Chilean household would be without marraqueta on the table at meal times. According to recent statistics, Chile is still one of the largest consumers of bread in the world. Chileans devour more than 90 kilos (198 pounds) of bread per capita, per year. To give you an idea of quantities, that is nearly an average of half a pound of bread every day for every Chilean (somewhere around 9 pieces of toast). This is over 35% more than the amount the French consume, which comes in at 58 kilos (128 pounds) per capita, per year.

While marraqueta certainly can be found everywhere, not all are made equal. I went on a mission to find a bakery in my barrio making them the traditional way. The few bakeries I encountered had marraquetas ready to bake (full of preservatives) or bought them already made. Many people just went to the supermarket instead. I extended my search to the downtown. Nada. Then I remembered my old bakery in Barrio Brasil that had closed, tragically, due to lack of clientele. As the owner had lamented at that time, many Chileans opt now to buy their marraqueta at the supermarket. It’s easier. Convenient. The kiss of death for any culinary tradition.

If this the reality of the state of bread in Chile today, are traditional bakeries in danger of extinction? Are Chileans opting for convenience over the value of artisan-made bread? I surmise that this, sadly, seems to be the case. And it perplexes me. Deeply. This is not just about the bread itself. It’s about what’s behind it; how it’s made and the larger cultural meaning. The tradition of making marraqueta risks being lost. It’s not only about going out to buy the bread and eating it to satisfy hunger. There is sacred ritual here of how Chileans supply themselves with this daily food. This is about the hands that make the bread. They bake it. They give it life. Sure, marraqueta is humble enough. But this folded bread, which does bare some resemblance with the French baguette, also defines Chileans. Think of all the breakfasts, lunches, onces (tea time) and sandwiches that come together with its perfectly golden, crunchy exterior yielding to that soft, chewy dough.

Baguette_Bread_2Bakeries bring neighborhoods together. They are patriarchs that see generations of neighbors grow up together. A baker becomes a friend and a trusted casero. To give a little contrast to the slow industrialization of marraqueta in Chile, in France, more than 70% of all bread is still made in small boulangeries—and the French actually prefer this. It’s not just about the convenience or a slightly better price. They value human relationships, the integrity of ingredients and the traditional way to make bread. They recognize that the baguette feeds their society, their culture, and their daily way of life.

So for those of us who live in Chile, what can we do to reclaim this bread tradition? Frankly, I think the power is in everybody’s hands. When it’s time to buy the daily marraqueta, every Chilean can choose. They decide where to buy, from whom, and how authentically their marraqueta is made. They can seek out the small baker in the neighborhood…or they can go to the big supermarket. The quality and experience are vastly different. What may seem to be a simple act of going to buy bread could be the destiny of this food that is so intrinsic to Chile.

Call me old school but I dream about seeing the marraqueta returning to be a totally artisanal product. I want us to support small bakeries and see them flourish until there’s one on every block. I hope that, someday, standing in line at those bakeries, I will overhear opinions of how Chileans prefer to eat their marraqueta. Perhaps a little more quemadita (golden) or tierna (tender). Maybe debate if it’s better with mashed palta (avocado) or a slab of mantequilla de campo (country butter). I yearn to see these bakeries become a cornerstone in every neighborhood and contribute to the quality of life there. Truly, bread brings us together. The marraqueta, however, will only continue to a culinary tesoro in Chile (as so chefs many like to tout it these days) if everyone stops to recognize, appreciate, and protect its tradition.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Chilote Magic

by Liz Caskey on September 17, 2015

Chiloe’s_Native-Potatoes_1We had no longer taken off from the southern city of Puerto Montt and we were already preparing to land on the island of Chiloé, the fifth largest in South America. Twenty minutes in the air, to be exact. As the plane descended through wispy, bumpy clouds, we caught glimpses of the undulating hills covered with dense pine forests and green pastures by the sparkling sea. Chiloé may be only a ferry crossing (or now a short flight) from Chile’s southern lake district, but the archipelago is still a world away.

In fact, ask any Chilean about Chiloé and they will likely respond, “it’s magical”. This wet, emerald land cradled by the Pacific holds a special place in the country’s collective imagination, history, and cuisine. It certainly has a distinct flavor from the rest of Chile, and Chilotes still refer to mainland Chile as the “continent”.

