Chile is a land of contrasts: desert in the north and the glaciers of Patagonia in the south; the Pacific Ocean on the west coast and the majestic Andes rising in the east. Pencil-thin Chile has rich, fertile soil in its central valley, and with the combination of sunny days and cool nights, this area is well known for producing quality wines.
I recently spent time in this verdant region discovering the best-kept secrets of wine tourism near Santiago. With just one stop, American Airlines makes it easy to get to this popular South American spot.
Santiago: old and new
Valparaiso’s steep hills and colorful buildings
Santiago is a vibrant cosmopolitan city that proudly displays historic buildings next to soaring skyscrapers. Lively neighborhoods overflow with outdoor cafes and local culture. And with its proximity to the imposing Andes, the vast Pacific, and a fertile wine region, it is reminiscent of San Francisco’s location.
Santiago proved a convenient base for most of the trip. I explored captivating wine country, winter in the Andes, and Valparaiso’s Mediterranean-like climate on the west coast. In fact, when the slopes are open (Chile’s seasons are opposite North America’s), one can leave Santiago in the morning, ski during the day, and sip a Pisco sour by the Pacific at sunset.
Valparaiso, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is less than an hour from Santiago. It is a thriving port with steep hills, colorful houses, panoramic views, and magical funiculars. Nearby is Viña del Mar with a bustling beach scene.
In one short week, I traveled nonstop and covered a fantastic slice of this beautiful country, tasted spectacular wine, ate sumptuous food, and stayed in luxe accommodations.
Before providing a list of my top picks, here is a Chilean wine primer: the country’s Central Valley wine region extends from Los Ángeles in the south to La Serena in the north and encompasses 14 wine valleys. Throughout, find different terroirs and various wine styles. Santiago is in the middle. There are numerous varietals in each valley, but the four we visited are known for certain grapes:
- Maipo Valley (Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, Carménère)
- Casablanca Valley (Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah)
- San Antonio Valley (Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah)
- Cachapoal Valley (Carménère, Syrah, Cabernet)
Carménère is the real head turner. Originally planted in Bordeaux, it is now Chile’s signature grape. It is an outstanding blending grape, especially with Cabernet Sauvignon, but is also a standout on its own. Medium bodied with a deep red color, it has aromas of red and black fruits with spices and flavors from green peppers to chocolate.
Not only are the wines outstanding, but also they are reasonably priced — a great buy to drink now or to cellar.
Here are my favorites places to stay, restaurants and wineries.
Elegant Aubrey Hotel
Where to Stay
The Aubrey: An artfully restored Spanish-Mission-style mansion in the hip Bellavista neighborhood; rooms from $240 (with breakfast). Constitución 299-317, www.theaubrey.com
W Santiago: The coolest vibe in the Las Condes area; rooms from $299 (with breakfast). Isidora Goyenechea 3000, www.starwoodhotels.com/whotels
Casa Higueras: This villa-like boutique hotel has sweeping views from each unique room and mixes modern amenities with charm; rooms from $203. Calle Higuera 133, www.hotelcasahigueras.cl
The Undurraga wines
Where to Eat & Drink
Donde Augusto: This restaurant is in the middle of the Mercado Central (a magnificent 1872 cast-iron building and the mecca for fruits, vegetables, wine, fish, and over 30 seafood restaurants). Find everything from razor clams to sea urchins; San Pablo 941, www.dondeaugusto.cl.
Pasta e Vino: This hot restaurant in The Aubrey hotel has superb house-made pastas and Chilean wine. Try the 2008 Viña Indómita Carménère; Constitución, 299-317, www.theaubrey.com.
Liguria: A great bar and restaurant packed with locals and teeming with spicy Chilean food and local wines; Av. Providencia 1373, www.liguria.cl.
Tiramisu: A casual favorite for delicious pizza, hearty salads and tender Carpaccio; Isidora Goyenechea 3141.
