The Latin Wine Lover

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Chile and Argentina’s wine country Chile and Argentina’s wine country and cosmopolitan centers are a South American smackdown for sophisticated culinary incentives. Beginning just south of Santiago, the revered Maipo Valley winemaking region lies tucked neatly between Chile’s Andes Mountains and Atacama Desert. The vineyard Casa Lapostolle was founded by Grand Marnier heiress Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle and hubby Cyril de Bournet, who brought their French expertise to the superb terroirs of Chile. Wine Spectator awarded their Clos Apalta Colchagua Valley 2005 the #1 position in its 2008 Top 100 rankings (96 points).

We tucked in at the Lapostolle Residences, four breathtaking casitas with beautiful panoramas of the surrounding mountains and vineyards. Lapostolle’s cuisine champions the natural flavors of Chile by using local products from their organic vegetable and herb gardens, and from local fresh markets. A tasting room is furnished with high-tech A/V equipment, and planners can organize forest hikes, botanical tours and biking in the vineyards.

In Santiago, the luxurious Grand Hyatt Santiago features three restaurants with access to outdoor terraces overlooking the gardens and pool area, while Duke’s Bar offers live music. The Grand Ballroom hosts up to 800.

Five blocks south of the Hyatt is the central Plaza de Armas and a bustling market overflowing with a wide variety of fresh, local and exotic produce. Nearby, Sukalde is a quaint restaurant where chef Matias Palomo describes his food as molecular gastronomy. I call it deliciosa. A king crab appetizer in white gazpacho accompanied by a ripe sirloin on a potato crisp with truffle sauce pairs perfectly with a Catalina 2006 blend from Vina Santa Ema vineyard.

In Argentina, Mendoza is a 1-hour flight from Santiago aboard LAN Airlines. The opulent 185-room Park Hyatt Mendoza Hotel Casino & Spa, just 15 minutes from the marquee vineyards, is situated in the center of the business district. Highlights include the 3,300-sf Salón de Los Espejos ballroom and the preserved 19th century façade.

Numerous innovative restaurants have flourished in Argentina’s wine valley. Familia Zuccardi’s Casa del Visitante is internationally recognized, immediately evident 10 minutes after we pulled a cork out of their Santa Julia Reserva Malbec 2006. The vineyard is base camp for hot air balloon rides, picnic lunches under the olive trees, local art fairs, tastings in the vineyard via bicycles or classic cars, and cooking lessons with the resident chef.

Don’t pass by the 14-room Cavas Wine Lodge at the foothills of the Andes. The elegant restaurant serves local, organically produced cuisine. There’s also a magnificent spa using signature wine therapy treatments, whitewater rafting, skiing, 18-hole golf, horseback riding, hiking and biking within close proximity of the lodge.

LAN Airlines flies from east and west US gateways. The epicurean experience started right from our business-class seats with a wide range of local wines, olive oils and some rather delightful empanadas.