Magazine article Out

From Pinochet to Pinot Noir

Magazine article Out

From Pinochet to Pinot Noir

Article excerpt

Exploring Chile's wine country

Waving a spoon above a bowl of lentil soup, the attractive winemaker turned to me and asked, "What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word 'Chile'?" We were having lunch at Undurraga (Undurraga.cl), some 20 miles south of Santiago in the Maipo Valley, and one of the oldest vineyards in the region. I didn't have to give the question much thought. "Pinochet," I said. He nodded gravely. The dictator has been dead almost five years, and out of office for much longer, but the shadow left by his decades in command has been hard to shake.

At Undurraga, the hope is that Pinot Noir, not Pinochet, will soon come to epitomize this beautiful and diverse country. The vigorous wine industry is certainly one good reason to visit, but the proximity of mountains and ocean- Chile is long, long, 2,700-miles-of-coastline long, but narrow- means you can pack in much more at the same time. In a five-day visit, I learned to snowboard in the Andes, went horseback riding in Casablanca Valley, and toured the maze of streets in the lovely coastal city of Valparaiso, an architectural mish-mash of styles and influences from its turn-of-the-i9th century heyday as one of the continent's busiest seaports. (It was in Valparaiso, birthplace of Pinochet, that I also found a "Pinoshit" fridge magnet, characteristic of the city's irreverent spirit.)

Santiago itself has something of Los Angles about it, sprawling at the foothills of the snow-capped Andes, glinting in the late-winter sun. One of the great things about arriving in mid-August is that you are in the same time zone as New York City, so one awakes feeling refreshed and ready for the day (an upgrade on my American Airlines flight didn't hurt either). I began by checking into the Noi (Santiago; NoWitacuraxT), a new, elegantly designed hotel amid the discreet boutiques and leafy sidewalks of upscale Alonso de Cordova, and grabbed breakfast at just-opened organic hotspot, La Estacion. Bottles of strawberry juice flavored with cardamom and homemade bread rolls with a bowl of lemony yoghurt in place of butter were delicious, but it was wine-tasting time.

Just north of the city, toward Valparaiso, lie some of the country's best vineyards, including Viña San Estaban (VSE. …

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