Chiloé’s isolation creates its pristine culture, its romanticism, paired with the terrain and a rainy maritime climate. Wood and wool are used everywhere. Ferries still harbor cars, buses, and people back and forth across smaller islands and inlets. There are the rustic towns with their picturesque palafitos (houses mounted on stilts along the water’s edge), iconic wooden churches (16 of which are Unesco World Heritage sites), and homes constructed with ornate tejuelas (shaped wooden shingles). And then, there’s the cuisine. Oh, the food! Delectable tiny oysters, curanto (meat, potato and seafood stew), shellfish, salmon ceviche, one of the tastiest sheep’s milk cheese in Chile, and many creations with native potatoes. A closer look at Chilote culture also reveals a mythology of witchcraft, ghost ships and forest gnomes.

Chiloe’s_Native-Potatoes_2 We had visited almost twenty years ago so it was high time to “rediscover” this corner of Chile. However, unlike other far-flung destinations like the Atacama Desert or Patagonia, Chiloé is certainly not an adrenaline-driven, nature-only destination. These magical islands seem to have been stopped in time, part of its allure. The islands’ natural pace also forces you to slow down. And clean air…what more can I say?

We landed on a typical Chilote, late winter day peppered with sun and rain showers. Rain, what a treat! We were so happy to see it, smell it, feel and hear it on the roof of the car and hotel. The air was heavily scented with eucalyptus, pine and that saline freshness belonging to the sea. I wished I could bottle it and take it home with me.

We based from Tierra Chiloé, the newest member of the Tierra Hotels in Chile, a petite lodge well-positioned on a bluff overlooking a quiet inlet. The hotel had floor to ceiling glass windows so we could savor the view from every angle. We lunched and decompressed in the living area and watched Mother Nature’s “show”. The sky would darken and the wind would howl. Then, it would rain like crazy for a few minutes. And, just like that, a few rays of sun would push through the clouds and a rainbow would appear. Like magic. Sometimes, we’d get just a peek of a rainbow slyly hiding across the fjord or tucked behind a hill. Another one we caught was a full glorious arch that landed near the hotel’s boat, Williche, bobbing in the waves below. In a sweet moment, seeing her first rainbow, our toddler, Micaela, reached her tiny had to the window pane trying to touch it. Rainbows are simply happiness. They are full of color, light…the magic of nature. What a divine way to return to the island.

Chiloe’s_Native-Potatoes_3 Chiloe’s_Native-Potatoes_4 Chiloe’s_Native-Potatoes_5For the next few days, we explored (more posts to come on Chiloé, there was quite a lot to see, do, and eat here!). Saturday in Castro, the largest town on the island, is market day. We had to go, of course! We made our way to the Mercado along the water’s edge and wandered the stalls hawking dried luche (seaweed), smoked meats and cholgas (type of tender mussel), papas topinabor (Jerusalem artichokes), glorious bunches of chard, and then, I saw them from afar…tiny brightly colored native potatoes. I could barely contain my excitement. The casera who sold them had them baby-sized with more than half a dozen varieties, something I’d never seen in Santiago. I mentally revised how much space we had left in the carry-on. I decided I could make room to take home a couple prized kilos of these jewels to remember Chiloé in my kitchen later.

With this inspiration from the south, upon return, I decided to create this potato salad. I love potato salads, particularly the French style that are vinaigrette-based rather than with mayonnaise, which tends to be a favorite in Chile but yields a heavier result. Here, other vegetables grown on the island are incorporated such as fava beans, peas, radishes, and Chilean hazelnuts (completely unlike European ones, earthy tasting and very crunchy). Quail’s eggs are also consumed widely as an appetizer so their addition make the salad more of a main-course or hearty side salad. This recipe works beautifully with grilled salmon (prolifically farmed in the sound off the island), or of course, with any barbecued meat (which Chileans love dearly).

Chiloe’s_Native-Potatoes_7 Chiloe’s_Native-Potatoes_8
Chilote Native Potato Salad

660g / 1.5 pounds small (baby) native potatoes (substitute: fingerling potatoes)
1 cup double shelled fresh fava beans
1 cup sweet peas (fresh or frozen and defrosted)
1 medium red onion, cut paper-thin with the grain, separated
2 cloves garlic, minced
18 quail’s eggs, hard-boiled, peeled and cut in half
4 medium-sized radishes, scrubbed and cut into paper-thin half moons
2-3 tablespoons finely chopped Chilean hazelnuts (substitute: whole toasted pine nuts)
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped dill
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro (substitute: chives if you dislike flavor of cilantro)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon raw apple cider vinegar (substitute: sherry vinegar)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Ground sea salt / fresh black pepper

Scrub the potatoes and dry. Place in a steamer and cook until tender and easily pierced with a knife, about 20 minutes. Let cool until they can be handled and then cut in half to form a variety of lengths and widths. Reserve.

