Welcome to my tales of cookery school, food and travel

The first 30+ posts of this blog describe my experiences as I complete a nine month cooking course - the City and Guilds Diploma in Food Preparation and Culinary Art. I did this after I moved out of full time employment and it was purely selfish - I love food, cooking, eating and drinking. Subsequent posts are about, food, travel and adventures.

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Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Oh what a different world it is to go wine tasting in Chile.

Typically the experience of vineyard visits and wine tasting in Chile could not be more different from what we do in New Zealand.  However before we encounter that experience we find a slice of New Zealand in the Casablanca Valley about 45 minutes west of Santiago. 

Here we have arranged to meet Grant Phelps, a NZ winemaker who has been in Chile for 14 years and is Chief Winemaker at Vina Casa del Bosque. It´s a great visit and Grant shows us all over the property and fills us in on Chilean viticulture, vineyard management, grape varietals and winemaking.  This is one of the few places in Chile where the climate is suitable for Sauvignon Blanc, but Grant is at pains to point out he makes a Sauvignon that is not in the New Zealand style.

Viña Casas del Bosque in the Casablanca Valley
He is a friendly and colourful character and we spend some time tasting from tanks and barrels before we sit down to a delicious lunch in the vineyard restaurant.  

From Casablanca we drive three hours south to Santa Cruz in the Colchagua Valley, a much bigger winegrowing area than Casablanca. It is here our visits become more typical and more formal. There's no rocking up when the mood or road takes you. You make an appointment. On arrival at the vineyard you stop at the imposing gates (closed). A self important man in a uniform struggles to understand your version of Spanglish (unless you have arrived with a guide), eventually checks your name against his list and grants entry.  For this area we hire a driver and guide who arrange the appointments and smooth the way.

At each winery everything is already set up for your visit: shiny glassware at the ready, and a well schooled young man or woman to take  you through a guided tasting.  In all cases we are given personalised service - labour is cheaper here than in New Zeland!  All of the hosts we meet speak excellent English, specialise in wine tourism, and are incredibly knowledgable about their winery´s vineyard and winemaking practises. Post tasting they relieve you of anything between $10 and $40 per person (that's not a misprint) and send you on your (slightly more) merry way.  Well, we do use spitoons but some wine is bound to find its way down your throat!

The expensive tasting is at the most spectacular and interesting winery, Lapostelle, in the Colchagua Valley about two and a half hours south east of Santiago.  The owners are the French family Marnier Lapostelle, as in Grand Marnier, and while the total production is massive, their top tier label, Clos Apalta, is totally (and you might think excessively) biodynamic. This is seriously over the top. The individual grapes are hand picked off each bunch by 60 virgins.  Well maybe not virgins, but 60 local women. After this, every process is designed to minimise air contact and handling. There are no pumps - everything is moved by gravity and the winery, dug down into the hillside, is designed on seven levels to facilitate the process.

The internal staircase at Lapostelle in the Colchagua Valley

The whole winery is a beautiful piece of architecture and engineering, and the two barrel rooms are the most elegant I have ever seen. I strongly recommend checking the website and taking a virtual tour - the family wine library, which we only saw from above, looks spectacular. It gives a great look at the scale and level of detail involved.

I find biodynamics all a bit woo-woo and I don't believe many people will pay the extra cost -  the Apalta labels are well into the hundreds of dollars, but it was interesting to see how far people with strong beliefs - and the money to back them up - will go.

All of the wineries we visit seem to have money to spend both on the public buildings and on the infrastructure - equipment, tanks, barrel rooms.  The number of wineries in Chile has grown from 12 in 1995 to over 70 in 2005, so it is still relatively young.  Generally French varietals reign and for us the introduction to Carmenère was an eyeopener - an early drinking (early as in young, not so much early in the day, but suit yourself) lighter style red. If you see Chilean Carmenere on the shelf, give it a chance and see what you think.

Off over the Andes to Argentina now. Stay tuned. 

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