Our final day was in the Casablanca Valley, which made Chile’s reputation for cool climate, particularly white, wines.
Our first visit was to Emiliana Wines. At first sight this seemed to be like the other huge wineries that sit either side of the road to Valparaiso – standing back on the valley floor, an impressive building, a car park.
But as soon as we started walking towards the building, past the allotments and the alpacas and chickens, we realised that despite its size this was different.
Emiliana is a subsidiary of Concha y Toro, with vineyards across Chile, it is totally organic and biodynamic. I’ve visited several organic and biodynamic wineries, including Matetic yesterday, but this was the best visit I’ve ever had.
Our guide Jose Olaté’s passion and knowledge made it a pleasure to be escorted by him around the beautiful grounds on a beautiful sunny morning.
This was an informative and inspiring visit taking in the vineyards, examining the plants and herbs growing that would be made into biodynamic preparations, visiting the underground store where the preparations are kept, and learning about the role of alpacas (fertiliser production all year round, weed control in the winter), chickens (roving hen houses are placed around the vineyard so that all the vines benefit from the hens’ consumption of bugs and pests), and the allotments – everyone who works at every Emiliana vineyard can grow their own fruit and vegetables so that they truly understand the importance of the soil and have respect for the environment).
Josue took us through a tasting of nine wines from a number of Emiliana vineyards.
Fresh but complex and interesting whites, including a lovely Gewurtztraminer and a Chardonnay/Viognier/Marsanne/Roussanne blend to match many a Rhone blend.
A fresh clean Malbec from Rapel providing a fascinating contrast with the wine tasted in Argentina the week before.
A procession of red blends becoming increasingly complex, culminating in the Goyam, Chile’s first wine with organic certification – from the Colchagua valley (Shiraz/Carmenere/Malbec/Mouvedre/Merlot) and finally the Gê, Emiliana’s flagship wine – Carmenere, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, a minty dusty brambly nose, and a palate in great balance but crying out for a few more years in the bottle to allow its complex fruit and tannin to develop.
Around the corner we came to Bodegas Re, and it felt like we were in the presence of Chilean wine royalty. Pablo Morandi set up Bodegas Re in the 1990s, when as chief winemaker to Concha y Toro, he was convinced that the Casablanca Valley was the ideal place to grow cool climate varieties and was not prepared to wait for the rest of the wine industry to catch up. After some false starts – not least finding water, as unlike pretty much every other wine region in Chile Casablanca has no river – Bodegas Re has become an iconic producer of fabulously clean, fresh, complex wines, from both the Casablanca and Maule Valleys.
Benedita, our guide took us to the vineyards and then to the cellar, where we saw both the amphora Senor Morande had rescued from an old winery in Chile and used for his first vintages, and his modern equivalents – huge concrete amphora shaped fermentation vats, the shape of which encourages the wine to circulate as it ferments (and therefore does not require pumping over), and whose microporous walls allow the wine to breath during fermentation and maturation.
So we tasted wines that were entirely expressions of their fruit, no wood impact, and they were delicious. Clean, elegant fruit, great tannin structure in perfect balance – a real treat. And some unusual combinations…
Pinotel – a blend of mainly Pinot Noir with some Moscatel – a pale bronze colour, with both the red fruit of pinot and grapes of the Moscatel coming through – not a blend we would have identified blind!
Chardonoir – Pinot Noir again, this time with 55% Chardonnay, red fruits again combined with buttery apples and citrus.
Syranoir – a Syrah Pinot Noir blend (15% Pinot) from Casablanca, very elegant and really lovely to experience a wine with no oak impact
Syragnan – getting the idea? 15% Carignan, from the Maule Valley made this a more robust structured wine, but still very elegant.
And finally the Vigno, 100% Carignan, from very old vines dry farmed (ie no irrigation) in the Maule Valley. This did have 18 months in American oak, and was a lovely balance of ripe red fruit, with hints of damson and herbs, and soft tannins. Several producers have joined forces to create Chile’s first Denominacion d’Origen – specifically of Carignan vines in the Maule Valley – ensuring that Chile begins to build on its long vine growing heritage.
There were plenty more unusual combinations of grape varieties, but we didn’t have time to sample more. And sadly some of the wines were not yet ready for us to try, including a wooden cask of different vintages of Sangiovese from Maule – not intended for drinking till at least 2017.
With a beautiful lunch of ceviche, salmon and beef, ending in a duo of Eton Messes with the homemade apricot and cherry liqueurs, this was a fabulous final visit.
Our final dinner at Aqui Esta Coco revealed what troopers we all are, and despite our three course lunch we managed a three course dinner, at one of Santiago’s longest established – and most popular – fish restaurants. We celebrated the great four days we had had, the kindness and helpfulness of the people we had met, and agreed we were determined to return.