Wine Wednesday: Colchagua Valley, Chile

Mar 13, 2013

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TPG Managing Editor Eric Rosen has a background as a food and wine writer and has covered wine regions all over the globe including Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Austria and many of those in his native California, so we decided to launch a new #WineWednesday series where every week we give you a brief snapshot of wine regions all over the globe and insight on how to get there, where to stay and a couple places you might want to visit while there. Today we head to a New World wine region where they’ve been making wine for over 500 years (go figure!): Chile’s Colchagua Valley.

We picked Chile as one of our Top 10 destinations to visit in 2013 thanks to Santiago’s cosmopolitan allure, the wild beauty of Patagonia’s glaciers and parks, the otherworldly beauty of the Atacama Desert in the north and Easter Island’s mystical charm. However, one of the very best reasons to visit this Southern Hemisphere is to visit its wine regions, several of which are becoming veritable powerhouses on the international wine scene.

Vineyards in Chile's Colchagua Valley
Vineyards in Chile’s Colchagua Valley

The most famous of them is the Colchagua Valley, about a 90-minute drive south of Santiago, where you can discover the country’s signature grape varietal, Carmenere (though it actually only accounts for about 10% of Chile’s wine production) as well as other familiar grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay, as you explore wineries whose histories date back well over a century.

In fact, wine was being produced in Chile way back in the 1550’s, making it the oldest wine-producing country in the Americas. Many of Chile’s current grapevines were planted from French roots in the 19th century, and thanks to its geographic isolation between the Pacific and the Andes, the country has some of the only non-phylloxera-infested vineyards in the world.

La Transportación

Getting to Chile is easier and cheaper than ever thanks not only to new airline partnerships such as Aerolineas Argentinas joining SkyTeam and the merging LATAM going with Oneworld, but also thanks to recent fare sales like this one on TAM in November, or super-cheap business class fares to Santiago on American Airlines last month.

The main airport in Santiago is Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport. Delta flies here from Atlanta, American flies non-stop to Dallas/Forth Worth and Miami, and LAN offers direct service to New York-JFK, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Miami.

Cata de Vinos

The various wine regions of Chile.
The various wine regions of Chile.

The Colchagua Valley, just about 90 minutes south of Santiago at the southern end of the larger Rapel Valley. Its temperate, dry, sunny climate produces powerful, fruit-driven reds, so you’ll find a lot of Cabernet Sauvignon as well as more and more Syrah these days along with Chile’s national grape, Carmenere, which has bright red fruit notes and a velvety, rounded mouthfeel.

To get a great sense of the valley’s history, take some time to visit one of the biggest names on the Chilean wine scene, Casa Silva, a family-run winery near the town of San Fernando that is over 100 years old. Tucked among its vineyards these days is a beautiful little inn, a polo and riding school, a small rodeo arena and a delicious gourmet restaurant in the polo clubhouse serving traditional specialties. Though the winery is in Colchagua, it actually produces wines from grapes grown all over Chile, so be sure to try the Casa Silva Cool Coast Sauvignon Blanc the flagship Carmenere Reserva and the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva to get some solid benchmarks of what Chilean wines are like.

You can blend your own wines at MontGras.
You can blend your own wines at MontGras.

Nearby, MontGras is another big name in Chilean wine where visitors can arrange for horseback rides and barbecues up in the hilly Ninquén vineyard or wine-blending classes at the winery itself and lunch at its restaurant. Lucky guests who come during harvest (March-May) can also ask tot take part in the grape harvest.

The main town of the Colchagua Valley, Santa Cruz, is just a half-hour farther south. Anchoring its main square is a hotel-casino (more on that below) that also houses the Colchagua Museum, an eclectic collection of local fossils and  archaeological finds, antique cars and trains, jewelry and more, all assembled by an eccentric Chilean tycoon.

Lapostolle's dramatic showcase winery.
Lapostolle’s dramatic showcase winery.

Santa Cruz is a good base from which to visit nearby wineries with recognizable names like Casa Lapostolle, which is owned by the same family that owns Grand Marnier. Perched on a hill outside town is its showcase winery, resembling an enormous bird’s nest, where they make their high-end Clos Apalta and Borobo labels. Visitors here can also enjoy activities like hiking, bike rides or horseback rides around the property’s 1,600 acres.

Montes plays Gregorian chants to its aging wines in the semi-circular barrel room.
Montes plays Gregorian chants to its aging wines in the semi-circular barrel room.

Also nearby, Montes, has become one of Chile’s most well-respected premium wineries. It makes for an interesting visit because the building was designed according to the principles of feng shui with custom-designed water features and a semi-circular barrel room where the maturing wines are serenaded with Gregorian chants around the clock in order to produce a harmonious natural resonance in the wines. Here you can try the winery’s flagship Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as other iconic wines including the supple, slightly spicy Carmenere-based Purple Angel.

One of the Colchagua’s most fun gourmet experiences is taking a cooking class with one of Chile’s most famous chefs, Pilar Rodriguez, at her cooking studio on the grounds of the Viu Manent winery. Guests help Rodriguez prepare a multi-course feast of Chilean specialties such as roast pork ribs in adobo with mote (grain stew) and ceviche made from local shrimp and citrus. Each course is paired with a Viu Manent wine, such as the tart Secreto Sauvignon Blanc and the inky Gran Reserva Carmenere. Visitors can also just drop by and visit the winery’s on-site restaurant for a gourmet lunch with wine pairings.

Take a cooking class from Pilar Rodriguez along with your tasting at Viu Manent.
Take a cooking class from Pilar Rodriguez along with your tasting at Viu Manent.

For more of a trippy tasting experience, make a stop at Viña Santa Cruz, where you can taste wines before or after taking a gondola up the property’s mountain to explore a sort of mini-museum with replicas of indigenous settlements and buildings, hike the scenic trails for valley views and even go star-gazing in the small observatory after dark.

Dónde Dormir?

A trip out here requires more than just a day, so you’ll be heading out of Santiago for a few nights.

Staying at one of the winery B&B’s is a great way to unwind out in the country, and many offer activities like horseback riding, guided tours and bicycles to keep you entertained while you’re not wine tasting as well as gourmet restaurants where you can enjoy leisurely tasting menus for dinner.

The pool at Casa Lapostolle is one of the valley's prettiest spots.
The pool at Casa Lapostolle is one of the valley’s prettiest spots.

Casa Lapostolle has a deluxe four-villa inn called La Residence that is a member of Relais & Chateaux, and guests are treated to three gourmet meals a day in the main lodge overlooking Santa Cruz.

Casa Silva has a beautiful, traditional wine-country inn with just seven frilly but spacious rooms, and a pretty living room and courtyard area for relaxing and planning your wine outings.

The Hotel Santa Cruz is an affordable, if eccentric, lodging option.
The Hotel Santa Cruz is an affordable, if eccentric, lodging option.

In Santa Cruz itself, the Hotel Santa Cruz Plaza is on the more affordable side of the budget spectrum and has 116 rooms and 16 suites as well as a decent restaurant and bar, a spa and a casino that gets lively in the evenings.

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