After a great first night’s rest at the Santiago Grand Hyatt, we showered and then had breakfast at the 16th floor Concierge Lounge.
We were meeting our winery tour guide at 9am and had to check out, so it was a quick breakfast for us. We had flown to Santiago yesterday for this Labor Day weekend, mini-holiday to tour the Chilean vineyards. DOS had arranged a private 3 day tour for us with Uncorked Wine Tours thru the wineries, and we were anxious to get started. We had used Uncorked WineTours a couple years ago when we were visiting Chile, for a small shared group day tour from Santiago, so we were familiar with their brand and quality. On our previous trip we had such a wonderful time, we wanted to use Uncorked again, this time for a more private and personal tour experience. Steve (DOS) had made all the arrangement with the owner, Jose, prior to our arrival to Chile, and everything would work out as we had requested.
Although we didn’t plan on this, we arrived at a great time for a Chilean Wine promotion: it was the first annual official Chilean Wine Day! Chile is looking to promote their wines worldwide, and this was a great opportunity to showcase their different varieties. Traditionally, the Chilean wines have been viewed in the U.S. as substandard or below par, brought on in part by Conche Torro and it’s mass market and cheap prices, but Chile has some true quality wines that until recently have been overlooked in the United States. Perception is everything with wine, so we were glad to try new wines and support the local Chilean Wineries, and from what we experienced, at least the higher end wines are quickly becoming world class wines. It was off season in Chile, so it was a bit cooler, but on the plus side it was a great time to visit as there were no crowds anywhere we went once leaving busy Santiago.
Jose picked us up at the Hyatt Regency Santiago hotel promptly at 9am, and we were off for the wineries. As we would be staying in the Santa Cruz wine region for two nights, we had checked out of the Hyatt and brought our luggage with us. We were excited to have Jose, himself – the owner of Uncorked Wine Tours escort us on our three day wine adventure. Jose had a large van for just the three of us, and as it was just Steve (DOS) and myself we were very comfortably chauffeured around. As we left the busy city of Santiago, we were soon a freeway heading to the CasaBlanca Valley. Jose spoke excellent English compared to our ‘nada’ Spanish, so we had a great English speaking guide, as well as interpreter when we needed one.
On our first day of touring, we visited three wineries, two in the Casa Blanca region about an hour out of Santiago, and then later having lunch at another vineyard. The morning was a bit cool (as it is early Spring in South America), but it felt good coming from hot and humid Florida. With a short sleeve polo shirt, jeans, and a sweatshirt, it was a fine for the day of touring. Jose made a slight deviation thru the mountains on the way to CasaBlanca so we could view the picturesque countryside, and the early morning fog rolling thru the valley. Note the fog in the distance; it looks like a lake, but that’s actually fog. The fog would lift by 11am or so, but it gave a mystical feel to the valley, the weather being influenced by both the Andes Mountains, and it’s proximity to the coast.
Our first stop was at Casas del Bosque vineyards, which is a high quality, semi medium sized winery that offered several premium wines. We were introduced to Alexander, who served as our local winery guide, and gave us a tour of their vineyards, which like others in the area, had just pruned or started to prune the vines for the upcoming season. As the seasons are reversed from the northern hemisphere, we got to see the vines stripped of any leaves or grapes’, not what we normally see when visiting Napa Valley, as the vines are ripe with grapes when we go there during the fall harvest season.
We got to the first winery as it opened, so we were the first guests there, and had a nice private tour with our winery host Alexander. Alexander showed us around the grounds, and pointed out the different plots where the various varieties were grown. The Casablanca Valley region where we spent the majority of the day, is near the coast, and that coupled with the Andes Mountains provides a cooler climate making this an ideal regions for white wines, although we had some fine reds as well.
