San Pedro, the tourist mecca in Northern Chile, is a crossroads for all kinds of people going in different directions in South America. According to local custom, the extinct volcano Licancabur which hovers in the distance is somewhat of a diety. Mountains are considered to be female in their mythology while volcanos are, of course, male.
We got up at 4 a.m. to drive to a field of geysers. It was freezing but watching the sun rise mitigated our climate woes. Chilean security in some of these places is pretty lax. Tourists can get really close to the exploding geysers and a few years ago, people were seriously harmed.
I like these shots. I think they are evocative and remind me of a black and white movie.
The colors of the rocks and the shrubs against the crystal blue sky were breathtaking. I think I took 200 pictures that day. Not quite Ansel Adams, I did my best. I also learned on this trip to always bring a number of memory cards. Modern living.
We were not the only inhabitants of the desert that day. In addition to some small birds, we saw a group of Vicunas grazing. I had seen the other indigenous species, the Guanacos, in Torres del Paine. Guanacos are slightly larger it seems to me. I saw a group of them running and felt like I was in the movie Out of Africa but without Robert Redford and that sexy hair washing scene.
I love this last picture with the reflection of the scene in the lake. Everyday was so long in Chile that it felt as if there were two days in each one.
At the end of this lovely day, I went hiking in a cactus filled canyon. There was a running waterfall where we could soak our feet and hang out. I could have fallen asleep in the canyon but somehow made it back to my hostel. Onward to the wine country and Valparaiso….
These photos are just so beautiful that I decided to put them up even though I drank very little wine during these two days. San Pedro di Atacama where I was staying was very hot and dusty. Water was my main companion. We tended to get up really early in the morning to go on expeditions to the various attractions in order to be there at day break. During the afternoon hours I tried to take a siesta but also wandered around a bit together with the local crowd (of doggies). Isabel Allende, the famous writer from Chile, wrote in her novel My Invented Country which I highly recommend that she had never known a Chilean to buy a dog. Apparently, they just follow you home and become part of your family.
This was the Salar de Atacama, the world’s third largest salt lake after the one in Utah and the largest one of all, the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. As soon as I got home from Chile, the New York Times had a big article on lithium that is being retrieved from these salt flats. Chile, Bolivia and Peru all have heavy mining industries and mixed records with the environment in this area. There is much concern in the local communities over their future but there is also widespread poverty and mining activities bring jobs. As always, there are no easy answers our guide said with a shrug.
This Altoplano lake was surrounded by mountains and beautiful desert grasses. This lake is part of Los Flamencos National Reserve.
These Andean flamingos were truly incredibly with their black back feathers and gorgeous pink beaks. Watching them fly over the lake was very exciting.
Pörlapà is apparently an expression in the dialect of Asti (Astigiano) which means something akin to oh wow! That’s how I felt about this Barbera d’Asti D.O.C. Superiore 2004 from Boeri Alfonso S.S. which I first tasted at the Newport Mansions Tasting back in September 2008. At the time I was struck by this rich, deep ruby colored wine which had delicious black fruit, spice and oak notes.
At wine tastings, you always end up sharing wine with your neighbors. My neighbors were Michele and Roberto from Banfi Vintners who are always wonderful and kind and Alex from Cape Cod Wholesale Wine & Spirits in Orleans. I fell in love with this Barbera d’Asti at the time and tonight tried a bottle for the second time. Pörlapà was my reaction this time around as well.
The wine spends some 18 months in barriques and a long period of time in the bottle before being sold into the market. Boeri wines usually spend about three years in the cellar. The winery is a family run outfit and has 10 hectares of vineyards. Some traditionalists may not favor this use of oak but I thought it gave the Barbera the tannins that it needed. Barbera has good acidity but is low in tannins. While I certainly enjoy the more traditional styles, I also liked this modern version. Thanks Alex!
I had the good fortune to interview David Lecomte from City Winery for Maslow 6, a new wine community. Maslow 6 has a barrel at City Winery so they have seen his winemaking prowess and knowledge first hand. I only just met David at a natural winemakers dinner that Maslow 6 organized in late February. I wrote about my encounter with biodynamic winemaker Olivier Cousin early this month. I sat down with David last week and had a very long chat. He was incredibly generous with his time and I found his experiences quite compelling. To read the interview, please check out Maslow 6’s blog.
Chile is such a long and varied country. I went from the green tones and blue glaciers of Patagonia to one of the driest deserts in the world, that of San Pedro di Atacama.
San Pedro is a tourist mecca for hikers, backpackers and people coming from northern Argentina or making their way to Peru and Bolivia. I was perfectly happy to spend some time in San Pedro, despite packs of rangy dogs roaming the streets. Someone mentioned that they only bit gringos or tourists so I pretended I was Chilean.
Among the most popular trips from this area are a sunset visit to the natural wonders of the Valle del la luna and the Valle del la Muerte. The wind has shaped these beautiful valleys and as the sun sets, they take on brown and purple hues. It reminded me of the sand paintings I used to make when I was young. There were no guard rails along the trails and the wind was pretty strong but the view was just breathtaking. I was glad I had not yet had any wine that day but was looking forward to my first glass before my night trip to look at the stars and the moon.
A top draw in San Pedro is also a night time Astronomy class taught by a French Astronomer. He takes around 25 people at a time on a trip to his home to look through his gigantic telescopes.
Before my night trip, I went out for dinner with friends and had the best wine yet on my trip. It was from the Limari Valley. I highly recommend this wine, the Vina Casa Tamaya Carmenere Reserva 2007 that I drank at a local restaurant. After such an exciting day, this wine and the delicious steak we had with it were a welcome addition.
