(Day 44 – 50)
04.01.2010 - 10.01.2010 28 °C
We arrived in the seaside town of La Serena late in the afternoon. La Serena is a beachside resort, which boasts another disappointingly windy beach.
It is also the ideal location to visit the fertile Elqui Valley which is famous for its Pisco - a clear brandy-like drink made from muscatel grapes, which they say should be drank neat or turned into a cocktail called Pisco Sour (mixed with lemon juice and sugar – and some say a beaten egg white is the secret ingredient!).
Pisco is definitely Chile’s national drink, although there is an ongoing dispute between Chile and Peru as to who created it first. Only the distilleries in Chile have the right to call the distilled drink Pisco but Peru claims that pisco originated from the Peruvian port of the same name. We´ll have to check their version of the facts when we get there next March!
All I know is that they made us taste the undistilled 47% version first, which is damn strong and burns like hell, especially at 9h30 in the morning! The Pisco is aged only 2 months in stainless steel tanks (what we tasted) and is therefore clear in colour. The export quality comes from aging 2 years or more in French oak barrels where it gets its golden colour, this was much easier to taste..
We took a full day tour of the valley which included a few tastings, a visit of a Chirimoya farm (Custard Apple in english or Coeur de Boeuf in french – although i suspect we have our own mauritian name for this???) Then went to a small family run distillery for the Pisco tasting and had lunch at a 'Solar’ restaurant. By this we do not mean a restaurant which runs on solar power but rather one where your food is cooked via the power of the sun in outside cookers that look like big boxes surrounded by alluminum. Our lunch had to be prepared 4 hours in advance.
The valley itself is very green which contrasts nicely with the sandy slopes of the mountains which are a mix of red and gold due to the mineral-rich soil.
We left the following day for the long journey back south past Valparaiso and Santiago to the wine region of Santa Cruz.
Our reason for the stop over in Santa Cruz was to enjoy a wine tour of some of Chiles best wine farms. Santa Cruz is a small, quiet town in the heart of the Colchangua Valley.
The hot climate here is ideal for growing reds like Cabernet, Malbec and the like.
We took a half day tour of two wineries in the area: Viu Manente & Montes. Both offered a tour of the property (one by horse-drawn carriage, the other by truck) pointing out which grape was grown where, followed by some tastings. Lovely scenery as you would imagine in vineyards.
We wont go into much detail because a wine tasting is, we imagine, pretty much the same everywhere else in the world. What stood out though is one of the varieties we sampled, the Carmènére grape which we learnt about at Viu Manent.
You may already know this, but to us it was a new and interesting story. The Carmènére is a variety of grape that originated from Bordeaux in France and was grown until a plague of Phylloxera destroyed it throughout Europe in the late 1860s. It was thought extinct until it was discoverd in Chile in 1994 where it had being growing all along and was mistaken for Merlot due to its similarity!
The next morning we headed for another bus journey to Pucon.