From the title, you might guess that this was my favorite post to write about Chile. You’d be right; but, just to be sure, I put in a lot of research. Chile was high on our list of places to visit in part because of its reputation for wine, especially carménère. Back in Washington state, Kevin fell in love with the grape after discovering it at Northwest Cellars, the nearest winery to our first apartment, which also happens to produce soe of the best wine we’ve ever had.
But in Santiago, we were initially disappointed at what was available. Unlike Buenos Aires, where there is a wine shop (or at least a shop carrying wine) on seemingly every block, Santiago’s offerings were fewer and farther between. Grocery stores had wine, of course, but only bottles from the largest producers and the same brands that are exported around the world. It took heading to malls in Bellavista to find shops selling bottles from smaller-scale wineries. Of course, those were priced higher as well and still had fairly limited selections. Here, you are expected to head out to the winery (and often pay an expensive tasting fee) to sample or purchase small producers’ selections.
Like Argentina, almost no wine is imported from elsewhere in the world, so at least it is easy to be sure you are drinking local. Only the largest grocery stores carry anything other than Chilean wine. But, fortunately, most Chilean wine is pretty tasty.
We went to a wine tasting night we found through Meetup, and had the opportunity to sample many whites (the theme was summer drinking). I was surprised at the quality of the sauvignon blancs and semillons, because I never associated Chile with white wine. It helped that some were late harvests, meaning the sugar content made them taste like dessert. Other dessert wines I purchased at the stores were good too, even the $5 bottles. The most interesting I had during the month was a deep red late harvest syrah that made me want chocolate brownies with intense fervor.
To kick off our last week in town we took a tour from Bodega Wine Tours and visited small vineyards and wineries in the Maipo Valley. Very small: Vino Orgánico Miraflores produces just a few wines and Hoops Winery’s one or two barrels a year comes from vines grown in the front yard of the winemaker’s home. At Hoops, the carménère, petit verdot, syrah, and malbec all get picked and destemmed by hand and fermented in the same vat. The result is a different wine each year, based on what grew well. We sampled a 2010 (the first year they produced wine) and 2014. Both were wonderfully complex.
Outside Santiago, there are wineries and other cropland in almost every direction. Chile is a unique place because it is one of the only spots in the world – and certainly the largest wine region – that is unaffected by phylloxera. The vines here don’t need to be grafted and are often grown with minimal pesticides and chemicals because other pests are also few and far between.
My absolute favorite wine of the entire month was a 2015 Gil Ferrer syrah from Vina Miraflores del Maipo. It reminded me a lot of Washington wine, and tasted like dark fruit. But almost every other wine is delicious as well, we’ve only had a one that wasn’t up to part with the rest. So far Chile’s record is incredible.
And there is beer too! For the most part, large brands like Escudo and Cristal produce the equivalent of a Bud in the US – pale, plain lagers meant for hot afternoons. There was an influx of German immigration in the mid-1800s that kicked off beer making in Chile, but most heavier styles were scrapped in favor of more generic light beers. Fortunately, more craft breweries are starting to take off, though their products tend to be relatively expensive. Kunstmann, Austral, and Kross are the main medium sized producers and you can find their beers in most grocery stores. Smaller breweries like Chester might only sell their beer at a handful of places, and if you aren’t within fifty miles of the brewery, there is no chance of locating it. The smaller the batch, the better the beer tends to be here. Of random note: many places do import beer from the US and Europe, but any seasonal varieties are out of place. If you are brewing winter beer now, people in the southern hemisphere are drinking it when it is 90 degrees outside, which is not quite ideal.
Pisco is the other local alcoholic beverage of choice. Both Chile and Peru claim to have invented this drink and the resulting pisco sour. Apparently the debate gets pretty heated; neither country will allow imports from the other to be labeled ‘pisco,’ instead more generic terms like aguardiente or grape alcohol. Pisco sours in Peru contain an egg white, in Chile they jealously exclude that ingredient. I’m not usually a fan of hard alcohol, but I did like pisco in both countries (see how hard I’m trying to not play favorites). In Chile, we had bottles Mistral and La Serena. La Serena was cheaper and better drinking. I may or may not have added an egg white to the mixture…
In the end, I mostly stuck with wine. That will be a little more difficult in Punta Arenas, since the wine regions are all centered around Santiago, but hopefully enough makes it down to the bottom of the continent to keep us satisfied. If not, I can probably learn to love Austral for a month…