The wine showed black fruits, spice, vanilla, smoke and pepper notes on the nose and on the palate. It had good structure, firm tannins and a long, persistent finish. It was a perfect end to a lovely day. The night sky awaited me and I was ready.
San Pedro is one of the clearest places in the world to study the night sky. You also get to see stars that we never see in the northern hemisphere such as the Southern Cross. Most countries with a serious astronomy program have telescopes in this area of Chile.
This shot of the moon was taken through the astronomer’s telescope. Pretty cool…Pictures will give you a hint of what I was lucky enough to see but there’s nothing like being there.
Some years ago I had the occasion to interview Pia Donata Berlucchi, CEO of Fratelli Berlucchi and President of Le Donne del Vino, an Italian association of women in wine started in 1988. She was extremely intelligent, very professional and really impressive with sharp and piercing blue eyes. I remember being a little intimidated by this tall woman from Lombardy in the interview. She was a real donna manager as they say in Italian, tough and practical. We spoke about what qualities women bring to the wine business and the difficulties that they sometimes face. I spoke with Pia Donata Berlucchi as part of a project that I have been working on for a number of years. She has been at the helm of her family company since 1977 and President of Le Donne del Vino since 2003. In 2008 she was given an award for female manager of the year for her work with both entities.
Fratelli Berlucchi is a family business. She is one of five, three brothers and a sister. The company headquarters, in a 12th century building, is located in Borgonato di Cortefranca. They have 70 hectares of vines split between DOCG and DOC areas. The soil is limestone based while the temperatures are mild. Franciacorta became a DOCG in 1995. Just like Champagne, Franciacorta does its secondary fermentation in the bottle.
Franciacorta is a beautiful area in the Lombardy region, near the city of Brescia and Lago di Garda, which is extremely well known for its sparkling wine. Franciacorta is not quite as well known in the United States as I think it should be. I was happy to learn that a relatively new company dedicated to promoting <a Franciacorta was launched in the United States. I have always felt that Franciacorta can legitimately compete with Champagne. The incredible rise in sales of both Prosecco and Cava in the United States is further proof in my eyes that Americans will embrace other types of sparkling wine, especially if the price is right.
This year during Vino 2009 I met her daughter Tilli and was able to taste many of their wines again and a new wine, Brut 25 DOCG
for the first time. The 25 in the name of this wine refers to the number of months between the harvest and the bottling of this wine. Brut 25 is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes which were picked a tad earlier than those that go into the other Berlucchi wines. Eminently drinkable immediately, this wine is a departure from the Fratelli Berlucchi style which tends to be more traditional. One of their wines that I love is the Saten 2004 . This is a blanc de blancs made from 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Blanc. The wine spends at least 32-33 months on its lees and two or three months in the bottle before it is sold. The wine is made slightly differently than other sparkling wines of this caliber. Most Champagne stays at 6 atmospheres of pressure whereas Saten made in Franciacorta can be under less than 4.5 atmospheres. Also, a smaller quantity of yeast and sugars are added. Saten always tastes like raspberries and strawberries to my palate. It is refreshing and delicious and was one of the first wines I ever tasted in a wine class in Milan. My teacher at the time, Luigi Amore, used to say that Saten caressed your mouth. The wine is elegant and minerally with beautiful acidity. A winner with me every time. I also tried a delicious Franciacorta Brut DOCG Millesimato. Made from Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir, this wine had more of the expected nutty and yeasty flavors as well as citrus notes.
I hope that Franciacorta will become a well known quantity in the United States. It’s a great alternative to Champagne. I love to drink sparkling wine on its own and to eat my whole meal with it. The versatility of these wines always amazes me. I’m excited for my upcoming trip to Italy where I know, I can find Franciacorta at every turn.
I began making my own wine a few years ago. While I had a great time during the entire exercise, the results have been less than stellar. With enthusiasm, I bought grapes, crushed them, let them macerate for a time, added yeast for fermentation assistance, racked and bottled my wine. I went through this exercise for three years running and have many bottles of so-so wine.
My wines, from my I Due Gatti label, apparently are not the only bad homemade wine. Many people have told me this but no one has been more convincing than David Lecomte, the winemaker at City Winery. In the midst of an interview with David for another website, we began to speak about the difficulty of making wine in such small quantities. He gently reminded me that with a very small quantities, everything is dependent on when you do each step. If you are off by one or two days with anything, it can totally change your product and in some cases, ruin it. Blending from different barrels would smooth defects out and help to correct imbalances or make stylistic changes. With my limited amount of wine, I of course, had no recourse to do any of that. Relieved, I think I may not give up home-winemaking but may begin to take part in larger productions at a facility under the careful and intelligent eye of a wine maker.
City Winery is a very appealing place to have dinner as well as a drink. I went to a dinner last month hosted by Maslow 6. I wrote about one of the wine makers and his wines, Olivier Cousin, in another post but I didn’t mention the food. We had a long involved menu but what I remember most clearly were the short ribs. Delicious. Music is a very big part of the draw at City Winery as well. Many artists perform on their super technological stage.
My favorite musician, Bruce Springsteen, was on The Daily Show last night, playing a song from his new album Working on a Dream and speaking with Jon Stewart. I adore Jon Stewart and he usually has me in stitches but yesterday he seemed like a star struck Jersey guy. I can well understand. As a Jersey girl, Bruce has the same effect on me. Even if I was from Diamante in Calabria, he would have that effect on me.