Chile has always been known for its affordable wines; more recently its top reds have challenged the best from California and France. And now the word is getting out about its gorgeous wine country, with dramatic swaths of vineyards in valleys tucked between the jagged Pacific coast and the foothills of the Andes. Almost every significant Chilean wine region boasts architecturally bold new wineries, excellent restaurants and its own wine route, from established valleys like Colchagua and Casablanca to up-and-comers like San Antonio—one of my favorites. And all can be seen on day trips from Chile's capital, Santiago.
This stretch of open coastal land ringed by forested hills has become Chile's top white wine region. In the 1980s, against pretty much everyone's advice, viticulturist Pablo Morandé decided to plant about 50 acres of Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc among the thornbushes. His instincts were right: The brisk Pacific breezes keep the summer heat in check, resulting in healthy vines with slow-ripening fruit. Now Casablanca has eight wineries and more than 10,000 acres of vines.