Chile may be small but it is mighty. An impossibly narrow country, it manages to present an amazingly diverse array of landscapes, activities, cities, and culture. This diversity extends to wine, with 8 distinct wine regions spanning the country, varying immensely with relative proximity to the Andes and terroirs. The width of the country is a huge advantage when it comes to wine making – the wide swings in climate between the cooling sea breezes and sheltering mountain range means a variety of grapes can be grown here depending on the location. Chilean wine is relatively young, growing in the 19th century with a real international presence only established in the second half of the 20th century.
A friend made the long trek down from the US to visit South America, and after discussions we decided we wanted to check out one the eight wine regions. . . but which? As we didn’t have all the time in the world, we settled on Casablanca, situated between Santiago and Valparaiso, the other two spots we planned to hit. We quickly fell in love with the distinct combination of tranquil wine country, ocean breezes, and friendly locals.
How to get there: Public buses pass from Santiago to the Casablanca valley, or, you can join a shared wine tour or hire a private transfer. After asking our hotel about options, they offered a local guide, who would pick us up in downtown Santiago, take us to three vineyards and lunch throughout the day, and drop us off at the hotel in the evening. The next day included a tour of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar with a drop-off at Santiago airport in the evening. The total two-day tour cost $125 USD per person, with prices decreasing the more people in your party. Quite a bargain considering the miles driven and places included!
Hotel: Hotel Solace in Santiago is a beautiful spot, with lovely perks like high-end toiletries and a fabulous breakfast buffet.
Hotel Casavino Casablanca in wine country is absolutely unique and just the ticket for complete relaxation. The hotel is quite literally in the middle of a vineyard, with private cabins set atop a hill overlooking the vines. The cabins are outfitted with plush beds, local art and blankets, a complimentary bottle of local wine, and supplies to make your very own breakfast in bed the next morning. Be warned . . . there are no restaurants or grocery stores in close proximity!
Taking a stroll from our cabin in the late afternoon sunshine was something out of a fantasy world. Nothing but vines stretching to the hills beyond, chirping birds, and the occasional rustling of leaves in the breeze. This hotel is truly isolated in the best way.
Veramonte: a classic tasting costs 11 000 chilean peso (22 USD) and includes a Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Blend, and Carmenere. My favourite was the Carmenere. Carmenere has a very cool history, in fact one of the most ancient European varietals, and believed by some to be the same as Biturica, a vine beloved in ancient Rome. Grown in France, the varietal was wiped out by the Phylloxera plague in the late 19th century and was long believed to be extinct. Little did Chilean wine makers know that they had been bringing Carmenere vines with Merlot for the better part of the 19th century, confusing it with Merlot all the way up until 1994.
Indomita: A beautiful hilltop spot with a restaurant and cellar. Hoofing it up the hill through the vines in the hot midday sunshine, we were rewarded with sweeping views of the valley and rolling hills in the distance. Tasting glasses are priced individually here, allowing you more flexibility according to your tastes. I really enjoyed the Malbec and the rose, which was well balanced and served icy cold. Just the thing to pair with the heat of the day and amazing view.
Casas del Bosque: A totally dreamy and romantic vineyard, overrun with flower gardens, fountains, and a low country-style main building.
We enjoyed yet another tasting here, complete with the coolest wine aerator I have ever seen 🙂 Del Bosque gave us a little flavour of the scents and flavours of the wine with local berries, fruits, and spices to compare.
The Local Cuisine: No visit to Chile is complete without a classic BBQ evening. Although Argentinians are better known as masters of the Parrilla (BBQ), the tradition is very similar in Chile and pretty damn good. The kind owners of our hotel in Casablanca invited us for a BBQ in their home, where we had the most unbelievably delicious grilled homemade chorizo, grilled pork roast, vegetables from the garden served with nothing but olive oil and salt, washed down with Syrah from vines 10 meters away. We laughed and chatted with other guests on the deck until the moon was shining bright above us.
For a lovely al-fresco lunch, the kitchen at Indomita serves great seafood dishes, paired perfectly with their wines. Below is a grilled halibut rubbed with local merken spice, served with a light spicy tomato sauce, pesto, and scallops.
The Casablanca valley is an indulgence for all the senses, and we had an amazing time touring through the countryside and enjoying a truly different and relaxing experience. The wine varietals are diverse here and as such it’s a great region for sampling new things and seeing what jives with you 🙂