Santiago, Chile: Vinolia wine course – how to become a wine-tasting master

I take another sniff. Clean, herbaceous and woody. Pine perhaps? I tentatively uncover the label. Rosemary. Of course! How did I not guess that?

Clearly, I’m not cut out to be a sommelier. Of the 10 wine aromas I’ve tried to identify so far, I’ve correctly guessed one. And that was damp earth. Hard to wax lyrical about “notes of damp earth”.

This entertaining guessing game is happening at Vinolia, an innovative new wine centre in the upmarket Santiago suburb of Vitacura. The premise is to provide an authentic, city-based wine tasting experience for those who don’t have time to visit a wine region. Every day there are three tours, each focusing on one of Chile’s major wine-producing areas – Casablanca, Maipo and Colchagua.

We’re on the Colchagua tour and after being greeted with a refreshing glass of Domaine sparkling, we meet our guide Rosanna. In Spanish and English she explains that the Colchagua Valley is located 145 kilometres south of Santiago and is best known for its reds, particularly carmenere, syrah and cabernet sauvignon.

She ushers us into an adjoining “aroma room”, where a video describes the three sources of a wine’s aroma: primary, which comes from the grape; secondary, which develops during fermentation; and tertiary, which occurs during barrelling and bottling.

Then we put our noses to the test by seeing how many of the 40-plus wine aromas we can identify. Soon the room is filled with squeals of recognition and groans of dismay as people attempt to discern scents such as plum, leather and chocolate. Even with jars of coffee beans to help reset the senses, it doesn’t take long to reach olfactory overload. Halfway through, someone cries out, “My nose is full!”

We move into the tasting theatre next door, where tiered rows of seats face a large screen. Neatly arranged in front of each seat are five wines to taste, a notepad and a small platter of cheese and crackers.

Rosanna talks us through the tasting process. First, we study the colour (darker normally means older), then we swirl and smell (any notes of damp earth?). Finally, we sip, taste and optionally spit (no one spits).

With the technique mastered, we’re ready for the main event – a guided tasting of five Colchagua wines. However, Rosanna won’t be leading it; instead, we’ll be virtually chaperoned by each winemaker on a video.

It’s a system that works surprisingly well. One by one, the five winemakers give a brief history of their vineyard, explain the wine and then guide us through the tasting. We start with a light, unoaked chardonnay from the Los Vascos winery (fruity with notes of honey), move on to a merlot by Montes (silky with chocolate on the nose), then work our way through a rich malbec from Viu Manent, an intense syrah by Lapostolle and finish with my favourite – a velvety cab sav from Koyle. They’re all excellent examples of their respective styles and the guided tasting encourages you to savour every sip.

While some of the winemaker’s descriptions are amusingly colourful (“an erotic wine that just wants to speak to you”), the experience is refreshingly free of the pretension that so often permeates the industry. During an entertaining series of blooper-filled out-takes shown at the end, one winemaker exclaims, “This shit is not serious – it’s just wine!”

TRIP NOTES

Rob McFarland travelled courtesy of Chimu Adventures.

MORE

traveller.com.au/chile

chile.travel/en

FLY

LATAM flies to Santiago five times a week direct from Melbourne and daily from Sydney via Auckland. See latam.com

TASTE

Vinolia’s one-hour tasting experiences runs Monday to Saturday and costs from 30,000 pesos. There is also a wine store and an excellent on-site restaurant. See vinolia.cl/en

TOUR

Chimu Adventures’ Chile itinerary including flights, accommodation, transfers and tours. See chimuadventures.com