If you using fresh fava beans, after removing from the large pod, blanch for 3-4 minutes in boiling, salted water and then refresh in ice-cold water. Peel and pop out the brilliant green fava bean. Reserve.

Place the quail’s eggs in a pot and bring to a boil. Boil for 3 minutes and then shock in cold water. Peel immediately as the delicate shell is much easier to peel when warm than after. Cut lengthwise.

For the onion, Chileans cut en pluma, which means cutting with the grain (paper-thin), and then separating with your fingers. If the onion is quite strong, many Chilean cooks “soften” the raw onion by mixing it with a sprinkle or two of sugar, and letting it rest for 15 minutes. After they rinse it with water and squeeze out the excess before adding to the salad. This takes the bite out of raw onions. Decide for yourself if you think it’s necessary, or use a shallot, instead.

Make the dressing. In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard and vinegar and slowly incorporate the olive oil in a small stream to create a creamy emulsion.

In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, fava beans, peas, onions, radishes, herbs, and hazelnuts. Fold in the dressing until lightly coated. Serve immediately. Personally, I prefer the salad at room temperature when you can fully appreciate the flavors.

6-8 servings


{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Where I have been hiding…traveling

by Liz Caskey on August 28, 2015

Paris_New-York_MediterraneanI have been laying low on the blog in the past few months. Work has been busy coupled with a business trip to Lima and preparation to escape winter in Santiago during July and August. We decided to go mostly to Europe and a side trip to the US. We went to soak up some sunshine, get fresh air (something that’s been hard to come by in smoggy Santiago this winter), and find inspiration on the Mediterranean and in the streets of Paris and New York. Sometimes, I still think my head got lost in Paris’ deliciousness and beauty, and forgot to board the plane home.

We’ll always have Paris though. Our baby girl celebrated her first birthday under the Eiffel Tower as her parents drank champagne. She slept for all the official photos, of course! I suppose she’s technically now a toddler. She took her first steps in Jardin du Luxembourg, her first word was “alo”, and she learned to chew by way of Parisian baguettes so she is now eating the same food we do (huge fan of stinky French cheese).

We landed last week in “winter” in Santiago. Winter is relative here. It feels like a cool summer in northern Europe. Maybe, just maybe, I will need a scarf and trench coat. The trees are beginning to blossom as spring approaches. I still want rain and there’s none in the forecast. That being said, I love “jumping” seasons. It’s the perfect cure for weather boredom. Not only do you get to use a different wardrobe, I trade in all my seasonal vegetables, too. My body starts craving different foods. Those hot days along the French Riviera in early July drinking chilled rose from Provence and sipping gazpacho seem quite far away. Even more so when I consider the five pounds of duck thighs I just ordered to make homemade confit de canard this weekend for my husband’s birthday.

As we ground again as a family, I am finding my footing and settling back into “home”. It doesn’t always happen immediately. I am not one of those people who can just arrive, unpack, and pick up from where I left off. Too much happened in between. I slowly warm up, sipping the local flavor surrounding me. It’s grounding for me to catch up with my caseros in the market for long overdue visits. Talking about our lives, families, and vegetables makes me happy. I make plans to see friends for wine, coffee, even a detox at the sauna. I am getting back into my gym routine. Even in my daily outings to run errands or hitting the playground with my daughter, after being away, my eyes catch subtle details and differences I seemed to have glossed over before. I guess I really needed a vacation.

But, isn’t that what travel is about? Sure, the journey is always an adventure (especially when traveling with a small child on multiple long haul flights), but the act of distancing ourselves temporarily allows us to reinsert ourselves back into daily life and reconnect with renewed eyes and energy. That distance often allows us to make major life decisions, too. I certainly cannot lie that part of me was, and is, very taken with France. Besides Paris and its inescapable charms, I keep wanting to hit “rewind” for that and the Cote d’Azur again–and again. France certainly has je ne sais quoi–for me.
Earlier today when I headed out to my favorite coffee spot in the barrio, Colmado, I smiled when I heard a group of Chilean university students giving each other a hard time. In their funny local slang, one guy finally exclaimed, “Ya po’ huevon!!”, the Chilean equivalent of “Enough dude!!”. Oh, Chile. I am, indeed, home again.

