Cheers to Chile!

A little while ago, I took a group of students to explore the vineyards of Chile and Argentina. We had quite the adventure! The entry fee into Chile was $131.00 Why not a straight $130? For some odd reason, they didn’t have change for a ten at customs, so here we go! On the way to the hotel, we got stuck in “Taco Time”. Not the restaurant, it is their saying for a traffic jam because everybody is tight together, just like a taco. Makes sense. I tried to use it in context in the US, but somebody asked me if I was hungry, it’s a cultural thing.

Our voyage consisted of seven days in Chile and eight days in Argentina. A lot of driving and a lot of wine. Carménère is the great grape of Chile. For over 150 years the vine was thought to be Merlot, but a clever scientist discovered that it was an ancient Bordeaux grape varietal. It produces a deep red wine with aromas of cherries, spice and strangely enough a soy sauce quality, which works well in the wine. It’s best consumed young to preserve the fruit. The wine laws of Chile are slightly flexible, but you may see the terms Special, Reserva and Gran Vino which specify aging requirements.

In 2005, Chile decided to do a marketing promotion called the Carménère Adventure 2005. The idea was a 21 thousand mile wine-laden cycle road trip up the West Coast of the Americas and eventually arriving in New York. A grand undertaking, a great launch, but they ran out of gas somewhere along the way, so alas, the Carménère grape has had to resort to more traditional advertising.

We visited many different wine growing regions. In the Central Valley there are deep reds from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and the Calchagua Valley truly excels at Carménère. But no wine tour is complete without a visit to the immense Concha y Toro winery. In existence since the 1800’s it makes a wide variety of wine, but from a fun point of view, the Casillero del Diablo or Devil’s Collection was our favorite. During the tour we were led into an old wine cellar. Within seconds, the room grew dark, cold and a deep voice began the tale. The cellar was always locked, but mysteriously and frequently, large quantities of wine went missing. Don Melchor de Concha y Toro spread a rumour that the devil was living there and if a person ventured into the cellar the devil would take their soul. The people of Chile, being predominately Catholic, were not willing to take the chance. One never knows, eternal damnation is well.. eternal.

Chile makes some excellent whites from Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. We discovered many of those in the Casablanca Valley where the sea breezes cool the vines. We were taken on a walk through the woods surrounding the vines and ran across a few interesting and often illegal plants, and one giant tarantula. The vineyard caretaker explained it was all part of the “terroir” of the region. I never knew terroir could be so dangerous.

Chile is full of surprises, from beautiful street graffiti to excellent wines. During your visit make sure to try out the Pisco (Chilean brandy) and to make time for a siesta.


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