Readers, it had been my intention to post to this blog every day during my wine journey in Chile and Argentina, but we know what toll road is paved with good intentions. In Chile, my group traveled immense distances by bus, raucously bleating out chorus after chorus of “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” — actually that’s a lie; all we wanted to do was sleep — because wine regions and properties often lie miles (and miles and miles) from each other. In fact, we visited some of the most remote wineries and vineyards I have traveled to since I was in Western Australia 12 years ago. The result was that we would leave the hotel in Santiago early in the morning and not return until late at night, so we had little time to get any work done, much less to read The Ambassadors, which is my chosen travel novel this trip. In Argentina, matters are easier because many wineries are only 30 or 45 minutes outside the city of Mendoza.

Anyway, to compensate for my recent lack of contribution, and before settling down to serious consideration of the wines and issues presented by this trip, at least the part in Chile (I particularly have some thoughts about Chilean pinot noir, carmenere and sauvignon blanc), I offer a few notes and images to whet your appetites.
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We have been eating tremendously well and incredibly abundantly on this trek, and much of the food is unusual or exotic to North American tastes and experience. Here, for example, you see a dish, encountered at our first lunch at a winery — Leyda in the Leyda Valley, just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean — called chupa de locos, a thick, rich, creamy chowder of abalone and shrimp. This really warmed the cockles of our hearts on a chilly day, and it was great with the winery’s scintillating sauvignon blanc. It really helps that on this trip are two people who speak Spanish and English with equal facility and know seemingly everything there is to know about South American food, the television-web-cookbook personality Daisy Martinez and her assistant Carolina Penafiel.
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Friends, here’s the first glimmer of Cuvee Fredric, a wine that I’m certain will be of superior quality when it reaches the American market. If I could, I’d tell you what variety this fledgling vine is, but unfortunately I don’t know, or perhaps I was not paying attention during that lesson. This is at Terra Noble in the cool Casablanca region. I’ll have to return in April to harvest the grapes from my vine, which I trust will be tenderly and professionally nurtured in my absence.
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Yes, readers, in this image is displayed exactly what you think it is: a splayed lamb being roasted over a smoldering wood fire. This traditional barbecue was a part, I mean only a part, of our more-than-generous lunch under a vine-covered pergola at Terra Noble, and to inform you how strenuously Chileans believe in this tradition, we were treated to the same barbecue for dinner at Cousiño-Macul (now surrounded by the city of Santiago) that night. Such a meal includes not only the lamb but sausages and flank steak and chicken, along with (thank goodness) a multitude of salads and vegetables. Last night (Friday, Oct. 8), at Renacer in Mendoza, a similar cookout included goat and pork. The little appetizers typically passed before sitting down to a barbecue meal are enough to make a meal themselves: empanadas filled with meal or cheese or vegetables; pieces of steak; in Chile tiny bowls of various ceviches; miniature shepherd’s pies; dishes of sweetbreads and chopped bull’s testicles; and on and on. Then you sit down to eat. We had the same thing for lunch today at Alta Vista in Mendoza’s Lujon de Cujo region, just under the foothills of the Andes mountains. Every barbecue chef — and there are many who specialize only in this technique — has his own secrets about how to prepare his wares. Also wildly various are the styles of empanada crusts and the way they’re made and filled.
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With its long coastline, Chile is abundant in seafood, and one of the prized delicacies is conger eel, a species that includes many of the largest eels, growing up to 10 feet in length. A winemaker said to me one night, “To me, conger eel is the best!” We had conger on several occasions, but the best was at a dinner at Veramonte, where chef Claudio Vidal of the restaurant Agua de Piedra conjured a dish of roasted conger eel with a dried fruit crust and saffron risotto, one of the best dishes we tasted in Chile.
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It’s still early Spring in the Southern Hemisphere, and flowers are blossoming all over the place. California poppies abound, though in cooler areas they’re still fairly tightly furled — which is why the flower is called “golden thimble” in Chile — and in other warmer regions they’re wide open, tremulous in any breeze and a bright, broad allure for wandering insects.
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We rushed through the airport in Santiago, partly my fault because I lost my immigration papers which you need not only to get INTO the country but also to get OUT, and stopped in a cafe for a quick lunch. Of course we had to order our last pisco sours, but Carolina guided us to a traditional Chilean sandwich, the chacarero, which, as you can see in the image to your appropriate disbelief, has shredded green beans in the sandwich. Yes! The rest consists of thin slices of beef loin, tomato, mayonnaise and chopped green chilies. Let me tell you that this simple and — O.K., to North American palates — unusual concoction made one of the best sandwiches I have eaten in my life. Even on white bread. Even in a crowded, bustling airport. Even with a powerfully alcoholic, industrially produced pisco sour for accompaniment. Thanks, Carolina!
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