I promise I will be back to posting very, very soon. Thanks for standing by.

Paris_New-York_Mediterranean_2 Paris_New-York_Mediterranean_3 Paris_New-York_Mediterranean_4 Paris_New-York_Mediterranean_5 Paris_New-York_Mediterranean_6 Paris_New-York_Mediterranean_7 Paris_New-York_Mediterranean_8 Paris_New-York_Mediterranean_9 Paris_New-York_Mediterranean_10

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Chile’s Fashionable Beaujolais

by Liz Caskey on June 2, 2015

Style stays while fashion fades — Coco Chanel

Last weekend, I completely overhauled my closet. Purged, perhaps, would be a more accurate verb. It was a liberating experience that was severely overdue. I said tchau to holed designer jeans from my 20s, ridiculously tight shirts, and 3-inch stilettos that look great but really are stilts. My wardrobe needed a coherent fashion strategy bringing in a new “vintage” of pieces to reflect my current style (which is in love with Parisian chic).

Much like I get great satisfaction from tearing apart and rearranging my pantry and cookbook collection from time to time, I evaluated, consolidated, tossed, and ultimately found inspiration in the some of the great clothes I had completely forgotten about.  As the mound of trendy clothes grew, it struck me how disposable fashion is. Every year there’s a new “vintage” of colors, fabrics, and styles, similar to a new vintage of wine. Of course, there are the classics that stay stylish forever, just like those reference Bordeaux reds or benchmark Cabernets that seem to stay timeless as they quietly mature in the cellar. It’s not necessarily that one trumps the other. They serve totally different purposes but are equally enjoyed.

After my closet clean out, I needed some kitchen therapy so I prepared Sunday lunch for my in-laws visiting. As I chopped and stirred, it occurred to me that trendy fashion could be likened to Beaujolais, an easy-drinking French red wine meant to be made and consumed in the same year. Those classic pieces (like the Little Black Dress) would be those special bottles from a great vintage carefully tucked away in the wine cellar. I raided our cava de vino searching for a yummy red to compliment the simple but flavorful dishes made with fall vegetables. I was in the mood for something fruity and easy drinking yet I not loving Merlot, Malbec or even Pinot Noir. Instead, I decided to do something decidedly local and opted for the Reserva del Pueblo País from Miguel Torres. Many call país the Beaujolais of Chile. This particular país, made with carbonic maceration, had lovely black cherry and strawberry fruit and low alcohol to boot.

País arrived in Chile with the Spanish conquerors and for most of its life was the basis of Chilean wine until producers began importing French cuttings in the mid-19th century. After that, it was relegated to local bulk and all but forgotten. However, times are changing and a small group of innovative vintners are reviving and finding renewed allure in this simple red. It all got started several years ago with a Frenchman in the Maule Valley, Louis-Antoine Luyt. He made his first país, Clos Ouvert Uva Huasa, a simple, fruity red with earthy flavors. It caused a major buzz among the local wine community and shortly after the comparison with Beaujolais began. Similar to Beaujolais, país also has very thin skins and its purpose is to be consumed as a joven, fruity wine.

No long ago, we had sat down with the head winemaker at Miguel Torres, one of the wineries blazing the trail with this grape, to better understand its terroir and nuances. The majority of país is dry-farmed in the Maule and lesser-known Itata Valleys to the south. Torres works with small growers (all fair-trade) who grow the grapes to their specifications and after make the Reserva del Pueblo wine and their delicious rose sparkling. Vintners have discovered that país does incredibly well when made with carbonic maceration—the same exact method use to make Beaujolais.  That is, whole grape clusters are fermented in a carbon dioxide rich environment (versus pressing for the juice first and then fermenting). The carbon dioxide gas permeates the grape skins and stimulates fermentation on inside each single grape, rather than the whole juice. The resulting wine is very fruity and low in tannins so it’s earthy, food-loving, got good acidity and usually lots of personality. Since it’s low in alcohol you can drink it like water, or drink/wear without any long-term commitment, just like this year’s fun trendy clothing accessory. No doubt, next year, there’ll be another vintage.

