Dan and my wine-cation last Thanksgiving unexpectedly took us to Santiago, Chile after visiting Uruguay (mainly because of flight schedules to/from the US). Since we were in Chile, we absolutely had to engage in some Chilean wine touring, especially since we do not drink much Chilean wine. In fact, we really did not know much about Chilean wine at all.
Unknown to us, Chile is home to a number of wine regions, producing both red and white wine, most of which are easy to reach on a day trip from Santiago. We were short on time, so we decided to do a full day trip to the Colchagua Valley, rather than staying a weekend. Located a bit more than two hours south of Santiago, the Colchagua Valley is well-known for big reds, our favorite type of wine. We opted to do a tour with a Chilean company, Uncorked, but you could definitely do some winery visiting and tasting on your own with a car. However, a guided tour makes the entire experience much easier and stressfree.
Our tour started early in the morning, around 8 AM, with a pick up at our hotel. Uncorked emailed us the night before, as promised, to confirm our pick up time. We were the last group to be picked up, so we immediately began the drive to the Colchagua Valley. The roads were surprisingly modern and the drive was quite easy. We made a brief stop at a rest are for coffee and reached our first vineyard around 10:30 AM.
The tour that we booked with Uncorked was semi-private, meaning that we shared our tour with 4 other people, and, since the tour was shared, we did not know in advance which wineries we would be visiting. I was totally surprised and legit elated when our first visit was to a winery that has been on my “to visit” list FOREVER – Lapostolle’s Clos Apalta Residence!! Seriously, I have numerous saved emails from years ago wanting to visit this winery.
Why did I want to visit for so long you may ask? Well, Lapostolle’s Clos Apalta Residence is set on a stunning property and home to an amazing 5 start Relais & Chateaux property (like our Narbona stay). Plus, Clos Apalta and Lapostolle, owned by the same family of Grand Marnier fame, make famously delicious wine. And to back up a bit if anyone is confused, Lapostolle is the main, well-known Chilean wine brand that is owned by the Grand Marnier family. Lapostolle has been making upscale wine in Chile for a long time, and the name is quite well known. Clos Apalta is the even more upscale arm of Lapostolle, and the small amount of Clos Apalta vineyards are set on this exact property. Very exciting for the wine nerd! Our tour started with some pictures on the “bird-cage,” the architectural highlight of the Clos Apalta Residence!
After the bird-cage, we toured Clos Apalta facility, which extends six floors underground, and ended with a tasting of three excellent wines. While we have seen a lot of wineries, this tour was pretty cool because the winery has all of the latest equipment and technology and nothing in this building is short of stunning.
Our tasting took place in the ridiculously gorgeous wine cellar in the basement level of the facility, which is built up against rock to protect it from earthquakes (somewhat unsettling when inside…). Here, we tasted a Lapostolle Sauvignon Blanc, the 2013 Clos Apalta, and a Lapostolle Merlot. The Clos Apalta was by far the best in my opinion, but each glass was really tasty. A lot of people preferred the Sauvignon Blanc.
After our tasting at Lopostolle’s Clos Apalta Residence, we boarded the Uncorked van and drove about 10 minutes to our second stop – Vina Neyen. Neyen describes itself as the “Spirit of Apalta,” and its vineyards are set in the old terraces of the Tinguiririca River. Vina Neyen is home to pre-phylloxera Cabernet Sauvignon vines from France that still produce grapes (!) and Chilean-grown Carmenere, which are paired together to make the famous Neyen wine. Neyen consistently is ranked highly by wine advocate and can be found in the US and in Europe.
In addition to Neyen, Vina Neyen is also associated with Veramonte and Ritual wines, and you can taste those at Neyen, as well. After a stroll through the vineyards, where our Neyen guide pointed out the very, very old vines, we moved inside for a tasting of three wines, the first of which was a 2016 Ritual Sauvignon Blanc from the Casablanca Valley (located West of Santiago). We next tasted a 2011 and 2013 Neyen. Both were excellent, but you could tell that the 2013 could stand to age a bit longer.
After our tasting at Vina Neyen, we moved on to our third stop: lunch Rayuela Wine and Grill.
Rayuela Wine & Grill is a pretty famous lunch stop in the Colchagua Valley and it offers outdoor panoramic views of the surrounding vineyards. We were seated at the cutest outdoor table overlooking the vineyards. Rayuela is run by Viu Manent, so our lunch was paired with its wine.
