Wine, Vines, and Rides – Hitting the Vineyard!

I recently spent a fantastic day at the Casas del Bosque winery, in the Casablanca Valley.  I could have easily spent the whole evening there, and probably the following day too if there had been a room option.  I had an hours wine tasting in the morning, where we tried four wines (Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Syrah and Pinot Noir) before sitting down to lunch on the terrace and then a bike ride.

Chile has a fantastic, internationally acclaimed wine scene and the Casablanca Valley is right up there for producing quality wines.  The reason why the grapes grow so well there is because of the climate: the dry summers combined with the cool currents brought by the winds via the sea and the Andes mountains.  In fact, the climate is so perfect for grapes that many producers can forego pesticides entirely and are organic (look at Emiliana, Bodegas RE, Attilio & Mochi – all within the Casablanca Valley). The sea and the mountains also make a kind of natural boundary, protecting the vine crops from pests such as phylloxera. This parasite feeds on vine roots, and during the 19th century it destroyed vineyards on a grand scale across the Americas, Europe and Australia.  This has meant that Chile is the only place that grows grapes on its own rootstocks, rather than being grafted onto pest resistant rootstocks like the rest of the world.  Chile is also the only country that produces the Carmenere grape variety, which was wiped out worldwide due to phylloxera.  Vines were originally brought by the Spanish during the 16th century, although today the wine scene more closely resembles that of France due to cuttings brought here of French varietals, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Malbec.

Of the red grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenere are the most noted, with a low concentration of tannins and a full spicy and fruity taste, while Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are the most important white varieties with a fullness that is often remarked upon.

The Tasting

The tasting was led by an exceptionally well-spoken sommelier, who encouraged us to pick out the different ingredients, aromas, and drew our attention to the colors.  We started with the Sauvignon Blanc, considered Chile´s best, which contained hints of jalapeño, grapefruit, freshly cut grass, pear and apple. We were told that this wine is best paired with fish, shellfish, crustaceans and even Ceviche.

Next came the Chardonnay, my personal favorite.  I could just taste the caramel, apple, lemon pie, mango, bananas, melon and pineapple.  This was a very easy wine to drink and my glass was not quite enough (purchased a bottle though!). This wine is good with shellfish, full-bodied fish, salads and fresh cheese.

Probably the most lauded wine produced by Casas del Bosque – and certainly the one most enjoyed by our tasting group – is the Syrah.  The Syrah grape thrives in the valley´s cool climate, and we spent a while dissecting the flavors, including lavender, raspberry, cinnamon, walnut, herbs, bay leaf and pepper. This wine goes well with smoked cheeses and red meats.

We finished with the Pinot Noir, which to me was very complex and deep, with notes of leather, almond, plum, vanilla, strawberries wild mushrooms and truffle. This variety is very well known and considered to be emblematic of the Casas del Bosque winery.  It pairs very well with quail, duck, chicken, turkey, beef stews,, pasta, full-bodied fish and cheeses that are moderately ripe.

The Lunch

Attentive service, tranquil setting (we were on the terrace), delicious and fresh food – I was actually surprised at a) how good the restaurant was and b) how relatively inexpensive it was for the quality received.  Star of the show was the Chilean Soul (Alma de Chile) dessert.  The Kids Menu was very good value and included the dessert, it was big but my son (3.6) ate it all!  What I also liked was that it wasn´t chips and chicken nuggets – there were meat kebabs, chips and salad.

Activities and Grounds

We rented some bikes and explored the winery by bike, which was an excellent decision because the grounds are stunning. It is also fairly flat for those of you who are like me and not very athletically inclined, but there are advanced trail options too. We also rode to the lagoon, which was nice (you can also choose the picnic option there). We didn´t see too much wildlife, which is a shame as Luis usually spots tarantulas and even snakes when taking tour groups, but we did see a lot of birds.

The grounds are well maintained.  There are several toilets, lots of seating areas and even sun beds for those who need to sleep off the wine!!

Suitable for Families

We went with a toddler and a baby in a pushchair (you need good wheels to navigate outside of the winery). People were courteous and no-one blinked an eye during the tasting or lunch. There is also a children´s playground, conveniently located beside the sun beds!!

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Miles and Smiles offer tailormade and carefully crafted tours for individuals up to larger groups which includes premium tours and tastings. Or you can make your own way there by car.  Check out the Casas del Bosque webpage here.

 

Fantastic Food, Fabulous Ferias!

Santiago is the heart of this nation – all foods end up here – and nowhere is this more obvious than the ubiquitous feria, or market.

