This week we’ll examine one of the most remote places in the world of wine, a beautiful area that captured my imagination from the first time I saw it. It provides a study in how an area’s geographical features affect its vineyards and the wines they yield.
Those of you in Northwest Arkansas who can’t catch my Wednesday morning radio show, “Let’s Eat” at 8:30 a.m. on KABF 88.3 FM in Little Rock, can find information about different parts of the world on my webpage, www.brucecochran.com under the Let’s Eat button. You’ll find plenty of recipes and information. This week Tuscany and Florence are the topics. I know a lot of you are making travel plans for the coming year, and this is one of the most popular destinations in the world for American travelers. So, I’m giving you specific restaurant, hotel, villa and winery recommendations, driving times and more. I get a lot of questions about this, and since there are too many of us now for me to answer specific requests, here’s a chance for you find out some of my favorite places!
Taste something good this week,
Chile is a long way from the U.S., but they sure do sell a lot of wine. Most of it is neither bulk wine nor super-expensive, ranging from under $10 a bottle to around $20.
One key to their success is that they grow what we grow—cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc—grapes originally from France. In fact, when those grapes were first taken from their Old World roots to the New World (the Americas, Chile actually got them before California did.
Chile is a long, skinny country on South America’s Pacific Coast, nestled between the Andes Mountains and the ocean. I think of it as California in the rear view mirror. Its capital, Santiago, is about as far south of the equator as Monterey, California is north. And that’s where their wine country begins.
Rivers flowing across from the Andes to the ocean have formed a ladder-like series of valleys from just outside Santiago to about 150 miles south. As in California, the better vineyards tend to be in the foothills.
North of Santiago is a region called Aconcagua, named for the highest peak in the Andes. In fact, at 23,000 feet in elevation it’s the tallest mountain in the Western Hemisphere. Cold breezes flow down the mountain at night, cooling the foothills vineyards. The climate is further defined by the driest desert in the world, the Atacama, which lies to its north. The vineyards are irrigated from the pure waters of the snowmelt from the mountaintop glaciers.
When I take groups to Chile and Argentina we drive through this area on our way over the shoulder of Mt. Aconcagua to Argentina on the other side. It’s a thrilling drive that provides a look at this remote corner of the world–the world’s largest ocean to the west, its driest desert to the north and the highest mountain outside the Himalayas to its east.
Most of the Chilean wine available here has been from the larger areas south of Santiago, so I recently imported some from Aconcagua. It’s called Conde de Velasquez (named for a 15th century Spanish conquistador), made by a winery named San Esteban.
I suggest we “just say Conde” since the name is a little long. As with many wines from this part of the world the vines are ungrafted (a topic we’ll discuss on another day), and grown organically. I imported a few varieties, but my current favorite is the Syrah. I think the warm days and cool nights, along with minerals from the rocky vineyards, account for the deep color and vibrant, berry-like flavors. In style it’s similar to California’s Central Coast, but perhaps not quite as heavy. Best of all, it retails for under $10. A dollar still goes a long way in Chile.