My anticipation heightened with each passing minute as we drove past rolling green hills sprinkled with white and yellow flowers and rust-colored mountains looming in the background. I’m tired after 8 hours on a red-eye flight, but can’t let myself sleep for fear of missing a minute of the gorgeousness around me. More importantly, I know that soon I’ll be doing one of my favorite activities…wine tasting. As I sip my 3rd coffee of the morning we finally arrive at our first stop. I know what you’re thinking…is this girl writing about wine AGAIN? Is drinking wine all that she ever does? Isn’t 10am too early for wine? Don’t be silly! I say it’s always Wine o’Clock and I just found myself in the Casablanca Valley in Chile.
(Pic taken from car…sorry about poor quality!)
Most avid wine drinkers have probably sipped a Chilean variety at some point in time. If you are the kind of person with the goal of visiting wine regions in every country that has them (I don’t know ANYONE like that) then Chile should be high on your list, with some of the best wines in the world. If you happen to be in Santiago, it is easy to have wine time in just a day trip!
For a New World wine region, Chile has a long viticultural history starting in the 16h century with the Spanish conquistadors. When the French arrived in the mid 19th-century, varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carmenere and Cabernet Franc were introduced. So far Chile has remained free of the phylloxera louse, which means that the country’s vines don’t need to be grafted.
The Casablanca Valley is not a very old wine regions with most of it just planted in the 1980s. It’s unique mixture of clay and sandy soils make for an ideal terroir. Casablanca Valley has a cool Mediterranean climate, averaging 20 inches of rain each year. The climate is described as halfway between California and France. The Pacific Ocean is just 20 miles away and this closeness to the sea gives the whites of the region a desirable “crispness.” This location has morning fog and more protective cloud cover than any other northern wine appellation in Chile. All these factors foster a longer growing season, allowing the grapes more time to ripen and develop a deep flavor.
Casablanca Valley is 100km (60 miles) northwest of Santiago. My friend in Santiago hired an Uber for the day, grabbed some girls and picked me up at the airport when I arrived in the morning. Our plan was to stop at a few wineries and continue on to Valparaiso which is an additional 50 km or so (we returned to Santiago by bus). This cost us $100 total which was much cheaper than many of the wine tours we had seen. The trip from Santiago to the Casablanca Valley is approximately 1 hour 20 minutes to 1 hour and 45 minutes depending on where exactly you start and finish. It is then 1 hour more to Valparaiso depending on traffic.
Keep in mind that Uber is technically illegal in Chile (although common), so don’t make financial transactions at the airport, sit in the front seat, learn your driver’s name and pretend to be friends. We actually had airport security stop and question us. Luckily my friend in the front seat spoke good Spanish and we got by. Our female driver ended being a ton of fun to hang with!
You could also drive yourself quite easily (if you have a designated driver of course) or do a tour from Santiago.
Our first stop was Loma Larga Vineyards. This translates to “Long Hill”. The hilly location allows for a specific microclimate contributing to their unique “coastal cool climate ” wine. We were greeted in the vineyard with a glass of rosé, then enjoyed a tour of the vineyards and the wine cellars.
Afterwards, we sat down for a very generous tasting with detailed explanations and of course some cheese and crackers…to cleanse our palates or what I liked to call “breakfast”. This winery didn’t produce many whites but their Sauvignon Blanc was excellent. Dry and fruity with a strong finish. The Pinot Noir was light and fruity, much different than those I’m used to. The Malbec here is different than the better known Argentinian variety. There is less heat here compared to the Mendoza Valley, and therefore less residual sugar.
We may have dilly-dallied a bit too long here (the scenery was breathtaking) and considering we had no proper meal yet, the wine went straight to our heads. We also bought several bottles of wine here since the prices were extremely good. Sadly there was now only time for one more winery.
Learn more: Chile’s 5 Best Wine Regions
We had heard from other tourists about this place and their amazing chef’s special 4-course lunch. Unfortunately for us, you must call in advance to arrange this. They did, however, provide a nice tasting with a generous tasty spread of cheese, olives, and bread. We were ravenous at this point in the afternoon.
The “RE” in the name of the winery stands for “revelation, recreation and revolution”. They are bringing back old techniques of winemaking such as using clay pots as well as clay and concrete pots. The tasting room displays vintage items, including an old cash register and an ancient sewing machine. Outdoors they have a grape press and some other non-functional equipment, just for decoration.
They also play around with combining wines in an unexpected way with some fun names:
One can’t help but jump for joy around here. Wine plus this scenery will make you very happy!
READ MORE: Guide to Italy’s Prosecco Road
Have you been to wineries in Chile? Stay tuned for a post about colorful artsy Valparaiso! Subscribe so you don’t miss the post!