Planted up the sides of mountains and on foggy hills rolling down to the sea, Chile’s vineyards, with their array of world-renowned wines, stretch across an enormous swath of the country - and welcome interested visitors. Here’s a guide to the some of the best.
Saturday, August 01, 2009
Rutas del vino (Photo:Revista Placeres)
Of all Chile’s many exports—from copper to fruit to salmon—none has a broader appeal or greater recognition for excellence than wine. Ranging from the Elqui Valley in the north, home of distilled grape liquor Pisco and new plantings of Syrah, to the Malleco Valley near Temuco in the South, where vintners are experimenting with Burgundy-style Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Chile’s central valley hosts an incredible diversity of landscapes and climates.
Some of the most prominent valleys in the region—several within easy striking distance of Santiago—offer established wine routes through some of their most important vineyards for visitors hoping to learn more about the incredible wines that Chile has to offer.
Casablanca Valley: First planted in the mid-1980s, this small region between Valparaíso and Santiago (included in the larger Aconcagua Denomination of Origin, or D.O.) has a cool, coastal climate. The frequent banks of fog that roll in off the sea make this Chile’s premier region for white varietals like Chardonnay, and particularly Sauvignon Blanc.
Just one hour from downtown Santiago, and under 30 minutes from Valparaíso, the Casablanca Valley offers a variety of tours, including those that focus on food, others on the process of creating wine, others of the valley’s best known producers and still others on the small and organic producers that turn out some of the region’s most interesting and exciting wines. For more information, visit www.casablancavalley.cl.
Maipo Valley: One of Chile’s oldest and largest regions, the Maipo’s three distinct climatic zones are home to some of the country’s best-known, internationally exported wines as well some of the best regarded small vineyards in the country. The region is best known for producing red wines, particularly the excellent Cabernets produced in the Andean foothills of the Maipo Alto (High Maipo).
The Ruta Maipo Alto connects the vineyards that grow in the foothills to the south and east of Santiago, making this an ideal option for day trips from the city. A variety of tours can be arranged amongst the six independent vineyards that constitute the Route, including tastings paired with lunch, horseback riding and even zip-lining. For more information, visit www.maipoalto.com.
Colchagua Valley: Among Chile’s most highly regarded wine producing regions, the Colchagua Valley, at the southern end of the Rapel Valley D.O., produces some of the finest red wines found anywhere in Chile. Traditionally, the vineyards that line the interior of the valley are best known for Cabernet, but recent expansion up the hillsides and toward the coast at the fringes of the Valley have resulted in exciting experimentation with other red varietals.
Based in the city of Santa Cruz, roughly a three hour bus ride from Santiago, the wine route of the Colchagua Valley includes 17 different vineyards, among them internationally respected producers and independent organic producers that operate primarily within Chile. Tourism options along the room are incredibly varied, with tour options ranging from traditional tasting tours, to outdoor explorations on foot or horseback or even by plane. See www.colchaguavalley.cl for details.
Curicó Valley: Wine production is the largest industry in the Curicó Valley, located due south of Colchagua and home to some 30 distinct grape varieties. Wines have grown here since the mid-19th century, and many of the vineyards here have been passed down through generations. Running from the Andes to the Pacific, the region’s diversity of climate and soil is reflected in the variety of grapes that thrive here, which range from Chile’s classic reds Cabernet, Carmenere and Merlot to white varietals like Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Viognier.
The Curicó Valley Wine Route includes 14 vineyards and offers visitors tours ranging from half day excursions to two day trips, which include meals and visits to two or three different vineyards. In addition, individual tours can be arranged to many of the 14 participating vineyards. Fully customized tours can be arranged for small groups. Visit www.rutadelvinocurico.cl for more.
Maule Valley: The largest of Chile’s wine-growing region, the Maule Valley produces half of Chile’s export wines—but of course, this is only a small part of the picture. Many of the vineyards scattered throughout the region have been tended for generations, producing regionally unique bottles of Cabernet, Merlot and Carignac. Some of the grapes grown on the oldest of these vineyards are as yet unidentified, making the Maule Valley one of the most fascinating and historic wine regions in Chile.
At the center of the Valley, the city of Talca, between three and four hours drive south from Santiago, serves as the primary transport hub for the Valley. From here, the Maule Valley wine route leads various tours through its 14 participating vineyards, including several that offer bike rentals or hiking options. To see the full range of tours on offer, check www.valledelmaule.cl.
For more details on the full range of wine producing regions within Chile, visit Wines of Chile at www.winesofchile.org.