Chalone Trip to Chile and Argentina
Luigi and Manly, 1992

Our den-mother was Paddy Nichols, an excellent guide from X.O. Travel Agency in New York; she specializes in wine tours and studied Spanish both at a university in England (possibly Oxford) and Salamanca in Spain. Locally in Santiago, Chile, Carlos was our guide and he specializes in wine and archaeology. On being driven to our hotel from the airport to the hotel, we were told by Carlos that the man most honored by having Chilean streets and parks named after him was one Bernardo O'Higgins who seems to be their equivalent of George Washington. Thus we were not surprised to find our hotel on Avenida Bernardo O'Higgins.

The first day after our arrival we were given a tour of the City of Santiago in the morning and set free in the afternoon. Luigi and I used the free time to go from shopping mall to shopping mall (learning to use the subway system in the process) looking for a cassette tape for my video camera because I'd forgotten to bring one with me. Most of the store clerks were of little help, but finally we found one store where the clerk appeared to be the owner and she immediately produced a selection of tape cassettes to choose among. In addition to locating a cassette, we learned more than most of our group how the Chileans do their shopping.

In the evening we had our first formal tasting of Chilean wines, in the basement of a restaurant where the low tables, low benches, vaulted walls and low ceilings contributed to the atmosphere. Wines we liked particularly were those bearing the labels Caliterra, Errazuriz, and Torreon de Paredes.

The next day we were taken to the Los Vascos winery about 250 Km south and west of Santiago where Senor Jorge Yzaguirre, the owner of Los Vascos met us at the entrance to a semi-arid valley, nearly round and two or three kilometers across, with 200 hectares of grapes and a few houses as well as the buildings pertaining to the winery. Showing us all this from a good vantage point, Sr. Yzaguirre pointed out that because of the location and shape of the valley, and its peculiar wind patters, it has an ideal climate for wine grapes. There were two main buildings which he called, respectively, the "Old Testament" and the "New Testament." In the former they made wine in the manner they had made it prior the purchase of 50% of the winery by the Domaines Rothschild (LaFite) in 1988 and in the latter they make it the way the Rothschild people prescribe. We tried wines from both processes and liked both very much; I suspect that the New Testament wines will be even better after they have aged a few more years.

For lunch we were taken to the veranda of the Yzaguirre's house where we were seated at four or five different tables; one member of the family sat as host at each table. At ours was Don Jorge's attractive daughter, Maria, who spoke English like a North American, and whose five-year-old daughter kissed each guest at our table at the end of the meal. The entree was a casserole of corn, white beans, pumpkin and basil -- a traditional meal for people who live in the area and very good. It was served with Los Vascos 1989 Gran Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon -- an excellent red wine.

Don Jorge delivered a talk in which he said he thought, when he married the daughter of the owner of this winery, that he got a wealthy wife, but the Allende government seized nearly all his land and declared him to be an enemy of the people. This hurt, but, being Basque, Don Jorge set about working hard and, piece by piece, bought back the land from the peasants to whom it had been distributed. Now he again owns the entire valley except that the peasants still own their own houses. It turns out that "Vascos," as in the name of the winery, means "Basques," not "Spaniards who had vasectomies" as I'd speculated

In time the group flew south to Puerto Montt, a seaport which is about the same latitude south as Chicago is north, and went by bus to Puerto Vara, a small resort town on a beautiful lake in the foothills of the Andes. The next day Luigi won a beauty contest, of sorts; we went by bus into the Andes, passing by a volcano which the local guide said had erupted once and stopped erupting only when the heart of the most beautiful girl of the local Indian tribe was cut out and thrown into the crater by her lover. I told Luigi that I hoped the volcano did not erupt as we were passing by, else I'd have to cut her heart out and throw it in. She claimed she was not the most beautiful woman on the bus, but a somewhat younger woman in the seat ahead of us turned around and assured her that every woman on the bus would unanimously vote Luigi the most beautiful.

Through some of the most beautiful mountain scenery I have seen we drew away from the volcano and by lunchtime reached a restaurant on a lake. We had lunch and then took a crowded boat that Paddy compared to the African Queen across that lake. We caught a bus that took us to a bridge that we had to cross on foot (a jeep might have made it but none of us wanted the bus to try while we were on it) and were met by another bus on the other side. Thence to another lake, another boat, and another bus until we crossed the border into Argentina and reached Lake Nahuel Huapi. There we rested for an hour or two, drinking beer and eating ice cream cones and watching four great condors soaring very high and far away. In time a larger vessel than before, a catamaran that would hold 350 people, appeared and took us and various other busloads of people to San Carlos de Bariloche -- one of the most important skiing resort towns in the southern hemisphere. Also one of the most beautifully situated towns anywhere, at modest altitude but surrounded by mountains, including some with summer snow shining from their tops.

