Recently I had the good fortune to spend 48 hours on the road with wine journalist Amanda Barnes during the Chilean leg of her journey Around the World in 80 Harvests. Our schedule took in three wineries in the San Antonio and Casablanca regions right at the time they were harvesting grapes.

Harvest at Casa Marín
Harvest at Casa Marín

Casa Marín winery is situated so close to the Pacific Ocean you can almost taste the sea air. This part of the San Antonio Valley is famous for its cool, cloudy mornings and the morning we arrived was no different. That, after all, is part of the secret behind Casa Marín’s award-winning white wines. No chance of grapes rushing headlong into maturity here as can happen in warmer, sunnier places.

Felipe Marín and his grape-loving dog
Felipe Marín and his grape-loving dog

Winemaker Felipe Marín talked us through this exceptional terroir as we walked across the cracked clay earth where a team of workers was rhythmically snipping bunches of Gewurztraminer grapes off the neat rows of vines and dropping them gently into plastic boxes. It was very quiet: just the gentle snipping of the grapes and some distant birdsong.

Felipe sighed when we asked about the birds. It seems nobody has as yet found an effective way of keeping a determined flock of birds off a vineyard full of juicy grapes and he said that they always lose a percentage of the crop to the thrushes. I noted that the vines had another, less common predator too: one of the winery dogs kept sloping off to steal grapes from the vines whenever Felipe wasn’t looking.

We spent a couple of hours with Felipe, while Amanda asked detailed questions about the region, climate, the vineyard and its soils, viticultural practices and the resulting wines, a detailed interview she repeated with the winemakers at each of the three wineries.

Amanda says that she’s developing a comprehensive database of information about soils, climate, grape varieties, pests and diseases, pruning, training and irrigation systems and so on for each of the 80 regions around the world that she plans to visit.

“Believe it or not, there is no one place where you can find all this information at the moment,” Amanda explains. “I looked everywhere when I started planning my journey and it’s amazingly hard work to find out information like the harvest dates in different regions.  So my idea is to develop a tool which will be useful to people in the industry, wine students and anyone with an interest in the world of wine.”

Amanda recording the harvest at Matetic
Amanda recording the harvest at Matetic

The sun came out as we reached our next stop: the immaculate biodynamic estate of Matetic, so large it falls into both the San Antonio and Casablanca regions. Here we got the full red carpet treatment – clearly they were aware that Amanda is a rising star in wine journalism, and they were certainly enthusiastic about her 80 harvests project. We were met by Constanza Moya, the winery’s Tourism Commercial Director, who took us to see the team harvesting Sauvignon Blanc grapes nearby. Then we talked about wine tourism – something Matetic takes very seriously – over a delicious salad on the terrace.

Amanda at Matetic
Amanda asks about the winemaking process
Julio Bastías shows us the freshly harvested grapes
Julio Bastías shows us the freshly harvested grapes

We had twenty minutes to check into our perfectly appointed rooms in the winery’s luxury hotel, the Casona, before heading out for the 15-minute drive to the winery’s cellar. Amanda did an extra speedy interview with the busy head winemaker, Julio Bastías, and then he took us on a whistle-stop tour of the winery. Julio showed us some grapes that had just arrived in perfect condition. Then we were able to try some of this year’s wines straight from the tank prior to jumping in his truck for the drive back to the hotel. A few minutes into the journey, he stopped the car and ran across the road to hack at a section of exposed rock with a small hammer. He wanted to show us some of the rocks that form part of the soils in this area: feldspar, tuff and granite.

We had a scant hour and a half in which to type up our notes from the day and freshen up, then it was a private dinner in the company of Matetic’s chef and head waiter, who served up a series of exquisite dishes, each accompanied by one of Matetic’s wines. Amanda somehow summoned the energy to record a video interview with our chef in between the main course and the dessert.

We were both up early next morning – I needed to kick-start my day with a few litres of strong, black coffee – and Amanda, of course, wanted to snap some photos of the vineyards shrouded in the characteristic morning mist for which this cool climate region is famous.