For lunch, everyone got to choose a starter, main, and dessert. I liked this, as everyone did not have to eat the same dish and it gave individual gets the option to tailor the meal to their taste. For my first course, I went with the gazpacho soup, which turned out to be a “deconstructed” gazpacho soup. The soup was very good, although not exactly what I was expecting, ha! My soup was paired with a glass of Viu Manet Sauvignon Blanc. Dan ordered the ceviche starter, which he seemed to enjoy.
For the main course, Dan and I both ordered the pork spare ribs, which are apparently the specialty of the restaurant. They were huge, quite tasty, and served with a small potato with a bit of chimichurri. The ribs also each came with a side of our choice. I went with the Poor Mans Dish – fries topped with fried onions and a fried egg! This is a common side in Chile and it was certainly interesting to try! Dan opted for another Chilean speciality – creamed corn. Our ribs were paired with a glass of Viu Manent Carmenere.
We ended our meal with an espresso and a Chilenito with lucuma ice cream for desert. The dessert was particularly tasty, and it was great to have lucuma, a fruit very popular in Western South America, again!
Our final stop on the tour was a wine tasting at Viu Manent, just down the road from Rayuela Wine & Grill. Viu Manent has a stunning tasting room overlooking the vineyard. It would be a great place for a wedding! Here, we tasted 7 heavy pours of wine in a short period of time, and due to the tasting, I forgot to take pictures or write down the names…
All in all, we had a great tour and very much enjoyed our day. However, one thing I did not love about Chilean wine tourism is that Chile does not have a wine drinking culture. At least not like that of Italy or France or Portugal. As such, almost all of the wine knowledge comes from foreigners investing in Chile. This certainly makes for some great wines, but it lacked the rawness that I see in some other countries, including Uruguay! A bonus though, almost all Chilean wine is exported to the US and Europe, meaning that you can find your favorites in the US and do not need to worry about brining it back from vacation!
And finally, when touring in the Colchagua Valley, or really anywhere in Chile, bring a hat, a long sleeve shirt to cover up from the sun, and sunscreen. The sun is intense even if it isn’t that hot outside.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Uncorked: We did the full day Colchagua Valley wine tour at $255 USD/person. The tour was all inclusive, including pick up and drop off at hotel, two English-speaking guides, al wine tastings and a large lunch. While expensive, it was worth saving the hassle on a short trip. Book in advance, as the tours are only up 8 people and they do fill up.
Lapostolle’s Clos Apalta Residence: Km 4 Camino Apalta, Valle de Apalta, Santa Cruz. This is the hotel website, with a link to the restaurant website. Contact the hotel directly for booking tours and tastings, which should be booked in advance. You can also book tours and tastings through this third-party online.
Vina Neyen: Tours daily from 10:30 to 17:00 in English and Spanish. Reservations required one day in advance. To book, contact Roxana Diez de Medina C., Mobile: +56 9 8527 4411 or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. I recommend reviewing the offerings on Neyen’s website before book, as they offer a number of tasting options, from the basic 1 hour tour at a cost of $22,000 per person, to a gourmet picnic in the vineyards.
Rayuela Wine and Grill: Carretera del Vino KM 37, Cunaco, VI Region. Open daily for lunch only. Reservations recommended and can be made through WhatsApp: +569 71366147. In addition to the restaurant, there is also a coffee and ice cream shop on site.
Vina Viu Manent: Same location as Rayuela Wine and Grill. We did the classic tasting of seven wines at $14,000 CLP/person. Viu Manent also offers an iconic wine tasting and wine by the glass. To book a tasting, call +56 2 28 40 3181 or email email@example.com.
ON A BUDGET
Chile is one of the more expensive South American countries to visit, right up there with metropolitan Brazil. Other wine regions, such as Mendoza and Uruguay’s Carmelo are much less expensive. If you are in Chile however, spending a weekend in the Colchagua Valley is one way to save money on a pricey day trip. And, the Casablanca Valley, which is famous for its whites, is much closer to Santiago than the Colchagua Valley and is therefore, easier and less expensive to visit. Plus, a lot of tours going to Valparaiso will include a stop to a Casablanca Valley vineyard on the tour.