Liz Caskey is a chef, sommelier, food/wine writer, and owner of Liz Caskey Culinary & Wine Experiences, a luxury travel design firm based in Santiago, Chile offering culinary and wine-focused itineraries throughout Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay. She is also the author of the recently launched cookbook, Knack South American Cooking(Globe Pequot Press, 2010) available in the US market. She has also writes a well known blog, Eat Wine, that describes her food and wine adventures in South America and has published a 120-page ebook on everything food related in Santiago. I have known Liz for a few years and thought picking her brain on some of her Southern Cone highlights was long overdo.
New World Review: I know you often work with Emiliana Organico Winery. How prevalent are Organic wines in Chile. Is this a major trend or just a few wineries are carving out a niche?
Liz Caskey: Organic wines are a major trend here—and beyond that, biodynamic viticulture is increasing. Emiliana Orgánico was the pioneer that had the vision to invest and blaze this path in the late 90s but now, there are over a dozen of top projects that are going organic and biodynamic—Clos Apalta, Matetic, Cono Sur, to name a few. Chile is an Eden for viticulture with natural barriers against diseases along with a dry, Mediterranean climate. It’s truly perfect for this type of farming. More than being a trend, I also believe that wineries are understanding that by investing in the health of your soil and vines, you ultimately produce a better wine that expresses the terroir in a pure manner.
NWR: Which of your wine tours in the Southern Cone are the best selling? Which is your favorite?
LC: They all are! We are seeing a big increase in interest in wine lovers doing both Chile and Argentina on the same trip, which is ideal since the climates, grapes, and styles are like night and day (just like the cultures, too).
NWR: Favorite vineyard? Why?
LC: Neyen. I got to know this project by accident by a mutual acquaintance in France at his family’s Chateau right when it was starting. I went to visit them as they were restoring the 120-year-old winery (oldest in Colchagua) to perfection and we were the first to bring in our clients to get to know this special place. Besides having a privileged site to grow their amazing old vine Cabernet and Carmenere grapes, the architecture reminds you of the colonial roots of Colchagua. They only make one wine, Neyen, which is a melody in your mouth. Fresh berry and plum aromas with dark chocolate, amazing structure yet finesse, like a graceful male ballerina leaping across stage. It lingers as it opens and is a little mysterious. Absolutely divine.
NWR: Favorite grape?
LC: It depends on my mood and I go through phases where I get wild about one variety (last month was Carignan in reds, for example). Overall though, white would be Sauvignon Blanc and red Pinot Noir, in the form of still (red) Pinot Noir or a nice dry, bubbly Brut.
NWR: Favorite wine related hotel?
LC: That’s a toss up between Cavas Wine Lodge in Mendoza and Casa Lapostolle Residences in Colchagua. Both are romantic, delicious, wine-driven “lodges” with great views and details that are intimate and all about unplugging to the experience.
NWR: Next South American wine region to make it big?
LC: I would like to say Uruguay, as I think their wine industry is making huge advances in quality and style, but I think it’s still slightly off-the-radar for the average wine drinker. Salta, however, is coming on strong and Torrontes seems to be on everybody’s lips this summer.
NWR: What’s your go-to restaurant in Santiago? Why?
LC: Baco Wine Bar in Providencia. It’s consistent and I can drink many of Chile’s best wines, garage to prestigious projects like Gilmore Cabernet Franc or Almaviva, respectively, by the glass. If you order by the bottle, they stock back vintages of many best wines. The food is fresh, delicious, simple and I am obsessed with their steak tartare. Great service, place is jam packed all the time.
NWR: Buenos Aires?
LC: Brasserie Petanque in San Telmo. Great atmosphere on a scenic corner, stellar service, delicious brasserie fare, and a killer wine list not marked up (same price as the winery). The owner is friends with the winemakers of Fabre Montmayou, one of the most European wineries in Argentina in my opinion. They have their finest Malbec blend, Le Grand Vin, on the wine list for the same price as I buy it in Mendoza!
NWR: What’s the one Chilean ingredient you cannot live without?
LC: Merkén. Smoked red chilies that are cold-smoked and ground with cilantro seeds. It has some characteristics of chipotle but layers of earthiness and just the right touch of spiciness. Heaven on anything from scrambled eggs to beans, soups, hummus.
10.) Favorite Chilean pairing (wine+dish)?
That’s hard!!! There are so many. A zingy Sauvignon Blanc from the San Antonio Appellation (like Casa Marin’s Los Cipreses or Garcés Silva’s Amayna) with machas a la parmesana, tender pink razor clams from the Chilean coast barely poached in an earthen bowl, greda, in a white wine-butter sauce with Parmesan gratin. Heaven.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.