Corkscrew - South America’s wine

The new Chilean Wild West (part 1)

I don’t know what I thought, but I thought it would be different. My recent exploration down south in Chile opened my eyes to a culture that produces wine for the rest of the world, but not for themselves. Chilean wine country, a burgeoning tourist destination that eerily resembles Sonoma Valley, is bursting with vineyards that flank both sides of the highway far up into the hills. But exorbitant wine prices in restaurants told me that the Chileans weren’t drinking the fruits of these vines. It turns out that 95 percent of Chilean wine is exported to places like the U.S. and the U.K,, even though Chile has a culture of wine dating back several hundred years. Since I’m not a sociologist, I’ve no idea why the wine culture dissipated, but at least the wineries are benefiting nicely - wine is now the second largest export after produce.

However, a passion for wine shows in the glass.

With state-of-the-art equipment and organic farming techniques, Chile has risen to child-prodigy status in the wine world. I’ve heard about Chile being a frontier, where winemakers practice carefree techniques to sell their wares for cheap. But it’s not true - at least not the carefree part. Chileans are serious about their wine, especially the newcomers to the game.

Driving in the Casablanca Valley, west of Santiago, I soaked in the verdant avocado and cherry trees. Then an enormous, incongruously modernist building emerges through the green: house of Morandé. A huge winery that exports 18,000 cases to more than 35 countries, Morandé emerged late in the winery boom during the 1980s. Similar to Bien Nacido in California, Casablanca Valley is prime real estate for two difficult-to-master grapes - Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. If you see Casablanca Valley written on a label, lay down the cash - the fruit is that good. Morandé also sources fruit from other areas, under eight different labels, so it’s kinda hard to keep up with them, but their quality has consistently improved over the years. Their best are Sauvignon Blancs from the Central Valley (including the late harvest) and Grand Reserve Chardonnays from Casablanca.

South of Santiago in the Colchagua Valley, there lies another mecca for wineries. The French discovered the area in the early 1990s when the famed Marnier Lapostolle family of France’s Loire Valley moved in. They wanted to create old-world style wines with new-world grapes, so they established the ultra-modern, well-funded Casa Lapostolle winery. They succeeded with the help of Michel Rolland, a winemaker demigod whom wine snobs worship. Call me pedestrian, but I’ve never understood the attraction. “Where’s the fruit, Michel?”

Carmen Winery in the Maipo Valley, the star of the trip, has it all going on. Modest and unflashy, the winery is impossible to find and isn’t open to the public. The unassuming winemaker, Matias Lecaros, likes it that way. He quietly farms his grapes organically with ducks, chickens and alpacas (a llama-like animal) roaming the grounds. From this extra effort comes affordable, fruit-driven wine, designed for right-now consumption. Carmen uses the warmer climate to produce ripe Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. Try them all - you won’t be disappointed.

Although Chileans might not drink their fill, we can take up the slack and reap the benefits of great climate, flavors and value. Next week: Argentina and its possibilities.

Wine Recommendations

Morand 2003 Vitisterra Grand Reserve Chardonnay Casablanca ValleyLoaded with citrus, vanilla and a bit of coconut, this refreshing wine will capture your heart. SW = 3. $15.

Carmen 2004 Sauvignon Blanc Curico ValleyFresh and approachable with green apple, wet slate and citrus. Soft on the tongue. SW = 2. $8.

Carmen 2001 Nativa Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo ValleyOn the nose, eucalyptus and chocolate float up, with mint, more chocolate and dark cherries following on the tongue. Soft, elegant tannins don’t offend. SW = 1. $15.


PULL INTO PORT - Salud! Cooking & Lifestyle School inside Harry’s Farmers Market presents an introduction to the underrated world of port and other fortified wines Thurs., Jan. 27, 7-9 p.m. Expert Don Reddicks will discuss the history and production process of these wines. Cost is $45 per person. 1180 Upper Hembree Road, Roswell. 770-664-6300.

UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN AT JOEL - The sommelier team at Joel will host a tasting of white and red wines from Tuscany on Wed., Feb. 9, 6-7:15 p.m. Hors d’oeuvres from chef Joel Antunes will be included. Cost is $30 per person. 3290 Northside Parkway, 404-233-3500.

