Although Chilean wines may have only really caught the world’s attention in recent times, Chile actually has a long history of wine making. It goes back to the 16th Century when the Spanish conquistadors arrived bringing grape vines with them.
Later in the mid 18th Century, French grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenère were introduced. The wine tended not to be of such a good quality as the focus was more on quantity. The good grapes were planted in the Maipo Valley near Santiago andthe cooler regions of the South while other higher altitude areas were given the lower quality grapes which were used for making cheaper wine and also for distilling Pisco brandy.
The Chilean wine export business has grown rapidly in the few last years as very large amounts of good quality wine is now being produced. Chile is the fourth largest exporter of wine to USA and the number of wineries founded has increased significantly in the last 20 years.
Chile has a near perfect climate for growing grapes – somewhere in between that of France and California. Itis best known for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carmenère (a variety which died out in France but was revived in Chile) and Syrah (Shiraz). In the white department the best are – Chardonnay, Pinot and more recently Sauvignon Blanc.
One of the nicest ways to spend a day in Chile is touring some wineries and seeing for yourself the spectacular settings, the whole wine making process and then of course sampling the different varieties! Any trip to Chile is not complete without a little wine (de)tour.
There are wineries to visit close to Santiago, which makes it easy for those who are on a tight itinerary. Around the capital you have both the CasablancaValley and the Maipo Valley. Both are easily done in a day tour from the capital. Further south and around a 3 hours drive you have the well known Colchagua Valley. Even further south you have the Curico and Maule Valleys. And in between Santiago and Colchagua there is the lesser known, Cachapoal.
There are plenty of organized tours to take but equally as fun is hiring a car and driving around the different wineries yourself. Your hotel will always be able to point you in the right direction of the best ones.One of the most beautiful in the Colchagua Valley is Lapostolle’s Clos Apalta Winery , which belongs to the French owners of Grand Marnier. The location is simply stunning and the wine is pretty good as well. It is clear to see that no expense has been spared there. But there are many other lovely wineries to visit in Chile and if you do it in an organized tour or not, you will undoubtedly have a great time.
One of the best places to base yourself while exploring the Colchagua Valley is the wonderfully restored, Residencia Historica and closer to Santiago in the Casablanca Valley is the charming and romantic, La Casona at Matetic Vineyards. Two perfect historic options that capture the essence of colonial Chile.