Here are a few recommendations of país, ranging from big and small producers, to try on:

Miguel Torres, Reserva del Pueblo

Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and maybe a tad of cherry mingle with something spicy like cloves. Love serving this wine chilled. Goes brilliantly with vegetarian dishes, soups, Jerusalem artichokes, Indian (or anything etnic/spicy) or just as an aperitif in the summer when it’s too hot for any other red. Great price point, fair trade, and low alcohol. Fun in a bottle, wee! Being exported.

Louis-Antoine Luyt, El País de Quenehueao

The nose is chock full of red fruit which continues in the mouth. It has a grapey-ness to it even though it’s quite dry in nature. Earthy but not too tannic, it is begging you for some choripan off the grill and chancho en piedra (country tomato salsa). NOW.


Coming in magnums, this wine combines old-vine carignan and país, along with some Cabernet Franc from the Maule Valley. Simple, easy drinking and fruity, it’s just juicy red fruit that (scarily) drinks like water (just be warned there is, in fact, alcohol in it). It does have some structure so it works beautifully with grilled fare, roasted veggies, hummus, or a nice tray of artisan cheeses.

Marqués de Casa Concha Pais Cinsault

One of Concha y Toro’s winemakers, Marcelo Papa, has spearheaded efforts for this unique wine made with dry-farmed país grapes west of Cauquenes city in Chile’s 7th Region. Paired with another regional variety, Cinsault, hailing from the“deep Itata” Valley, the wine is fresh with raspberry and red currant aromas and a crisp, light body. It’s a delight to drink and fortunately is being exported (like Torres).

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

El Arte de Desenchufar

by Liz Caskey on March 18, 2015

Desenchufar in Spanish, literally, means to unplug. A cell phone, a TV, our brain, or the art of disconnecting, for a little while, from life. In the past months, we had been running around like mad men busy with work, baby, and life so we decided it was high time for an escape to the dune-lined beaches of Uruguay. In actuality, besides the beaches, we were really craving Uruguay’s low-frequency rhythm that would help us reboot our system. Uruguay is a place that automatically slows you down upon landing. Its people have an endearing informality and laid back nature that puts you in the perfect frame of mind to desenchufar and be content with the lingering we so desperately needed. Desenchufamos (we unplugged) on the beach, over a sunset, over a glass of wine.

After an epic journey from Santiago (twelve hours door-to-door with airline delays), we landed in Montevideo in the late afternoon and drove a hundred miles up the coast towards the glitzy, Miami Beach style high rises of Punta del Este, where the Rio de la Plata and the Southern Atlantic Ocean meet. To the northeast, the low headlands stretch for twenty-five miles along a single coast road that connects the beach communities of La Barra, Manantiales, and José Ignacio. Each village feels more low-key than the last until the (paved) road stops at Laguna Garzón, three miles beyond José Ignacio. Here, only the bold cross the laguna by a tiny ferry to continue on to the windswept beaches of the Rocha province extending to the border of Brazil.

We arrived at our “home”, Estancia Vik, as twilight disappeared.  After getting bebe to bed, we were famished and split a well-earned chivito, Uruguay’s signature steak sandwich with the works (ham, bacon, cheese, fried egg, caramelized onions, and roasted tomato). The rustic yet smooth Tannat worked perfectly with the meatiness and soothed our minds as we began decompression. The next morning, we would be rewarded with the sweeping views of the campo, the verdant countryside. The campo is the term for grassy lands that make up much of Uruguay. They seemingly emerge from the dunes that line the shore to form a single, pastoral whole. The tail end of summer (late February) is my favorite time on the Uruguayan coast. The weather is stable, sunny, and warm yet the crowds have dissipated and there’s still action.

We awoke to blue skies dotted with pillowy, soft clouds and miles of bucolic, rolling grassland edged with coronilla trees, grazing horses, and the gleaming Laguna José Ignacio below (which Vik guests can kayak as activity while on the ranch). Estancia Vik is built on a scenic bluff overlooking the campo the whole way to the sea. This handsome whitewashed stucco’s architecture has integrated the gorgeous landscape and into a view at the turn of nearly every corner. At breakfast, we munched on medialunas (the local croissant) smeared with dulce de leche and strong espresso. We  were ready for a dosis of the local beach scene in José Ignacio. Luckily, we had the perfect starting point: reservations for lunch at La Huella.