NEW FESTIVAL IN TOWN - The Atlanta Fine Wine Festival makes its debut Sat., Feb. 19, from 2-6 p.m. at Mason Murer Fine Art. The event is an opportunity to sample more than 300 wines, including rare, allocated and limited-release wines from some of the world’s renowned wineries and vineyards. Sample gourmet nibbles provided by Murphy’s, Portofino, Toulouse, Sotto Sotto, Woodfire Grill, One Midtown Kitchen and Two Urban Licks. A silent charity auction will benefit Hospice Atlanta. Tickets are $100 per person. 199 Armour Drive. Visit for more info.


Black Bear Tavern - Bottles of red and white wines every Tuesday for $12. 1931 Peachtree Road. 404-355-9089.

Cafe at East Andrews - Each week, the restaurant offers Wine Down Wednesdays, with bottles of wine for half price. Included in the promotion is the “Cellar List,” so patrons have the chance to sample high-quality wines like Silver Oak and Opus One. 56 E. Andrews Drive. 404-869-1132.

Cheetah - Wine, Women & Thong every third Friday of each month, beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the Executive Room. The $15 event includes front door cover, Executive Room admission, hors d’oeuvres and wine. The next tasting is Fri., Feb. 18. 887 Spring St. 404-892-3037.

Eclipse di Luna - Enjoy a wine tasting event the first Tuesday of every month from 6-7 p.m. For $10, it includes tapas and bottomless glasses of six to eight wines. 764 Miami Circle. 404-846-0449.

Flying Biscuit Cafe, Candler Park - Take advantage of the Fabulous Fixed Price Friday Wine Tasting Dinner every Friday. The $25 event includes a three-course meal and paired wines. 1655 McLendon Ave. For info and reservations, call 404-687-8888.

Java Monkey - Wine tasting every other Thursday on the patio. The next tasting - which includes music and chair massage - will be Thurs., Feb. 3. Sample featured wines and complimentary hors d’oeuvres. $15. 7-9 p.m. 425 Church St. 404-378-5002.

Murphy’s - Wine tasting Tuesdays start at 6:30 p.m. Cost is $10 for tasting, with $5 off any entree. 997 Virginia Ave. 404-872-0904.

Sage - Come enjoy the revival of Wednesday night wine tasting, 6:30-8:30 p.m. For $13, the event includes light hors d’oeuvres, live jazz and a raffle. Reservations recommended. 121 Sycamore St. 404-373-5574.

SoHo - Every Wednesday night is “flight night.” Beginning at 5:30 p.m., bar manager J.D. Doyle leads participants on a tasting tour of regions. In January, SoHo embarks on a “Wine Tour Down Under,” featuring wines from Australia and New Zealand. Prices range from $17-$19. 4300 Paces Ferry Road. 770-801-0069.

Spice - Half-priced bottles of wine every Tuesday, 6 p.m.-closing. Choose from more than 100 wine varietals. Also, “Sipping from the Vine” wine tasting and complimentary hors d’oeuvres every Thursday, 6-8 p.m. $10 per person. 793 Juniper St. 404-875-4242.

Twist - Every Monday, Twist offers half-priced bottles for every item on the wine list, including Dom Perignon. 3500 Peachtree Road. 404-869-1191.

Vine - Each Monday, the complete wine list of more than 160 wines by the bottle and 40 by the glass is 50 percent off. Every Wednesday, the restaurant offers a tasting of at least six wines from 6-8 p.m. Cost is $10, which can be applied to your dinner check to receive $10 off, rendering the wine tasting free. Every Sunday, Vine holds a three-course wine pairing dinner for $27.95. Reservations are encouraged. 404-892-2393. 1190 N. Highland Ave.

Vinocity - Exotic dinners paired with bottomless glasses of wine from a specific region every Sunday, starting at 5:30 p.m. Prices vary by the week. And Mondays, a $5 wine tasting is held from 6-11 p.m. Three or four selections presented like a flight. 36 13th St. 404-870-8886.

E-mail or fax information to 404-420-1402 at least two weeks prior to event.??