We hit the road again around 10 am and the sun had already burned through the fog by the time we reached Bodegas Re, the small, innovative Casablanca Valley winery owned by Pablo Morandé and his family. We were met by Pablo Morandé junior, who fortunately brought some more coffee.  Amanda may have been still fresh as a daisy, but I was feeling the effects of this fast-paced trip, the heavy meal and late night.

Amanda and Pablo set up the tasting
Amanda and Pablo set up the tasting in the cellar

After the formal interview, we spent a while tasting two of the winery’s most interesting wines – their brand new, highly aromatic orange wine Enredo and the very easy-drinking limited edition Recolección – and chatting to Pablo about Chile’s wine industry and the future of the Casablanca Valley.

Then it was time for me to head home, while Amanda drove southward to experience the harvest at Cono Sur. It had been a pleasant break from the routine and a privileged opportunity to see the grapes being harvested and talk with the winemakers. I look forward to reading about Amanda’s further travels on her website.

Amanda Barnes is a wine journalist who has been based in South America for the last seven years, writing for the likes of Decanter, The Drinks Business, The Telegraph, The Guardian, Fodor’s Travel Guides, and Wines of Chile. She has been on the road with 80 harvests since February, visiting wineries across South America and recording their harvests in photos, on video and in words. To find out more about the places she has been visiting, check out her website.

More information about the wineries visited:

If you’re a foodie like me, trying the local cuisine is often one of the high points of visiting another country. I’ve often felt that my visit would be enhanced if a local person could show me round the local market and explain to me how some of the local dishes are made.  I was therefore delighted to learn that there are cooking classes for tourists in Valparaíso and I recently went along to check it out.

Preparing the Pisco Sour
Preparing the Pisco Sour

Australian Martin Turner and his Chilean wife, Lissette, ran a very successful bed and breakfast in Valparaíso for several years and often heard visitors comment that they would have loved to do a cookery class to learn how to make Chilean dishes. So, in early 2010, they launched Chilean Cuisine Cooking Classes.

The school has been a big success and now employs three teacher chefs, a sommelier, as well as cleaning staff. There are classes every day and it’s possible to book even at the last minute.

The concept is simple – people visiting Valparaíso spend a few hours in a small group preparing a few typical Chilean dishes, which they share in a convivial atmosphere, accompanied by Chilean wine. The classes are designed to be fun and hands-on and are usually in English, though Spanish, German and French are options and, from next year, classes will be available in Mandarin too. They also offer a number of bespoke classes, as well as a tour to visit wineries in the Casablanca Valley combined with a cooking class.

“We love to meet people and see them enjoying Chilean Cuisine, the wonderful local wine and learning about Chile´s culture as they chat over dinner and share stories. We are very proud of each of our small team” who “help show some of the best of Chile`s traditional gastronomy to visitors from all around the world,” Martin explains.

Chef Carolina explains how to prepare the fish
Chef Carolina explains how to prepare the fish

My class was on a cloudy Thursday outside of the main tourist season, so I thought there would just be a couple of us. In fact I was one of 12, an eclectic mix of 3 men and 9 women of different ages and walks of life from the USA, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Colombia, Switzerland and Germany.

We met our teacher, chef Carolina, outside a café in Valparaíso’s historic square Plaza Sotomayor at 10 a.m. We took a bus together to the local market, where Carolina explained the menu options and we agreed what we were going to cook. Then we all went shopping together. Another bus ride and a walk uphill with our purchases and we were in the kitchen. A large table had already been set up with a chef’s hat and apron in the colours of the Chilean flag, together with a chopping board and kitchen knives for each participant. Everyone washed their hands and the work began.

Every class prepares the Chilean cocktail pisco sour, as well as the Chilean meat pasties known as empanadas and pebre, the classic salsa dish to be found on every restaurant table. Then there is the group’s choice of starter, main course and dessert.

Everyone hard at work
Everyone hard at work

Our group decided to make ceviche, where finely chopped filleted fish is cooked in lemon juice and served with diced onion and pepper. Next came a classic Chilean comfort dish, charquicán, a vegetable and minced beef stew. The final dish was the most fiddly, leche asada, Chile’s version of a crème caramel. The secret is getting the caramel right – it’s easy to burn it – and petite German travel agent Karen did a sterling job.


