Santiago is the perfect gateway to Chile’s best wine regions, including the stunning Colchagua Valley with its collection of world-renowned vintners.
The snow-capped peaks of the Andes Mountains filled the sky east of Santiago as our jet made its slow descent into Comodore Arturo Merino Benitez Airport. After a 10-hour flight from Miami via Panama City, my wife Gail and I had finally arrived in Chile’s cultural and political capital, where we would spend the next two days eating and drinking our way through Central Chile before embarking our on 15-day Panama Canal cruise from nearby Valparaiso.
Since we had been to Chile before and felt comfortable going our own way, we decided to forgo the expensive cruise ship hotel package at the Grand Hyatt Regency in favour of a small boutique hotel in Santiago’s trendy Providencia neighbourhood. The cozy Hotel Orly is a renovated Parisian-style mansion with a glass-enclosed courtyard and a pretty sidewalk café that overlooks Pedro de Valdivia Avenue. While most of its rooms are small, its location is wonderful and the cost is a bargain — less than half of what the major brand name hotels usually charge.
After checking in, we walked next door to a delightful Chilean bistro called Bar Liguria for a late night dinner of avocado salad and a beef fillet sandwich with guacamole, mayonnaise and ripe tomato along with some wonderful red wine from the J. Bouchon winery in the Colchagua Valley. Since it was summer in South America and the sun wouldn’t be setting in Santiago until 9:00 pm, we were able to sit outdoors on the crowded patio and enjoy the scenery.
The next morning our tour guide Christian Montenegro picked us up at 9:30 for our tour of the Colchagua Valley, some two hours south of Santiago. There are several great wine regions around Santiago, including the Maipo, Rapel, Cachapoal, Colchagua and Casablanca Valleys. And like every winery in this country, they all produce grapes from original, ungrafted Vitis Vinefera rootstock that was brought over from France before that country’s outbreak of root louse phylloxera in the 19th century.
While all these locations produce good wines, we decided to focus on the Colchagua Valley because of its beautiful setting on the banks of the Tinguiririca River surrounded by beautiful mountains. They valley is also host to some world renowned vintners like Montes, Lapostolle, Las Ninas and Viu Manent.
We began our tour at Vina Viu Manent, which is located in a rustic bodega that has been in the Viu family for three generations. The winery was founded in 1935 when Catalan immigrant Miguel Viu García founded Bodegas Viu in Santiago de Chile. More than 30 years later, his son Miguel Viu Manent acquired the old Hacienda San Carlos de Cunaco vineyards and winery in the heart of the Colchagua Valley wine growing region.
For $12 each, we were given a tour of the bodega, a horse-drawn carriage ride through the vineyards, and a tasting of four different wines – two whites and two reds. We loved all of the wines, particularly the 2008 Reserva Malbec (a grape more commonly found in Argentine wines), and the 2007 La Capilla Cabernet Sauvignon (recently rated 90 points in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate).
Following a delicious lunch of rack of lamb with sautéed potatoes and roasted red peppers in the Bodega’s Llaveria Restaurant, we took a short drive along a narrow country road surrounded by beautiful green vineyards to the iron gates of the Montes winery. Started in 1988 by four partners who believed there was a market for premium Chilean wines, the winery now produces some of the country’s most sought-after wines including Purple Angel, Montes Alpha M and Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon. We decided to skip the winery tour and just do the wine tasting, where we purchased eight bottles of wine including the Montes Alpha 2007 Carmenere and the 2006 Merlot, as well as a bottle of its new line from Mendoza, Argentina called Kaiken Ultra Malbec.
We made our final stop at what is arguably the continent’s finest winery, the gorgeous Lapostolle estate which was founded in 1994 by the Lapostolle family of France, the producers of the world famous Grand Marnier liqueur. During our tour ($40 each), we learned that the Lapostolle family has invested millions of dollars in building one of the highest quality wine facilities on the planet, and that their aim is to produce world-class wines using French expertise combined with the superb terroir of the Colchagua Valley.
This vision has paid off for the Lapostolles, as their Clos Apalta red has made the Wine Spectator list of the world’s top 100 wines on many occasions, including in 2005 as the Number One wine in the world. We loved the Clos Apalta, but at $140 it was too expensive for our taste, so we settled for some 2007 Cuvee Alexandre Cabernet Sauvignon for a more reasonable $24 per bottle.
It was now late afternoon and time to head back north through the lovely green valleys of Central Chile and into the heart of downtown Santiago. We had enjoyed our day in the Colchagua Valley, but we were now anxious to reach our hotel, put up our feet, and open one of our 17 new bottles of premium Chilean wine.