The feria is my favorite thing to do here in Chile because there is no other place where you can delve right into the culture and discover what it really means  to be a local. They are a lifeforce for the people in the suburbs who use them everyday (except Monday) to stock up on  almost everything they might need, from fruit and vegetables to medicine, fresh fish or clothing. Stallholders begin in the wee hours, receiving deliveries and then setting up their spot for the day, of which aesthetics are key. Effort is put in to ensure their produce looks fresh and better than the neighbor’s offering, with everything from fake grass, realms of hanging garlic to delicious preparations of ceviche (seafood marinated in lemon juice) or pebre (a spicy tomato salsa mix) made to show off their ingredients to the max.

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NZD$20 (not including packaged items)

Food plays a key part in Chilean life. The indigenous of both northern and central Chile had a diet rich in potatoes, quinoa and meat from sources such as pudues, alpacas and llamas, well before the arrival of the Conquistadores. The Spanish then brought with them domestic livestock and ingredients that today make up traditional comida chilena, the very best of which is known as comida casera (homemade food).  Many of the dishes are simply prepared, which reflects Chile’s peasant past.  Dishes include the cilantro-heavy cazuela stew or lentejas (lentils),  while the hugely popular Corn Pie (Pastel de Choclo) mixes both meat and chicken. Beans (porotos) are so frequently consumed and traditional that there is a saying – “mas chileno que los porotos!”

Chile is also blessed to have the Humboldt Current drifting past it’s Pacific Ocean coastline, which brings a huge variety of sea dwelling creatures up from Antarctica. All year round you can enjoy seafood in delicious dishes, my favorites of which are Chupe de Jaivas and crab/prawn empanadas.  You know it must be good if it has been immortalized in poetry, which Nobel Prize winning poet Pablo Neruda actually did in his Caldillo de Congrio (Kingclip Chowder) poem.

I also find the feria to be a place where you can see real artisans at work, from the man who quickly wraps up the carton of eggs to the elderly gentlemen who will rapidly explain the medicinal or culinary uses of strange ingredients. Remember to shop around for the best prices (cheapest in the centre), watch your belongings, take small change (no big notes!) and use a portable shopper to cart your purchases (not just for nanas!).  Finally, stallholders will give you about a million small plastic bags for your purchases so it can be a good idea to take along a reusable bag or simply place things directly in your trolley – and therefore baffling them all!

Ask the locals where the day’s feria is when you are in the suburbs – they will likely be able to tell you! For a unique Santiago experience head to the bustling La Vega market in Recoleta wbere you can try comida chilena in La Vega Chica, or go for huge portions in the Tirso Molina.

Southern Chile Roadtrip

  1. Ojos del Caburgua, Caburgua

Stunning waterfalls and crystal clear waters are the attractions at Ojos del Caburgua near Pucon. They can be found within dense forest and can be enjoyed without a lengthy hike – in fact they are just a short walk from the carpark.

2) Lago Caburgua, Caburgua

One of the most beautiful places I have ever visited, Caburgua Lake is just a short drive from the busy and commercial bustle of Pucon but a world away in spirit. The water is clear and stays shallow for a really long time so it’s perfect for children, plus it’s full of fish.  The ground is stony and there are quite a few shops at the start of the lake.  Go there before everyone else does.

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3) Salto de Petrohue

You may think after driving past luscious farms and sprawling greenery that Chile can get no better. You would be actually be wrong, because Petrohue takes all those amazing vistas you’ve seen and tops them all.  It feels as though you can reach out and almost touch the volcano while around you the landscape seems to harken back to the dinosaur age. All the usual amenities can be found here (souvenirs, food, toilets) plus the bush walk is helpfully marked so that you can learn all about Chile’s flora and fauna.

4) Pucon

This is the place where I dream about living.  Seriously, if it was just a few degrees warmer in winter it would be perfect.  The lake is clean and blue.  There’s a volcano. The food is out of this world (all the chocolate shops!) and the list of activities to do are endless.  The supermarkets even want you to shop with reusable bags it is that committed to being green. Downsides are the prices and the crowds but come in the shoulder season before all the summer hordes arrive and you will find Pucon as charming as I do.  Plus there are hot springs to laze about it at every turn.

6) Frutillar

With a stunning theatre and a beautiful lake, Frutillar doesn’t sound like much but it’s quaint with good food and close to all the nearby sights of Petrohue, Puerto Octay and Puerto Varas.

7) Curarrehue

There isn’t too much to see in this sleepy hamlet but it’s worth a visit from Pucon for the museum detailing Mapuche culture.  Keep an eye out for blackberries to pick or blackberry jam to buy!

8) Puerto Montt

Puerto Montt doesn’t get the love it deserves, in my humble opinion. Whenever I travel anywhere, whether that be down the road or further afield, I like to imagine myself living in the houses I see and imagine what life would be like. Puerto Montt stacks up pretty well: there’s work, I can easily find what I might need and it’s got all Chile’s natural beauty on it’s doorstep.