Visit Chile's Top Wine Regions
Considering that Chile is shaped like a fashion model—elongated and skinny as a rail—it’s almost mind-boggling how much natural beauty and unique topography is packed within the country’s borders.
In the north, you have the Atacama, the driest desert on Earth, while in the deep south, you’ll find the glaciers of Patagonia as well as active volcanoes and crystalline lakes.
On the western edge, there are 2,700 miles of spectacular Pacific Ocean coastline, and to the east, of course, are the towering Andes.
In between are Chile’s many wine valleys: Elqui, Limarí and Choapa to the north; Aconcagua, Casablanca, Maipo, San Antonio, Rapel, Colchagua, Curicó and Maule in the middle; and Itata, Bío Bío and Malleco to the south.
Chile ranks as one of the most inviting wine-producing countries in the world to visit. It’s a mostly safe nation that has worked hard over the past two decades to escape the shadows of its darkest times (from 1973–90, the military ran the country). Thanks to its populace’s strong work ethic, the country’s roads and highways, telecommunications systems and politics have taken huge turns for the better.
With the help of a GPS, plus Chile’s excellent signage and cell-phone coverage, you should feel comfortable driving almost anywhere in the country. Hiring an experienced driver guide or using buses and trains are other means of getting around this easy-to-navigate country.
Today, Chile is arguably South America’s most stable, accessible country. Home to talented chefs, otherworldly seafood, genuinely nice hotels and hundreds of wineries—big and small—it’s the perfect vacation destination, especially if drinking good wine and eating well are priorities.
While most trips to Chile will include some time in Santiago, travelers should spend at least two days in the Casablanca Valley wine region and the coastal city of Valparaíso. Then enjoy a couple of additional days in the Colchagua Valley, one of Wine Enthusiast’s Top 10 Wine Travel Destinations of 2012.
With this insider’s guide as a road map, travelers can explore the best of a country whose scenic grandeur far exceeds its geographic waistline.
Casablanca Valley and Valparaíso
Situated about 45 minutes west of Santiago, the Casablanca Valley is Chile’s preeminent cool-climate wine region. It’s here where you can literally breathe in the smells of Sauvignon Blanc and the Pacific Ocean.
Another 30 minutes westward from Casablanca and you’re in Valparaíso, historically Chile’s main port city. It’s now a magnet for artists, international travelers and anyone with a Bohemian leaning.
As you enter the Casablanca Valley from Santiago, consider stopping at House, Casa del Vino, owned and operated by Grupo Belén. Here, you can tour the facilities where winemaker Sven Bruchfeld crafts the group’s signature Tiraziš, a cool-climate Syrah that hails from old bush vines. House offers daily tours in English and Spanish, its glass-enclosed restaurant looks out onto vineyards, and its shop sells the group’s wines as well as a local Casablanca olive oil called Izaro.
Another tasty stop is Casas del Bosque, one of Chile’s best makers of crisp, pungent Sauvignon Blanc. Here, you can tour the vineyards and winery, but the highlight is lunch at Tanino, the winery’s on-premise restaurant. The eatery features dishes like seared Pacific salmon with crunchy shrimp and white asparagus paired with Chardonnay, or phyllo pockets stuffed with Wagyu beef and goat cheese that go ideally with the winery’s earthy, herbal-leaning Syrah.
Kicking Back, Seaside
After lunch, continue on to Valparaíso and check into Casa Higueras or the nearby Zero Hotel. Both have cool vibes and offer excellent views of the harbor. Dinner is within walking distance of both hotels, either at Café Turri, where traditional seafood and a superb wine list await, or Pasta e Vino, for what many consider the best Italian food in Chile. A nightcap at Café Vinilo, which features a number of small-production wines as well as excellent Pisco Sours, is a good way to finish your day.
Assuming you stayed up late at Café Vinilo, work off that fogginess by getting lost amid the labyrinth of narrow streets that snake up and down Valparaíso’s hillsides. Being an artist-friendly place with a bit of a rough edge, many streets feature houses covered in colorful graffiti, and there are numerous lifts that can take you up and down the steepest hills.
After your morning walk, head north in the direction of Viña del Mar, Chile’s one-town Riviera, where you can catch some rays on the beach before having a seafood lunch and a nice bottle of wine at Portofino.
Take a Detour
After lunch, head back in the direction of Santiago, but detour to the San Antonio Valley. Check into La Casona at Matetic Vineyards (pictured), one of Chile’s nicest winery-based hotels. A stay here includes all meals and a tour of Matetic’s ultramodern winery, which puts out superb Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc as well as interesting Gewürztraminer and Riesling. Get a good night’s rest in your fluffy bed, because tomorrow you’re going to cover some ground on your way to the Colchagua Valley (the drive from San Antonio to Colchagua will take about three hours).
As soon as you arrive in this warm-climate wine region located about 100 miles south of Santiago, you’ll be happy you came. Colchagua feels a lot like California’s Napa Valley—except that in Colchagua, many locals still get around on horseback and wear ponchos and chupayas (wide-brimmed cowboy hats).
Check into the Residence at Lapostolle, a five-star Relais & Chateaux property perched above the famed Apalta Vineyard that Lapostolle shares with other wineries, including Montes, Ventisquero, Santa Rita and Neyen. The Residence is Chile’s most high-end, high-priced winery lodging option. The four cabins that comprise the hotel, however, come with every luxury, from high-thread-count sheets and spacious walk-in closets to wood-burning fireplaces. Included in the tariff are three meals each day, plenty of wine, a tour of Lapostolle’s architecturally impressive Clos Apalta winery, horseback riding through the vineyards and transportation throughout the valley. For more affordable lodging options, including the Hotel Santa Cruz Plaza in the town of Santa Cruz, contact the offices of Ruta del Vino, which handles wine-related tourism in the valley.
For restaurant meals, consider these spots: Rayuela, located at Viu Manent winery, which specializes in grilled meats and fish; La Casita de Barreales, offering Peruvian-inspired cuisine in a quaint adobe house; and Vino Bello, where Italian dishes are prepared by a Chilean chef who trained in California.
Your next full day starts in Santa Cruz with a visit to the Museo Colchagua. Exhibits here detail Chilean history, from precolonial days through colonialism and modern times. You will see more amber, nautical maps, weapons, tools and machinery than you’d ever imagine existed, and it’s easy to spend hours here.
Dine In Style
If you’re traveling with a group of six or more, you should reserve a daytime “session” with Pilar Rodríguez, a personable and skilled private chef who runs her Food & Wine Studio at Viu Manent (pictured). For a memorable lunch, take part in Rodríguez’s three-hour interactive session. Diners work with the chef to prepare a six-course wine-and-food lunch that incorporates such native Chilean ingredients as merkén (a spice made from ground smoked chilies), quinoa and maracuyá (passion fruit). And, while on the subject of doing it yourself (or at least with a teacher), consider blending your own wine while touring Viña MontGras.
For your final night’s stay, head back toward Santiago and get off the Pan-American Highway just north of San Fernando. Check into Hotel Casa Silva and enjoy dinner overlooking the property’s polo field, where a match or practice session is almost always taking place. On the walls of the restaurant, which also functions as the polo clubhouse, hundreds of photos depict the Silva family and others participating in polo matches and other equine events like the so-called Chilean rodeo. It’s a perfect final taste of the huaso (cowboy) culture that, along with wine, defines life in the Colchagua Valley.