After the tour, we had a private tasting in a dining room style type tasting room, which was quite classy. We were given a small fold up card with suggested wine pairings, which was nice to have for planning future meals. The Sauvignon Blanc was one of their top wines and notable for the region, and although we enjoy reds more than whites, their Sauvignon Blanc was outstanding. Perfect for lounging around the pool on a hot Florida day or with my favorite appetizer: shrimp cocktail.
We leisurely enjoyed our four wines there (along with a couple breadsticks) before heading off to the gift shop. Unlike going to Napa Valley, we were more limited on our luggage and customs restrictions, so instead of our usual multiple bottle purchase, we limited it to two of their iconic wines which each came in a souvenir wooden box case. We also bought a wine pourer/decanter stopper (shown in the photo above with DOS), which while it’s a fragile glass, it comes in a box we can carry on the plane.
Our next stop was at Kingston Winery. The Kingston family was originally from California seeking their gold fortunes in this region in the mid 1800’s, only to strike out on the gold, but ultimately planting grapes instead. Today the many acres of vineyards are primarily grown for sale to other wineries, (approximately 90 per cent of their crop), although they do produce a few thousand cases of wine for sale.
We were introduced to our winery hosts Ben and Estella, who provided us an outstanding service. Estella’s family had a winery in Spain and she had been there about six months, while Ben just recently graduated from Princeton, and was on a one to two year project to assist the winery in their efforts to become an organic winery. Ben was from Maryland and was such an energetic and welcoming host that made our visit there a relaxing and ‘family-like’ stay.
Ben showed us around the picturesque vineyards as well as actual wine-making facility, showcasing family photos of the Kingston Family lining the stairwells and throughout the property. We would later venture out for the tasting in their wonderful outdoor multi-level tasting patio. Ben noted how close this family-oriented winery was, and Mrs. Kingston would help out at harvest time just like the workers.
We sampled wines in the terrace overlooking the valley, in which was a picture-post ‘MasterCard moment’! This multi-level, meticulously landscaped site, was a perfect place for entertaining. I could see DOS and me having hosting many a wine tasting event there!
After our lengthy yet leisurely stop at Kingston Vineyards, we thanked Ben and Estella for their hospitality, and went to our last vineyard of the day: Matetic Vineyards, where we also had lunch there at El Emporio Restaurant.
Here is DOS with our Uncorked Wine Tour guide, Jose at lunch.
The lunch was quite a classy affair, expertly paired with wines to compliment the meal. We had a wonderful sea bass Ceviche for our starter, paired with a wonderful white wine of their vineyard.
Our main course was a lamb and mushroom plated dish with creamed corn and a nice sauce. While I’m not a create corn fan, (I passed this along to DOS) the lamb was delicious – almost like a nice pot roast in consistency and very favorable.
We then had a trio of dessert options, which nicely topped off our meal.
I napped most of the way, while DOS talked to Jose on the journey to the Colchagua region for our next day’s stop and our hotel ‘home’ for the next two nights. We checked into the Terra Vina Hotel, which was a lovely two story property in a quiet section of the valley, with a wonderful and welcoming staff.
We had a nice room on the second floor, which had a small walk-out balcony, overlooking the vineyards – very classy! As this was a quiet time of the year and off season, it was not very occupied, and was a delight to stay in while touring the region.
Our first night at Terra Vina was a Sunday night, and most of the local restaurants were closed. With the hotel’s recommendation, we went to the local Chilean restaurant, and had the whole place to ourselves this slow Sunday night. Like something out of a movie, this was such a special evening with the personalized service by our waiter, and the owner’s checking on us. We had wonderful appetizers, salad, and grilled steak – all done outstanding to our enjoyment.
We were picked up at our hotel and driven to the restaurant by a lady from the restaurant, as well as returned back to our hotel upon completion of the meal – how’s that for service! It was only a short mile away, but in this remote winery region, it was much appreciated.
After arriving back to the hotel, it was super quiet at this 11pm hour, and we headed to bed for a restful sleep. ‘Twas a wonderful national ‘Wine Day’ in Chile!