Santiago is a clean, bustling city of six million
Chile Is Hot
Story and photos by John Blanchette
flew into Santiago, Chile in early March for the wine harvest in one
of the worlds great wine producing regions. The day I arrived
was also the night of the total lunar eclipse.
That evening we watched the earths shadow swallow
the moon in the private observatory above the Santa Cruz Vineyards,
while swallowing Cabernet Sauvignon and warming ourselves by the tasting
room fire. It gets chilly in the Chilean foothills of the Andes at night,
a quality, according to wine writer Kevin Zraly, that makes the wines
rival those of Bordeaux and Napa
Chile is a pastoral country whose serpentine body of
4,200 miles hugs the western coast of South America, beginning at the
Peruvian and Bolivian borders. Its volcanic spine rests against Argentina
and follows the Andes all the way down to Tierra del Fuego at the bottom
tip of South America.
Never more than 200 miles wide, the diverse climate
and relatively small population (16 million, 80 percent of whom live
in urban environments) has preserved a rich farmland resting between
the mountains and the sea.
The land produces a wide range of crops and the seas
bounty includes Chilean sea bass, salmon, shrimp and other shellfish.
However they have no fossil fuel deposits so all the oil products are
imported and gasoline prices are high, about $6 a gallon.
Santiago is a bustling modern capital of six million.
The commercial success of Chile, based on its mining, fishing and agricultural
industries and its citizens devotion to hard work, has created
one of the richest economies in South America. Most work six day weeks
and unlike Spain
and other Central and South American countries, they do not take siestas.
It is also a safe and clean country. Chileans frown
on littering and are very honest. On several occasions cab drivers and
merchants corrected my change when I overpaid. And there are great bargains
to be had, especially if you shop at ferias, collections of artisan
shops, and the currency is easy to figure, there are 500 pesos to the
Unlike other major wine producing areas, there is not
a lot of attention paid to wine tourism and very few tasting rooms exist.
However some of the larger vineyards do feature fine restaurants, guest
facilities, vineyard tours and tastings, but reservations are necessary
Ripening grapes just days before harvest
An easy way to explore the wine country outside of Santiago
is to take the tour that begins at the Hotel Galerias, a beautifully
restored Holiday Inn owned by the Santa Cruz Vineyards.
Children perform traditional music and dance
at the Santa Cruz train station
The bus takes you 87 miles south to the town of San
Fernando, where you board the Tren del Vino (the wine train) which takes
passengers on a 20 minute ride through the vineyards of the Colchaqua
valley, voted one of the worlds great red wine regions in 2005.
Along the way wine from the area is liberally pored
and at the Santa Cruz train station more wine awaits along with appetizers
and local folk musicians and dancers.
You continue on for lunch at The Santa Cruz Winery in
a lovely patio restaurant overlooking the vineyard.
On the property is a museum devoted to pre-Columbian
and Easter Island art (the island is owned by Chile), and a gift shop
and wine store in addition to the observatory perched in the hills above.
They also own the Santa Cruz Plaza Hotel in town, which features local
dishes and well thought out wine pairings with meals.
View from the patio restaurant at the Santa Cruz
Down the road is the historic Hacienda Los Lingues,
an estate that has been in the same family for 16 generations. They
offer twenty beautifully appointed rooms full of antique furniture.
Horse riding is also available on trails that lead up
into the hills above the valley, unveiling tremendous views from the
backs of the agile native horses.
Horse trails above the Hacienda Los Lingues offer
Diner and breakfast is part of the package and make
sure you try the national drink Pisco, which is artfully perfected here.
It is similar to a whisky sour but composed of Muscat brandy, lemon
juice, sugar and whipped egg whites.
The Hacienda makes some great wines including the 2010
Sauvignon Blanc, which was the nicest white wine I tasted during my
Like most of the back roads in the wine country, once
you get off the main highway, you are driving dirt roads through picturesque
farmlands. One dusty road led to ViaWines vineyards, a modern facility
only a few years old, but they are already a leader in the Chilean wine
They sponsor a number of training programs. While I
was there a South African restaurateur from London
was taking a month long internship along with four young winemakers
It was at the winery where we did a full tasting of
Via wines and where I found my favorite red, aptly named Red One,
under the Chilcas label. It is a blend of five red wines including the
Carmenere grape, originally from Bordeaux.
The winery also has the Las Chilcas Guesthouse in the
middle of the vineyard property, which can provide for up to 20 visitors.
Meals are also included and one evening a whole sheep was roasted outdoors
in the traditional style, seasoned with salt and splayed out on sticks.
It was cooked by rotating it next to a blazing fire of eucalyptus wood.
Traditional way to roast
a sheep next to a fire of
Other Chilean specialties include corn pie, a corn meal
dish with onions, egg, raisins, olives, chicken and beef, wonderful
fish soups and fried and baked breads, which are served with homemade
salsa called pebre.
In the Maipo Valley southwest of Santiago, the historic
1880 Santa Rita vineyard, third largest in Chile, inhabits a long mission-style
building and features a central garden, a lovely restaurant open to
the public and a contemporary art museum.
In Santiago I stayed at the Ritz Carlton, which has
an extensive wine program that includes tours of selected vineyards
and wine and food pairings in the hotel restaurant 365, which is the
number of Chilean wines in stock, one for every day.
The wine program is directed by Branko Kerlezi and the
restaurant sommelier, who can arrange a flight of wines for tasting.
The afternoon I attended we tried ten different wines,
from dry Sauvignon Blancs to a delicious late harvest Muscat from Tamaya
Vineyard in the Limari Valley. I was even treated to the countrys
best beer, Kunstmann, a hoppy pale ale.
The hotel also offers a wine bath to guests, which I
enjoyed with a glass of Pinot Noir.
If You Go
Once in a blue moon or lunar eclipse you should plan
a Chile reception in this warm and friendly country. LAN Airlines offers
daily flights to Chile, by way of Peru and Argentina, with excellent
service that features Chilean wine with meals. It was voted The
Best Airline to Central and South America by the Official Airline
Guide and Global Traveler Magazine in 2006.
Make sure you pack an extra $100 when you go. There
is a one-time immigration fee charged Americans because we charge Chileans
the same fee to visit America.
For housing options, wine and restaurant information,
shopping tips, event listings, guidebooks, brochures and maps, contact
the Chilean Tourist
Office. For Information on the wine train, visit www.trendelvino.com.