Chile, Part I: Viña Casa Silva – A Gangster’s Paradise

Chile, Part I: Viña Casa Silva – A Gangster’s Paradise

Hi there. My name is Bryan and I’m not a wine expert, but I am a really committed alcohol enthusiast. I went on a tour (cough-wine binge-cough) of three of Chile’s central wine regions—Colcahgua, Curico and Maule Valley—and visited eight wineries.  I’m going to write about them. Here’s the first.

Thomas Wilkins was sleeping when the stainless steel tanks ruptured.  It was almost four in the morning on a Sunday in late February. By the time he arrived at Viña Casa Silva, a million liters of bulk red wine gushed like a river of blood down the street. Locals gathered at the banks and made the best of a bad situation.

“Everyone was drunk by the time I arrived,” Thomas told me.

This is about as lighthearted story you’ll be able to pull from a natural disaster, in this case the monstrous 8.8 earthquake that struck just 5,000 or so meters off the coast of the Maule region of Chile. Yet, the Chileans are an indefatigable bunch, in case you haven’t noticed. As the Silva family and their staff rebuilt the winery (and moved the restaurant to a much better location), a minor, barely noticed human-interest story about some trapped miners took place due north.

“Next time, we’re going to be put sixty of them down there.”

Mr. Wilkins was not only the Casa Silva marketing and hospitality manager; he appeared to be their Chief Humorist.  And why not, spirits were high when I was Chile as it was just days after the last miner was safely pulled from the earth. The first glass of wine I sampled at this sprawling estate, overlooking Casa Silva’s rodeo arena (here’s a little known fact outside of the equestrian gossip set—Chilean horses are the only ungulate on earth that can run sideways) was supposedly a rosé. So here I am at this rodeo arena, tucked in the middle of a eucalyptus grove, watching the cabelleros chase a bull while drinking what I could have sworn was the lightest, freshest red wine of my lifetime.

The Reserva Rosé 2010 was a Carmenere-Syrah blend that made me want to smack the goodly percentage of rosé’s I’ve had up to that point.  I still can’t shake the first rosé I ever tried, at V. Sattui in Napa Valley.  It tasted like bubblegum someone else had chewed first.  What I was quaffing while watching the cabellero and his side-galloping steed tasted both bright and smooth. I’ve never had a rosé that wanted to be a red more.  I fell pretty hard for that wine.

Here’s the thing about Chilean wineries; they’re architecturally discordant.  One winery may look like a colonial castle while the next will be a cutting edge modern affair set on a reservoir.  You won’t believe what I have to tell you about Lapostolle, a winery that belongs in a James Bond flick as the villain’s lair, but that’s for another post.

Casa Silva had the feel of a 20th century gangster’s estate. There was the mythic polo field, which appeared to be roughly four thousand yards long, lined with a row of poplars like tall green spectators and the massive forested grandstands that were the Andes foothills behind them. The winery had underground tunnels with, I kid you not, a small jail cell in the midst of one winding passage. I can’t remember what reason Thomas gave for its existence, and I’d rather not.  I choose to think it’s where they locked up bad grapes. Then of course there’s the rodeo arena with the cowboys, none of whom appeared to be chewing tobacco, which kind of disappointed me. If all this weren’t enough, the Silva family owns a collection of outrageous, beautiful gleaming vintage cars that belong to the era of Tommy Guns and moonshine.  A vibrantly cherry red Buick and an inky black Hudson 47 were practically begging me to hot wire and take on a booze run.  That is if I could hot wire a car.

We tucked into salads and vegetables and soups and steaks at their newly moved restaurant, overlooking the polo field, and I took down two glasses of the Cool Coast Sauvignon Blanc, which according to the old notebook was “mineral-y” and “fresh”.  I was beginning to get drunk. The meat in Chile was as good for me as the meat in Argentina. Yes, you read that correctly.  The steak was made irreproachable by the bottle of Altura Thomas paired with it.  Depending on the harvest, the Altura is a blend, often Carmenere, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. You can get a bottle for about $100 here in the U.S.  I suggest if you’re going to spend that kind of money also splurge on some really quality meat and go nuts.  I won’t even tell you what my notebook said about the pairing.

In sum, this was a seriously positive start to my Chilean jaunt.  I left Vina Casa Silva sated, tipsy, and sure that if I ever came upon a river of wine, I would have reacted the same way as the locals.

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