Monday, June 7, 2010

February is Summer in Chile - On Tour with the Tutty´s

Summertime wine touring in Chile

February is a wonderful month here in South America, as it is summer! The city of Santiago is empty of traffic as everyone is on holiday at the beach. This was the perfect time and place to start the ¨South American experience¨ for Lynda and Lester Tutty. My fellow Canadians landed at Arturo Merino Benitez Airport on February 1, 2010 to spend the beginning of their two month travels with me, Natascha and VM Elite Viajes. Our ten day visit of the wine regions of Chile and Argentina were focused on the Maipo Valley, near Santiago, the Colchagua Valley approximately two hours to the south and the Province of Mendoza, Argentina to end the tour.

Our first days were spent in Santiago, getting over jet lag and visiting the local sights. We had some chances to dine in some more modern restaurants while we enjoyed Chilean cuisine. Our travels south took us to Pirque, in the Valle de Maipo and Concha Y Toro vineyard. After our tour to visit the Devil himself in the cellar, we had a nice lunch on the patio before heading south on Ruta 5 Sur. Upon arriving in Santa Cruz, we checked into the Posada Colchagua in nearby Isla de Yáquil. We were hosted by the lovely Leonor who has constructed the ten room guesthouse by herself from scratch. The grounds are lovely with a pool and terrace, we stayed home one night just to have a picnic and enjoy the tranquility of the location. In the Colchagua Valley we also visited the Bisquertt Winery with their collection of all things Huaso or ¨from the country¨. The collection of Carriages, the wine taste with the rustic high backed chairs and the exquisite meal at Q Clay Restaurant with wine pairing made the visit special.

In the morning we visited the Clos Apalta Vineyard buried 35 metres in the granite hillside. We had our tasting deep in the heart of the barrel shaped building in the bodega, what a neat spot! On the same day´s afternoon, after visiting Santa Cruz town we were off to the newly planted Lolol Valley we toured the Bodega Hacienda Araucano. Gabrielle hosted us for a lovely tasting of their range of wines. The view from the Hacienda of the Lolol Valley is really special, in winter mornings there is a white fog or cloud that settles in the valley from the Pacific, so they have named their premium range of wines Humo Blanco as an expression of their unique vista.

Our next few days were spent at the beach in Viña del Mar. After a visit to the Pablo Neruda House in Isla Negra, we checked in to the Cap Ducal Hotel, the ship on the water. This hotel is an icon of Viña and has been around since the 1930´s. Viña del Mar and Valparaiso are where we encountered the people on their summer holidays taking advantage of the beach culture. Lester and Lynda were fortunate to meet up with some fellow Canadians for a visit at the beach, a pleasant surprise! In Valparaiso we climbed the hills with the help of the Funicular as it is easier than getting lost in the steep and narrow streets on the hillside! We visited the port and went for a boat ride around the harbour – we even saw a big sea lion bathing in the sun in the middle of the Cargo & Armada ships and the visiting French Fleet!

From the Pacific Coast we drove straight east through the Casablanca Valley, the most well known white wine growing region of Chile. Unfortunately there was no stopping as we were headed for Argentina - straight across Chile! This crossing of the nation took only three hours… and finally we reached the Argentine border at Los Libertadores Pass to cross over into Mendoza province. This drive is lovely – and exciting! There are 30 switchbacks up to the pass summit and if you look closely you can see the summit of Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Andes. On the Argentine descent the mountains change colour to a beautiful purple and the highway takes you past the oasis of Uspallata and the Mendoza reservoir, a crystal clear blue colour.

Our lodging was in Chacras de Coria at the Parador del Angel. Here we took full advantage of the tranquil treed suburb, the pool and a nice massage! The location is perfect for tranquility but also there are hip little cafes and restaurants where locals and tourists alike spend the long evenings relaxing. One evening we had the pleasure of bumping into the winemaker from Hacienda Araucano, a winery that we had visited in Chile! Luca had crossed the border to help with the earlier harvest of their sister Lurton Winery in the Valle de Uco. We were lucky to sit and have a meal with the inventor of some nice wines that we had had the pleasure of tasting a few days before, what’s more, in another country!

The towns south of Mendoza are in the heart of the wine growing region, we visited the nearby Weinert Winery with winemaker Hubert Weber. Hubert gave us such a good tour that we were convinced to visit his other project, Tapaus Distillery. This modern yet naturally designed ¨spirit¨ bodega makes everything from sweet liquors to firewater made from the skins and seeds of grapes, a kind of Mendocino grappa! After a full day of tasting and visiting we were ready for some rest and shade in the comfort of the Posada. The next day we continued our wine touring at a smaller winery called Mairena. We were met by the lovely wife and daughter of the winemaker. This winery received the Wine Spectator’s Prize for the best straight Bonarda Varietal wine in 2003. What a treat! With the Tutty´s we experienced a few exciting varietals native to Argentina, Bonardas and Te from Mendoza and Torrontés from Cafayate in the north. Our visit to Argentina terminated with a visit to Mendoza city and a dinner at the Bodega Francis Mallmann, one of the oldest bodegas in the Mendoza region. This location is very hard to find but once arrived it was a lovely way to spend a hot summer night on the terrace with great food and exquisite wines. I am very contented to reflect on my summer tour with the Les and Lynda Tutty. Upon our return to Chile and their continuation of their trek across South America, I felt a loneliness that one can only feel when they are missing a family member. Thanks Lynda and Les for ten days of laughter, pic-nics and vino!

Next blog post: Earthquake!!!



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