Ryan Chartrand

As we start our way into the valley, my friends and I start looking for a place to rest and grab some grub. Hillary, myself, and the rest of the gang end up in this amazing, quaint little cafe. The wine is great, the food is great, outside it’s a beautiful Californian landscape.

We arrange for a wine tour from an extremely friendly born and bred New Yorker. He assures us we will have a wonderful wine tasting adventure in the valley. The Napa Valley, right? Wrong; it’s the Maipo Valley, Chile. My adventures last spring lead me and several friends down south. Yeah, not Los Angeles – think different hemispheres.

As we hopped into the van, I started to look around. I got this eerie feeling that I was not more than 5,000 miles away but that I was on my way to Olive Garden in Santa Maria. On the side of the highway, the plants, the trees, everything reminded me of home. As we arrived, the guide showed us into a state-of-the-art wine facility.

My mind immediately flashed back to memories (or lack thereof) exclusive to the Vines to Wines Napa Trip I took some time ago. I looked around and saw steel fermenting tanks from floor to ceiling. There were even intricate cat walks leading up to the giant ones. Complete with huge hauling trucks, bladder presses and crushers, de-stemming machines, I felt like I was taking a tour of the grand-scale Mondavi winery.

We got down to the cellar, and low and behold, it was a hollowed-out foundation filled with shotcrete. Did I come to Eberly in Paso Robles? Why the San Luis Obispo d‚j… vu?

San Luis Obispo County and Santiago, Chile have two things in common. One, the amazing wine; two, matching longitudes (between 34-35 degrees). While they occupy opposite hemispheres from the equator, the longitudes are spot on. What does this mean? We have Paso Robles and even Napa Valley quality wines being produced in Chile and imported to our store shelf for half the price.

Chile runs with the motto: Nice guys finish last.

The history of Chile is steeped deeply in wine cultivation. Shortly after the early 1500s, when the Conquistadors (aka dudes with guns) invaded, the indigenous Chileans were forced to plant vineyards for the Spanish priests. Good wine, albeit forced wine. So Chile is making this great wine and England and France roll up and start exporting massively.

Then what happens? In the 1830s, a nasty little microscopic bug, phylloxera, destroys the European vineyards, and who are they looking for to ride up on a gallant white steed?

Duh! Well, Chile, being this nice guy, obliges. Granted, the country was most likely forced into this kind deed, due to its deep traditions of colonialism, just humor me here.

What’s more, before the outbreak, French viticulturists sailed to Chile to transplant original vines from France, preserving them in Chile for the posterity of future wine drinkers the world over.

The point is, Chile has been Europe’s little wine hookup and saving grace for centuries. But enough is enough; Chile could only take so much. Chile needed to move on.

So it packed up and shipped off; wine that is. Exports in the millions. During the 1980s, Chile began tweaking and engineering its wine to start making waves in the international wine market. By the 1990s, Chile began receiving recognition worldwide.

Chilean Carmenere, I discovered on my trip, is the only existing original Carmenere in the world. This, of course, is because in Europe, post-pyhlloxera, viticulturists were forced to use different roots to graft the Carmenere; (stopping the bugs), so Chile equals original grape, France – not so much.

Chile is an isolated country that borders a dessert from the north, the Andes from the east, the great Pacific Ocean from the west and Antarctica from the south. So essentially, they are almost their own island and never need to worry about pesky little phylloxera.

Renowned wines that come from Chile include Carmenere, Cabernet Sauviginon and Chardonnay. Other honorable mentions include Merlot and Rieslings.

Picking the crŠme de la crŠme for my faithful readers, I have selected for you a young and vivacious Carmenera, back to back with a smooth operator, the Cabernet Sauvignon.

The first is Panilonco 2005 Carmenera ($3.99, Trader Joe’s), a young, spicy, rich wine with killer legs and an amazing complexion. The second, Casillero del Diablo 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon ($6.99, Trader Joe’s), is a seductive, intoxicating, mature red that smells of cherries and chocolate. This one will give you a run for your money!

I would pair these two wines with good quality cheeses and fruit. They expect nothing less. And like most women, these wine really react favorably to steak dinners. Do go and explore the Chilean wine scene and make sure you grab some hot Chilean beauties to take home with you tonight!

Lauren Jeter is a 2005 wine and viticulture graduate and is pursuing a master’s degree in agribusiness.

Feel free to submit any recommendations, favorite wines or recipes to laurenjeter@gmail.com

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