Luigi and I did not take one of the optional events that we were allowed to take for our one full day in Bariloche, but wandered about the streets becoming more or less familiar with the downtown area. The high point was a wonderful Swiss cheese fondue for lunch with a very good Argentine white wine named Claire. In the evening we had dinner at a restaurant several kilometers from the hotel, overlooking a different beautiful lake. Food included thinly sliced smoked wild boar as an appetizer and a good venison stew with red cabbage.

From Bariloche we flew to Buenos Aires where we enjoyed a tasting of Argentine wines. Originally only four or five wineries were to be represented, but when the word got out, others clamored to be included so we ended up with about five wines each from thirteen or fourteen different wineries. We did not get to the tables where sparkling wine was served, but Luigi and I did sample and like many of the reds and whites. Some red wines are made from the Malbeck, a grape that is used widely in France but only for blending with Cabernet Sauvignon; in South America it is made into a decent wine all by itself. At such a tasting, each wine company is assigned a table and each participant is given a glass, and the participants wander from table to table, receiving small quantities of wine to taste. To prevent consumption that even the participants consider excessive, there are containers (called spittoons but looking more refined), usually on the floor, into which one pours excess wine from his glass before trying the next wine. Whether that glass contains wine that has actually been spit out by the holder of the glass is a matter of personal preference; I preferred to take only minute sips and swallow them, after swirling the glass with half an inch to an inch of wine in it to provide the aroma necessary for proper appreciation.

One evening we had dinner at La Chacra, purportedly the best steak restaurant in Argentina; I have never had better steak. Our Argentine guide, Donald (from the English-speaking community of Buenos Aires) said that the beef there is all range-fed and is therefore better flavored and less fat, though slightly tougher than the corn-fed beef we have in the U.S. Afterwards we went to the Casa Blanca night club and saw a tango show, with people dancing tangos to our thorough satisfaction, and some Indian musicians from the Andes, called Eccos Andinos, who were superb. A troop of gauchos also performed very well, tap dancing and keeping time by striking the floor with metal balls on strings.

One day we went on a city tour, and stopped at the edge of a park for coffee at a large sidewalk cafe where Donald had made arrangements for us the day before. It was closed, and there was no one there to ask questions of. We went to the cafe next door, where they did their best for us, but had not the staff for quick service. Donald speculated that the first cafe had been closed for non-payment of taxes. Later we learned that 21 restaurants had been closed in Buenos Aires as one measure in the City's attempt to combat the current cholera outbreak. Another member of the group noted signs on the backs of busses advising how to avoid contracting the disease. Donald mentioned that due to "pollution" fishing in the Rio Plate is prohibited.

We were taken through a nearby cemetery where we could peer at, and sometimes into, many tombs of the late members of the local aristocracy. We saw the Duarte family tomb in which Eva Peron is interred. Until Peron came to power the Duartes were entirely too poor for a plot in this cemetery, but then when Eva's brother died, they had become rich, so bought an appropriate plot. After Peron died he was buried somewhere else with Eva for a few years, but later those in power decided this was inappropriate and moved him to a more proper location and Eva to her family tomb, where she lies in the midst of all the aristocrats she hated and who hated her.

Another day took us out to what was called a working ranch on the pampa about a hundred miles outside of Buenos Aires. I think that what they work is tourists. The barbecue was OK and those who wanted to were allowed to swim in the pool or to ride very docile horses for a couple of hundred meters. Various gaucho memorabilia were available for sale including belts that buckle in the back and are decorated with coins. The ones we were shown as genuine gaucho belts were broad in front but narrow at the buckle in the rear; those we saw on the gauchos themselves were broad all the way round to keep their livers and kidneys in place while they ride horses all day long.

Back to Chile for a day visiting the major old seaport of Valparaiso and the flashy new resort town just north of it called Vina del Mar. One course at an otherwise excellent restaurant consisted of uncooked seafood, which I ate most of and didn't really like very much. The clams were OK but the two kinds of roe and various unidentified items might have been better in a large, spicy stew.

I stayed in the hotel the next day when Luigi and most of the rest of the group went to a couple of wineries for more wine tasting and then a good restaurant for lunch. By then I had had enough of wine and rich food, so I went out in search of a chirimoya ice cream cone; I walked for a mile or two, and found many ice cream cone stands, but they didn't have chirimoya ice cream, and several other places that had chirimoya ice cream but no cones. Eventually I walked out of the area where there were any ice cream stands and had no idea how to get back to the hotel. I found a cab, and the driver took me there promptly. A dish of coconut ice cream served as lunch. In the evening we were taken to the airport and flew home via Miami.