We split into small teams, each responsible for a particular task or dish and for the next couple of hours we were all busy chopping ingredients and preparing the different dishes. By the time we sat down to eat our lunch, it was almost 3 p.m.; the wine was flowing, conversation in full swing and everyone had a very healthy appetite.

The group was in good spirits following their class and there was a general sense that this had been a special experience in their travels around South America.  Chilean Cuisine provided a deft finishing touch by emailing us all a booklet with all the recipes a few days later.  I wonder if anyone will try the recipes when they get home…


More information:

Chardonnay 2Not a fan of Chardonnay? Tried it a couple of times and found it not to your taste? I’d like to suggest giving this chameleon grape a second look, so here are 5 reasons for rediscovering Chardonnay.

Glass of wine1) There’s a style to suit everyone.

Like your wine dry and fruity with crisp acidity? Perhaps with some citrus aromas? Before you grab a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, why not give an unoaked Chardonnay from a cool climate region a try?  You may be surprised by those fresh lemon and green apple notes and its zesty acidity.  Or if it’s from a slightly warmer region, it will still be refreshing but may remind you of more tropical fruits, like pineapples and mango or passionfruit.

Check out Ventisquero Kalfu Kuda (Leyda Valley) for a fresh, fruity Chardonnay for sipping on the terrace, which offers a lovely combination of citrus and more tropical fruit aromas.

Like some fresh, fruity acidity but would prefer it had a little more body and a smooth texture? A Chardonnay with a little bit of oak might just strike the right balance.

Check out: Quintay Gran Reserva Chardonnay (Casablanca Valley) for a well-balanced wine with refreshing acidity and a pleasant, silky mouthfeel with some herbal notes among the fruit.

Or Kingston Family Vineyards, Sabino Chardonnay (Casablanca Valley) with its lovely aromas of tropical fruit , together with pears and a herbal hint. Very nice example of Chardonnay, beautifully rounded and silky with just a hint of sweetness.

Looking for a complex white wine to knock your socks off? Well, you’ve got it!  Some winemakers go to town and give their Chardonnay every treatment in the book – fermentation in oak to give it sweet spicy aromas, malolactic fermentation to turn the sharp malic acid into softer-tasting lactic acid and add notes of butterscotch, and stirring up the yeast during the process – known as lees stirring – to make it feel creamy in your mouth.

Chardonnay is one of the classic Champagne grapes
Chardonnay is one of the classic Champagne grapes

2) It comes in many guises.

This is a chameleon grape. Mention Chardonnay and you could be forgiven for thinking dry white wine. But let’s not forget that Chardonnay is one of the top grapes for Champagne and sparkling wine production. Often blended with one or both of the other Champagne grapes, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, it contributes acidity, light, elegant body and citrus and green fruit to your glass of sparkling.

And did you know that there are some quite outstanding sweet Chardonnay wines out there? A few wineries make late harvest wines with grapes picked very late in the season, when all the other grapes have long been harvested. They are picked late as the longer they are left hanging on the vines, the more concentrated and sweet their flavours. In some countries, these late harvest grapes are affected by botrytis, lending them complex aromas and flavours.

salmon fillet, crushed potatoes and asparagus
Chardonnay would be a good bet with pan-fried salmon fillet, crushed potatoes and asparagus

3) It’s food-friendly.

Clearly Chardonnay has pretty much got your whole meal covered: sparkling wine with the appetizers, dry white wine with your main course and a Late Harvest wine with dessert!

OK, perhaps that’s a bit over-simplistic, but this is a very food-friendly wine which will pair with quite a range of different dishes. Here are a couple of food pairing suggestions:

  • A dry, unoaked Chardonnay is a lovely appetizer or will pair well with seafood or salad with a citrus sauce.
  • A more creamy and full-bodied Chardonnay will go perfectly with fish in a creamy sauce, a chicken dish or vegetables au gratin.
How about trying an oaked Chardonnay with your fish and chips?
How about trying an oaked Chardonnay with your fish and chips?

4) A cosmopolitan variety.

This is one of the world’s favourite grapes, with at least a few vines planted in virtually every country with a wine industry. Viticulturists love it as it is a relatively unfussy variety to grow. Winemakers adore it because it will respond well to pretty much any technique that takes their fancy. And millions of wine drinkers around the world are happy to sip a glass of Chardonnay in one or another of its many guises. So could you be missing out on a delicious drink?

