After a recent bout of rain in Santiago, which brought beautiful fresh snow to the surrounding Andes, we have been experiencing some lovely autumn days. Sunny, almost-blue skies (but for the smoggy haze), temperatures in the low 20s, crisp white snow in the mountains, leaves in a range of rustic colours. It is really very pretty.
On one such Friday, Beth and I decided to make a little day trip to the Casablanca valley to visit a couple of wineries. We caught the metro out to Pajaritos, then jumped on a bus bound for Valparaiso. Between us, we have made this trip a number of times now, and are learning all the tricks. The bus doesn’t actually go into Casablanca town but, if you’ve got no luggage, the driver will happily drop you off … on the side of the highway. From the main highway bus stop, you can often find a taxi to get you to your destination however, the driver who apparently owns this pick-up patch is about 80 years old, with a car seemingly as old.
We knew that our first winery was right on the highway, so no need for a taxi, provided we could get the driver to drop us off at exactly the right place and avoid walking a couple of kilometres along a busy highway. Been there, done that! Luckily, our geography is getting a lot better, and I was able to explain to the driver exactly where to stop, and we were safely deposited almost at the gate of our destination, Emiliana.
Emiliana is an organic winery, employing environmentally friendly methods in the vineyard. (Check out their Organic-Biodynamic section on their website. It’s pretty cool.) As we walked up their long driveway, past the post-harvest, naked vines, we saw evidence of many of them – bee boxes for locally produced organic honey, chickens roaming the vines eating bugs, recycling facilities, and a group of alpacas contentedly enjoying their lunch in the sun.
Inside the impressive tasting rooms, we chose the basic tasting with no tour, four wines for CLP 8,000 (about $16). The first of the whites was a reserve Gewurtztraminer from the Adobe line, but with 15% Sauvignon Blanc, resulting in a wine much drier than the usually sweet German style. We then tasted a 100% Novas Grand Reserva Viognier, with delicate apricot flavours, a winner and a purchase for Beth.
The first red was a Novas Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon blend with rich leathery notes and toasty oak, a big red that I quite enjoyed. We then tasted the Coyam, probably Emiliana’s most well-known wine, a blend of six different red grapes, including 1% each of Petit Verdot and Mourvedre. With such a small percentage, it makes me wonder why they bother, but I’m sure the winemaker knows what he’s doing.
I have recently been very interested in some of Chile’s Pinot Noirs, having found a favourite in this same wine region, a fuller bodied toasty Pinot reminiscent of the heavier Mornington Peninsula style from back home. The similar cool climate and ocean breezes of the two regions must certainly be a factor. Our host was kind enough to let me taste their Signos de Origen Pinot, a heavier wine than their Novas line. A smart move, as it’s the wine that made it into my shopping cart!
The winery also offers tastings paired with their own organic chocolates or cheese, or with a couple of days notice, can organise an organic picnic in the pretty grounds. For larger groups, and with more notice, a gourmet buffet lunch can be prepared in the “casona”, with a view over the vineyard.
We took the time to look around the grounds and take some photos from the upstairs vantage point of the tasting rooms before heading off to our next destination.
House, casa de vino, is right next door, a 500 metre walk down the highway. It’s part of the large Belen group of wineries, including labels such as Morandé, Tirazis Syrah, Vistamar, Mandura, and Mendoza-based Zorzal. We had been before for their in-house “vendimia” festival, but had decided to come back and try the restaurant.
We sat outside with a nice view of the autumn trees, the gardens and, of course, the vines in the distance. Beth chose the venison-filled ravioli with roasted cherry tomatoes and red pepper ricotta and, having been on a bit of a Syrah trail lately, chose to pair it with a glass of Vistamar Syrah Cab Sav blend. Being a Melbourne girl, I couldn’t pass on the slow-cooked lamb shoulder, served with a mote risotto, onions and myrtleberries. I stuck with the suggested wine pairing, the Morandé Limited Edition Carignan, a light coloured Spanish varietal very popular in Chile. Both meals were delicious, though I expected a stronger flavour from Beth’s venison, which seemed to be lost in the other flavours of the dish.
As we enjoyed the outdoor setting, we both decided on a second glass of wine. Although not on the wine-by-the-glass menu, we were lucky enough that the restaurant had a bottle of the Morandé Limited Edition 100% Cabernet Franc open, another one of my recently-discovered favourites, and we both opted for that. We decided to skip dessert, and share a small cheese plate instead, which was a nice way to finish the meal.
We spent some time in the wine store, browsing over the other interesting products available in addition to the large variety of wine, and made our purchases before heading back to the highway to catch our bus home.
This part, we know from experience, is much more difficult than the arrival as you have to literally wave down a bus on its way back from Valpo or Viña del Mar and hope that, travelling at 100 kms per hour on a three lane highway, they manage to see you and stop in time. We must have hit almost peak hour, as many buses zoomed past, either ignoring us completely or indicating they were full (or, on one occasion, making much more suggestive gestures!). We walked almost to the closest toll booth, about a kilometre, to where there is an actual bus stop and, eventually, a kind bus driver stopped about 100 metres down the road from us. We delightedly ran to meet the bus, banishing any lingering thoughts of being left on the side of the highway all night.
We hit peak hour traffic coming back into Santiago, which made for a very long trip home, but we eventually made it to Pajaritos for our metro ride home, arriving two very tired girls, armed with a few bottles of wine each, after a pleasant Autumn day out.