José Ignacio is a village renowned as a summer playground for South America’s wealthy. However, there are no extravagant mansions or glamorous bars, only simple whitewashed bungalows and low-slung cottages. There’s no advertising anywhere—no billboards, no Coca Cola signs on the beach umbrellas. It’s all understated yet perfectly tasteful and simple. There’s the postcard perfect landmark lighthouse, a testament to the village’s humble origins as a fishing village where fishermen still launch their boats from Playa Mansa and bring in the delicious mussels, brotola (local cod), and chiparones (baby squid). The village’s grassy plaza is far from showy with modest bushes and some swings for the children. There is no dramatic landscape–just the endless stretch of pristine beaches and the azure Atlantic.

We settled into the terrace of La Huella overlooking Playa Brava with heavy waves crashing and red flags flapping in the wind. La Huella is an institution in these latitudes. A legendary beach shack-cum-restaurant that’s tucked away into the dunes, it’s a place that invites lingering all afternoon (or evening) long. We ordered a bottle of the local Albarino whose zesty acidity was the perfect complement to the Capresse salad studded with colorful heirloom tomatoes and soft, tangy, handmade mozzarella. I had been craving this salad, this wine, this landscape, this breeze, this vibe for weeks. It truly was soul food. A parade of dishes followed, which we devoured, slowly, like grilled baby squid and bean salad and brotola with roasted root vegetables. The dishes were simple, perfectly prepared, and reflected the unpretentious, honest nature of Uruguayans. In fact, much of Jose Ignacio’s allure lays precisely in its casual charm. Here, the food scene is fervent yet they are simply executed projects, often started by chef in his/her own home/garage/garden.

We spent the afternoon contemplating the coastline from Playa Vik’s stunning infinity pool. As the water appeared to plunge into the Atlantic below, with the tiny outline of Punta del Este high rises in the distance (nearly 40 kilometers away), the landscape begged further contemplation and introspection. Our seven month old played happily next to us, taking her first splashes in the pool like a natural mermaid. As sunset approached and thunderclouds built in the distance, we returned to Estancia to put a very tired and happy girl, and parents, to bed.

The next morning, we said adios to the “family” at Estancia Vik (who made our stay feel so homey) and moved to the Vik’s newest hotel overlooking Playa Mansa, Bahia Vik. Recently opened in November 2014, this member of the Vik family feels more like an exclusive beach resort. The individual suites cluster around the sleek lodge with stunning views of the gleaming ocean. The more private bungalows are nestled in the dunes further out. Each suite was individually decorated by a local Uruguayan artist, a unique touch in every Vik hotel.

We lunched barefoot at Vik’s beach club restaurant, La Susana, digging our toes digging into the warm sand while savoring chilled (Chilean) Sauvignon Blanc, grilled fish, and fresh salads. Afterwards for dessert, we ordered the delectable Vikaccino, a play on the afogatto, vanilla ice cream with a shot of espresso and dulce de leche. We went for a long, long walk in the late afternoon along Playa Mansa, letting our daughter put her tiny little feet into the ocean for the very first time. At first she was reluctant. After she stood mesmerized as the water came and went. The sun sunk into the cloudless horizon painting wisps of pink, red, and purple tones across the sky. That night we sat out on our terrace with a friend while Micaela slept, savoring the sweet, sultry, salty night air and the constant hum of the waves crashing nearby. We sipped a favorite Tannat and savored artisan cheeses along with a locally made prosciutto. With the lack of light pollution, the stars in the sky over José Ignacio twinkled and the Milky Way galaxy was visible. Life was good. Daily reality was, thankfully, very far away.

That’s how the days roll in José Ignacio. There’s nothing to do, really, other than disconnect and eat well. This is a place with a languid pace of late breakfasts and lazy lunches, naps by the pool, walks on the beach, extended conversations over clerico (the local sangria), and the constant of Mother Nature with her soft wind touching our face, the sun kissing our skin, and feeling our toes in the sand and sea. In this setting, we reconnect with nature, and ultimately, ourselves. Yes, el arte de desenchufar, the art of unplugging, is all about recharging our batteries and feeding our souls on a very primal level. How wonderful that there’s a magical little place where not only we can do that but also indulge in life’s luxuries in style, and oh-so-deliciously.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }