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Wine Tasting Notes on Overdrive
The first day I was in Chile I had a chance to visit the Hippodrome historic horse track. There was no race that day, but I was with a group of wine writers and someone from Indomita was there in the stands, ready to give us a taste of what they had to offer. It really started the wine country tour off right as we started with one of the best Chardonnays I’ve tasted in years, a clear cut above almost everything coming out of California these days.
I thought maybe that was a fluke until I sampled their delightful Sauvignon Blanc, then their Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. Looking out at the horse track and the snowy Andes Mountains over Santiago, all was right with the world.
The next day, after lunching at Undurraga, I was starting to wonder if I was only touring the best of the best wineries, that eventually I would hit a wall. But then the good stuff kept coming. At Casas del Bosque in Valle de Casablanca, I tried a Sauvignon Blanc that has to be one of the world’s great bargains at $16 retail and a $20 Syrah that tops most of its competitors selling for three times as much.
Late harvest wine paired with scrumptious desserts at Casas del Bosque
In fact very few of the wines I tried in Chile were premium “cult wines” like you find in California or France and often the person pouring would point out that the terrific liquid I was swirling around in my glass sold for well under 20 bucks in the United States—sometimes for around $10. In Chile, you may pay even less. Often the challenge is just trying to decide what to choose from a menu or store shelf, though I’d bet there are few places in the world where you have so little chance of making a bad decision, especially considering the prices. As in Argentina, wine with dinner is considered a God-given right, not a splurge, so you don’t see the huge four- or five-times markups that are unfortunately so common in Los Estados Unidos.
Visiting Chilean wine country:
You can tour many of Chile’s wineries on your own—nearly 100 are open to visitors—but call or e-mail ahead to make arrangements at all but the largest ones. (The level of English proficiency in Chile is astoundingly good, so you usually won’t have trouble corresponding or getting a tour in English.) Without advance planning though, there can be a long wait between tour times or you may be turned away if nobody made arrangements especially for your group.
Also note that in contrast to many other countries, Chile’s wineries usually charge a fee for tours and tastings and do not deduct the amount from wine purchases. This fee can run from US$10 to $30 per person, but at least they’re more than just a spin through the tanks and barrel rooms. At Casas del Bosque, for instance, educational tours pair wine tastings with aroma elements such as peppercorns, flower petals, cinnamon, and lime slices. They also have an excellent restaurant on site where you can pair a flight of wines with delicious food. At Haras de Pirque, in the Maipo Valley, you can set up a tour that includes horseback riding through the rolling vineyards.
The best bet is to book a tour with an experienced company that will arrange everything in advance, do all the driving, and roll all the costs into one fee. You just show up and tip a glass. Enotour, based in Santiago, runs the widest range of wine tours and can add on trips to Valparaiso or city tours of the capital city as well. Tours range from one-day itineraries in a single wine growing district (starting at $110 each for a couple, less for larger groups) to week-long packages that take in a multitude of regions and sites. They also offer a wine bar tour in Santiago itself. See the different routes at EnotourChile.com.
Liguria Restaurant and Wine Bar in Santiago
See our reviews of luxury hotels in Santiago to plan on where to spend your evenings. For more on wine tourism in the country, visit the following sites:
Story and photos by Timothy Scott, published October, 2010.