Montealegre: Located in the Casa Higueras hotel, this restaurant combines the best local ingredients with an abundance of Pacific seafood. Try the 2008 Tabali Reserve Pinot Noir on the exclusively Chilean wine list; Calle Higuera 133, www.hotelcasahigueras.cl.
Undurraga: Test your hand at blending your own wine. Taste Undurraga’s multiple wines including the T.H. 2008 Limari Syrah, dominated by fresh berries and black pepper; www.undurraga.cl.
Viña Haras de Pirque: The unique horseshoe shaped winery reflects the owner’s passion for both his vineyards and thoroughbred farm located on the estate. Don’t miss the Cabernet and Carménère from their Character and Elegance labels (available at Wine Club, 953 Harrison Street, 800-966-7835, www.thewineclub.com); www.harasdepirque.com.
Concha y Toro: Expansive setting and impressive wines. Standouts include Terrunya and Casillero del Diablo Carménère and the Marqués de Casa Concha Cabernet (available at Royal Liquors & Wines, 1400 Polk Street, 415-474-4400); www.conchaytoro.com.
View of Casas del Bosque
Casas del Bosque: Tour the cellar, indulge at the restaurant, enjoy delicious wines, and take in the knockout valley views; www.casasdelbosque.cl.
San Antonio Valley
Matetic Vineyards with La Casona Guesthouse & Equilibrio Restaurant:
State-of-the-art facilities, organic farming and wonderful wines from EQ and Corralillo labels (available at K&L Wine Merchants, 638 Fourth Street, 415-896-1734, www.klwines.com ; La Mar Cebicheria Peruana, Pier 1½, The Embarcadero, 415-397-8880, www.lamarsf.com ). La Casona offers comfortable accommodations in a stunning vineyard setting; rooms from $400 (includes dinner with wine, breakfast, winery tour, and tasting); www.matetic.com.
Enjoy Altaïr wine
Cachapoal Valley winery
Altaïr Vineyards and Winery: Ride horseback through the vineyards and experience the Altaïr and Sideral wines — elegant red blends with dark fruits to drink now or savor later; www.altairwines.com .
Valle Nevado: Don’t miss the opportunity to ski the highest resort in the Chilean Andes, soak up the sun, people watch, eat, and of course, drink Chilean wine. During Wine Week, enjoy the likes of Emiliana’s organic and biodynamic wines; www.emiliana.cl. For delicious Carménère try their Eco and Novas labels; www.vallenevado.com.
Chile is captivating — the country, the culture, the people, and — the wine. Don’t miss this adventure.
Fly American Airlines (www.aa.com) from San Francisco to Santiago with one stop. In business class, find comfortable seating, a sophisticated entertainment system, and Chilean food and wine. Choose an express breakfast available 40 minutes before you land. Relax in an Admirals Club, and find everything to help make your trip a memorable one.
Tourist information: www.chilewinetourism.com, www.turismochile.travel. Currency: Peso.
Parque Metropolitano de Santiago & Cerro San Cristóbal: www.parquemet.cl
Mercado Central: Ismael Valdes Verga, www.mercadocentral.cl
Plaza de Armas: Compañìa et Estacio
Cathedral: Plaza de Armas
Los Dominicos Arts & Crafts: Av. Apoquindo 9085, www.culturallascondes.cl
Isla Negre: Home of Nobel laureate, Pablo Neruda, Camino Vecinal s/n, www.neruda.cl
Viña Montes Alpha wines: Available at Whole Foods, 1765 California Street, 415- 674-0500, www.wholefoodsmarket.com, www.monteswines.com
Kinsy all-weather boot: Water resistant with a massage as you walk. $110, 800-962-4943, www.magellans.com
Scheyden precision eyewear: Originally developed for use in a cockpit, these quality glasses are stylish and offer maximum sun protection. From $124, 800-851-2758, www.scheyden.com
Patty Burness is the travel writer for Northside San Francisco. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org .