Wine tourism in Chile is, as the concept suggests, about two things: wine and tourism. While there’s no shortage of phenomenal Chilean wines waiting to be discovered, my recent tour of Chilean wineries was a success not because of the standout bottles of wine I sampled, but my holistic experience of visiting Chile to explore their wine regions. I wanted to share my favorite experiences from my tour of Chile, particularly my memories of drinking, eating and relaxing in some of the nicest places I’ve ever visited.
My girlfriend Lori and I flew into Santiago, but immediately transferred to La Serena, three hundred miles north. After a slight problem with our luggage, we went east from La Serena, towards the Andes and the Elqui Valley. While Elqui has been a producer of grapes used in pisco for a long time, it’s a relatively new front in Chilean wine making. Going to Elqui Valley was a great decision – people in the valley were surprised that American wine tourists had thought to come so far beyond the traditional valleys and people everywhere else were impressed that we had broken the mold with a stop in Elqui Valley.
Beyond improving our reputations, the experience in Elqui Valley set the tone for our entire trip. The very first winery we visited was also the smallest: Cavas del Valle. An organic winery, Cavas del Valle produces all of their wines in a single room and ages them in a small cellar in the next door. Our 9 a.m. tour was quick, but included some really interesting wines. Unfortunately they don’t export to the US, but their Syrah Gran Reserva and Cosecha Otoal, a late harvest wine made with pink muscatel grapes, are almost worth the trip to Chile on their own.
The real reason I wanted to go Elqui Valley, though, wasn’t wineries like Cavas del Valle or Falernia. No, the real reason was I wanted to see some stars. No, I don’t mean Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral, though we did visit her museum in Vicua. I mean the incredible night sky. The Elqui Valley’s elevation and lack of light pollution make it one of the best spots on the globe to see constellations. In fact, some of the most important research telescopes in the world line the ridges of the Elqui Valley. We visited Mamalluca Observatory, which is geared for tourists, and got to see the wonder of our universe first hand. To take further advantage of the beautiful night sky, while we were in the valley we stayed at a hotel, Elqui Domos, whose unique geodesic domes opened in the top and allowed us to view the night sky from the warmth of our bed.
My favorite winery tour came the day we left the Elqui Valley, flew back to Santiago, and drove north again to the Aconcagua Valley to Errazuriz. Sure, this was because four of my ten favorite wines from the trip were made by Errazuriz. But the wine was just part of the winery tour – their history, their design, their food, and their staff made it a success. We started with a four-course meal on the patio outside the main building, which includes their bottle storage, blending, facility, and some cellar space. The food was typically phenomenal and each course was paired with a new wine. What made the lunch memorable, though, was the view.
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