Midway between Valparaíso and Santiago, several wineries have united to promote the Casablanca valley, one of Chile’s fastest-growing and most accessible wine regions. Best known for its whites, the Ruta del Vino de Casablanca enjoys a cool oceanic climate, though afternoons can get warm. As nearly all the wineries are on or near Ruta 68, they are convenient to public transportation; several have accommodations and restaurants. They’re listed here in the order they might be visited driving from Valparaíso to Santiago; they can just as easily be visited from the opposite direction, driving Ruta 68 from Santiago to Valparaíso.
In a striking building at one of the route’s westernmost vineyards, Casas del Bosque (Hijuela 2, Ex-Fundo Santa Rosa, 032/3779431) produces a diversity of varietal and reserve versions of whites (Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay) and reds (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and the occasional blend). Tours of the winery itself, a visitor-friendly place, combine contemporary technology with tasting at its Living Wine & Bar.
If the visit is combined with dining at Tanino restaurant, Casas del Bosque is suitable for spending an afternoon rather than just tasting and running. While the kitchen and service can both be slow, and the portions small (more like a tasting menu), the quality is undeniable.
Tours at Casas del Bosque are offered at 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 3 p.m., and 4:30 p.m. daily, except Jan. 1, Good Friday, Dec. 9, and Dec 25. To reach the winery, take the main Casablanca exit south of Ruta 68 and follow the signs through town.
Near the village of Casablanca, Loma Larga Vineyards (Camino Lo Ovalle s/n, 032/2741151, 9 a.m.–6 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m.–2 p.m. Sat., tours US$35) is a small, family-run unit that has expanded into fine wines from its original orchards, without abandoning fruit production. For a Chilean winery, it produces an uncommon selection of reds–Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Pinot Noir–as well as the more standard Sauvignon Blanc. It’s also trying to establish itself as an activities center, offering horseback and carriage rides, and bicycle tours of the facilities.
Catered lunches are available for groups of four or more persons (US$120 each, with wine). Loma Larga is located on the north side of the highway. One-hour tours include a tasting of four different wines accompanied by dried fruit. Its store offers a 20 percent discount on everything in stock.
While the Morande winery is not yet open for tours and tasting, its vineyard restaurant (Ruta 68, Km 64, 032/2754700, restaurant 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Sun., until midnight Fri.) has become a landmark for both its eye-catching contemporary architecture and its cuisine. With an arching roof and clean Scandinavian lines, this luminous restaurant offers panoramic vineyard views on two sides and wine-barrel porthole peeks through a third wall. In reality, the line of demarcation between interior and exterior seating is a fluid one (though the interior dining room can get a little noisy when full).
Chef Christopher Charpentier has created a menu of nouvelle Chilean cuisine, including versions of standards such as pastel de jaiva (crab casserole) and game dishes such as costillas de jabalí (boar chops), and desserts such as chirimoya mousse with a Chardonnay sauce. The wine list includes not just Morandé but other area wineries. Fresh—not bagged—herbal teas are available.
House of Morandé is immediately west of Veramonte.
Its kitschy turret towering above the valley from a flattened hilltop site just east of Viña Mar, Indómita (Ruta 68, Km 64, 032/2153900, 1-hour tours 10:30 a.m., noon, 2:30 p.m., and 4 p.m. daily, US$18 pp, includes tasting of three wines) is Casablanca’s most conspicuous winery. It cultivates 200 hectares of its Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc whites here, but also has 400 hectares of reds—Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, and Merlot—in the Maipo Valley. All are processed here, however.
In addition to its wines, Indómita’s becoming well-known for its namesake restaurant (noon–4:30 p.m. daily, entrées US$12–19), with spectacular valley views and a creative menu that’s strong on seafood but also includes regional Chilean specialties such as Patagonian lamb and grilled mahimahi from Easter Island.
On the south side of the highway, Viña Mar (Ruta 68, Km 72, 032/2754300, 10 a.m.–2 p.m. and 3:30–5 p.m., noon–5 p.m. Sun., tours with tasting US$10-14) took over the unsuccessful Cuvée Mumm champagne plant in 2002, producing fine varietals and blends from Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. While it’s not what it once was—it’s much better—it still makes sparkling wines via champenoise and charmat methods.
Viña Mar is located on the south side of the highway. There is a branch of Viña del Mar’s Italian institution, Ristorante San Marco, on the grounds.
Discreetly built into a San Antonio Valley hillside southwest of Casablanca, Matetic is a glisteningly modern winery that produces organic Pinot Noir and Syrah, a Merlot/Malbec blend, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay. Sprawling over the coast range, the scenic grounds contain a crumbling early winery bursting with antique equipment that should become a museum.
Viña Matetic (Fundo El Rosario, Lagunillas, 02/5952661) is open for guided tours and tastings; make reservations 24 hours in advance. In addition to the winery, it operates the stylish La Casona (02/5858197, US$400–500 s, US$500–630 d), an adobe guesthouse with palm-studded gardens. Accommodations include dinner for two, with wine, at its restaurant Equilibrio (09/8920-2066, Tues.–Sun.).
Tours at Viña Matetic are offered at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 3 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. Tues.–Sun., starting at US$20 pp.
Immediately west of the Zapata tunnel, Viña Veramonte (Ruta 68, Km 66, 032/2329924) is a 1,000-hectare vineyard surrounded by a 10,000-hectare greenbelt. Run by the Huneeus family, who also operate the Napa Valley’s Franciscan Vineyards, it produces Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, and Merlot, but its pride is the Primus premium blend of the three reds.
Led by well-informed guides, Veramonte’s tours (not always available in English) visit the production facilities and vineyards, but also its museum of antique presses, corkscrews, and other wine technology. They end with a generous tasting, at shaded picnic tables, that includes several varietal and reserve wines, including the Primus, as well as goat, parmesan, and sheep cheeses, with crackers and nuts to accompany them. In addition, Veramonte’s on-site wine shop carries, books, souvenirs, and premium agricultural products.
On the north side of the highway, Viña Veramonte offers tours at 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 3 p.m. weekdays; 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., and 12:30 p.m. Sat. Apr.–Nov admission US$18 pp, tours US$10 pp.
Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Chile.