5) Variety is the spice of life.

Why content yourself with always drinking the same type or style of wine when there are so many different grapes and styles to choose from? How about treating yourself to something different next time you’re buying wine?

A group of us here in Chile recently got together to taste a range of Chardonnays from Chile and other countries. Click here to see our findings.

If you’d like some further inspiration, check out these posts:

Tour review: Casas del Bosque

Casas del Bosque wine tasting

Casablanca winery visits: Quintay

Casablanca winery visits: Kingston

And if you liked the look of the grilled salmon and chilote potatoes dish, check out the recipe here.

Chardonnay tastingAn international group of women winelovers recently got together in two separate sessions in Santiago and Concón, Chile, to check out a range of Chardonnays and see how Chilean Chardonnays compare to those from other countries. These were the findings from our Chardonnay tasting:

1) Two wines from Chablis in Burgundy, which is famed for producing unoaked, austere and mineral Chardonnays.

Samuel Billaud, Les Grands Terroirs, 2014

A pale lemon in colour, this wine has aromas of green apples, peaches, nectarines and a touch of citrus and a marked minerality. This is a dry, refreshing wine with zesty acidity and that enticing blend of minerals and fruit are apparent again in the mouth.

Jean Paul Droin, Premier Cru Vaillons, 2012

As with the other Chablis, this wine was a pale lemon colour and had that intriguing mix of minerality (almost chalky notes) combined with aromas of stone fruit (peaches and nectarines) and melon. There was also a floral note on the nose.  This too was a dry, refreshing wine, a little less austere and with more intense flavours than the Samuel Billaud. The stone fruit and melon came through and the minerality was even more apparent.

Tasting time2) The big guns: oaked styles from Burgundy and California

Chateau de Puligny Montrachet, Les Sous Roches, 2010, Saint Romain, Côte de Beaune, Burgundy

Much more golden in colour than the unoaked wines, this wine had a pronounced and complex nose with notes of malolactic fermentation (butter, butterscotch, hazelnut) and ageing (hazelnut, honey, syrup). This was a lovely, well-balanced and complex dry wine with medium acidity and medium body.

Don Miguel Vineyard, Marimar Chardonnay, 2010, Russian River Valley, California

Also a beautiful golden colour, this wine had pronounced and complex notes from the oak (vanilla), the malolactic fermentation (toffee, hazelnuts, caramel) and the ageing (biscuit, tar, petrol, hazelnuts, honey). This was a dry wine with medium acidity and full body. Flavourful, like a liquid pudding – think banana split with vanilla-infused caramel sauce and hazelnuts! A delicious, very full-on wine for enjoying with food.

3) Three Chilean wines with varying levels of oak

Quintay Clava, Casablanca Valley – no oak

This was the exact same shade of pale lemon as the Chablis. This wine was much fruitier than the Chablis, with some citrus (lemon) and a more tropical fruit profile (pineapple, melon) but without the minerality. A nice, dry, fruity wine, simple in style with the tropical fruit (pineapple, melon) again apparent in the mouth.

William Fevre Espino, 2014, Maipo Valley – lightly oaked

This wine was slightly more golden in colour and featured clear aromas of green apple. In the mouth, it was dry, with medium acidity and medium body. The wine had a nice texture – the oak influence showed in a smoother, more rounded mouthfeel compared to the unoaked varieties. The green apple came through again in the mouth.  Very pleasant.

Domaine Raab Ramsay Chardonnay, Marga Marga Valley – lees, MLF and oak

Much more golden in colour, this wine had a pronounced and complex nose with tropical fruit aromas (bananas, pineapple), a creamy, yogurt influence from lees stirring, hints of caramel and nuts from the malolactic fermentation and some savoury notes from the ageing process. A very interesting wine from this small, organic producer.

Check out this article to find out 5 reasons for rediscovering Chardonnay.

Want to find out about some of the Chilean wineries producing Chardonnay? Click these links for visit reports:

Tour review: Casas del Bosque

Casas del Bosque wine tasting

Casablanca winery visits: Quintay

Casablanca winery visits: Kingston

Vines at Emiliana
Vines in the Casablanca Valley, Chile