Viña El Principal, Maipo Valley, Chile

Exploring Chile’s Maipo Valley Wine Region

“Start your day with coffee and end your day with wine”. – Saying on a coffee cup my husband got me as a gift. 

I have a confession to make. I absolutely love wine. I have loved wine ever since I studied abroad in France at the ripe age of 21 and spent nine months studying French and sampling as many varieties as my budget could afford. In those days, the cheaper the better and anything under $8 was a steal.

Over the years, my taste buds have matured and in some ways have followed my travels around the world. Recently, I’ve been obsessed with Malbac after a visit to Argentina in 2009. Its rich, deep and smooth flavor warms my soul, and it is easy to find a good bottle for under $15. Little did I know, it would take a trip to Chile’s wine region to discover a new, incredible variety that I had never heard of before, Carménère.

Maipo Valley, Chile

El Principal Vineyard in the Maipo Valley

Chile is the fourth largest exporter of wine in the world so it is without a question that many tourists plan a day or two visiting some of Chile’s premier wine regions. The heart of Chile’s wine region is in Central Chile which surrounds Santiago. Central Chile produces the most wine in the country and has six distinct wine regions to explore: The Casablanca Valley, San Antonio Valley, Maipo Valley, Cachapoal Valley, Colchagua Valley, and Curico Valley. The Maipo Valley is the closest region to Santiago and also is known for its production of Carménère, my new favorite red variety.

Carménère is to Chile as Malbac is to Argentina yet its history is much more mysterious. The grape originated in the Bordeaux region of France yet was believed to be wiped out after a terrible Phylloxera plague destroyed many of the vines throughout Europe in 1857. Somehow the vine was brought to Chile where it not only survived but thrived. For years, people believed the grape was a very distinctive tasting Merlot yet after DNA testing in 1999 wine experts ruled it was in fact the Carménère grape. Chile’s perfect growing conditions allowed Carménère to become Chile’s leading grape and it is absolutely delicious.

Viña El Principal, Maipo Valley, Chile

On our second day in Santiago, we arranged to go on a wine tour of the Maipo Valley with the lovely, highly-knowledgeable Patricia Garabito Valdes, founder of Wine Wein Tours. Patricia was born and raised in Santiago and began her career as a translator yet soon discovered she was not meant to be inside an office all day. She promptly changed gears and began working as a tour guide in Santiago.