Sommelier's Choice: Three Handpicked Wines from Chile's Casablanca Valley
"¿Si a Chile vino y no toma vino, a que vino?"
Spend enough time in Santiago's wine bars and tasting rooms, and sooner or later, a local will ask you his favorite rhetorical question (essentially: "If you don't drink wine, what are you doing in Chile?").
Of course, there are excellent reasons to visit Chile that don't involve vino. But with spoils of pristine vineyards in tantalizing proximity, Santiago has a wine connection totally unique among Latin American capitals. Drive a couple of hours from your city hotel in almost any direction. You'll probably end up in a field of Carménère.
In other words, wine country is simply too close not to go—even if you're pressed for time. Take it from a Santiaguina sommelier. The real challenge, in Carolina's opinion, is narrowing down the long menu of gorgeous wine valleys. For tasters on a tight schedule, Casablanca is always at the top of her list. Just 45 minutes west of Santiago, the cool coastal valley makes for a delicious (and totally doable) day trip. Especially when you have a somm to curate your itinerary of refreshing whites nourished by marine mists.
We asked Carolina for a palate primer (just to tide us over until our next wine-fueled Chilean jaunt). Here are three pours that offer a bright, balanced first taste of Casablanca.
1. Veramonte: Ritual Sauvignon Blanc
"Sauvignon Blanc is Casablanca's star varietal," says Carolina, "and this organic one from Veramonte is exemplary: a crisp, mineral wine with fresh acidity and notes of pineapple and lime."
Pairing notes: "Machas a la Parmesana (parmesan-baked razor clams) are a favorite Chilean appetizer—super traditional—and a glass of local Sauvignon Blanc really makes it sing," says Carolina. "I happen to love this wine with oysters, too."
Veramonte; Route 68, km 66 s/n
2. Loma Larga: Lomas del Valle Chardonnay
"For many people, Casablanca is synonymous with Sauvignon Blanc, but Chardonnay is actually the most planted varietal," says Carolina. "Formerly over-oaked to satisfy foreign demand, now Casablanca Chardonnays are nearly oak-free." The result? A purer expression of the region's coastal terroir. "We're so close to the Pacific you can taste it!"
Pairing notes: "This Chardonnay pairs beautifully with local queso mantecoso, a butter-yellow soft cheese with a mild, yoghurt-like flavor. We use it for everything from sandwiches to pizza," says Carolina. "Be sure to ask for a sample at Loma Larga."
Pro tip: "Loma Larga happens to produce fantastic cool-climate reds; don't drive away without trying their lovely Malbec and Cabernet Franc."
Loma Larga Vineyards; Camino Lo Ovalle, km 2.8
3. Bodegas RE: Syranoir
"This fascinating boutique winery is the passion project of celebrity winemaker Pablo Morandé," says Carolina (hint: he basically discovered Casablanca back in the '80's). "Now semi-retired but still innovating, he's using old-school techniques to produce new-school blends like this surprising Pinot Noir-Syrah. Like all of his wines, it's aged in traditional earthen vessels."
Pairing notes: "Try this wine with a side of RE's addictive Kobe beef jerky!"
Pro tip: Bodegas RE also makes beautiful olive oil and balsamic vinegar, as well as Carolina's favorite heritage fruit liqueurs.
Bodegas RE; Camino Lo Ovalle, km 1