CARMENERE CALL­ING

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE -

when she turned 40, at­tend­ing pres­ti­gious culi­nary arts in­sti­tu­tion Le Cor­don Bleu in Paris. Her restau­rant — a light-filled space once used as a week­end home — of­fers by-ap­point­ment cook­ing classes, and is other­wise open only for lunch on week­ends. It’s no sur­prise Ro­driguez thinks first about the wine when craft­ing a menu.

“The food should dance with the wine, not com­pete with it,” she says, serv­ing me im­pos­si­bly ten­der oc­to­pus with lemon, Lec­cino oil and sea as­para­gus in a bowl formed of gran­ite from the nearby Tin­guirir­ica River. Course two is an equally pretty plate of pork cheeks atop squid-ink pasta, baby kale, basil and flow­ers. Ro­driguez is pas­sion­ate about lo­cal pro­duc­ers, and lists each one fea­tured on the day’s menu.

When I visit, dishes use olive oil made by Juan Car­los Diaz on his es­tate up the road, the merquen (smoked chilli pep­per) comes from lo­cal com­pany Et­nia, and the fleur de sel from salt la­goons on Colch­agua’s coast.

Lo­cal cre­ations of a dif­fer­ent kind are on dis­play at Museo de Colch­agua, in the val­ley’s main town, Santa Cruz. The largest pri­vate mu­seum in Chile, the space houses the im­pres­sive, al­beit off­beat, col­lec­tion of con­tro­ver­sial en­trepreneur Car­los Car­doen. There are preColumbian an­thro­po­mor­phic ceram­ics, au­to­mo­biles, weapons and World War II relics, Ma­puche sil­ver and hua­sos (cow­boy) gear; many come for El Gran Rescate (The Big Res­cue) ex­hibit alone, a shrine to the 2010 res­cue of 33 Chilean min­ers trapped 700m un­der­ground for 69 days.

The mu­seum is al­most as in­con­gru­ous here, sur­rounded by craft stores sell­ing colour­ful weav­ing and ceram­ics, as the Frank Gehry-in­spired Vina Vik. But just like Vik, it man­ages to sur­prise and de­light, and of­fers an un­ex­pected taste of Chile that will only im­prove with age.

Natasha Dragun was a guest of Tourism Chile.

Fol­low­ing the Phyl­lox­era plague that wiped out a ma­jor­ity of Europe’s grapes in the late 1800s, carmenere was con­sid­ered ex­tinct. A few cut­tings of the grape va­ri­ety had been im­ported to Chile just be­fore the wipe­out, but lo­cal grow­ers had mis­tak­enly iden­ti­fied them as mer­lot. The vines flour­ished in the val­leys around San­ti­ago thanks to the re­gion’s in­fre­quent rain­fall and hot days, a con­trast to the grape’s French home. It wasn’t un­til 1994 that vint­ners re­alised that some of Chile’s “mer­lot” vines ac­tu­ally showed the same grow­ing qual­i­ties as carmenere, and with that, the grape va­ri­ety was “re­dis­cov­ered”. To­day, Chile is home to about 90 per cent of the world’s carmenere plan­ta­tions, with the grape pro­duc­ing a dis­tinc­tive medium-bod­ied red wine known for its notes of berries and spice.

Cel­lar at La­pos­tolle, cen­tre left; pool with a view at Vina Vik, left

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