Today’s title is taken from the opening lines of “Ode To Wine” by Pablo Neruda, the renowned, Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet. We will get to the wine part of the day later but let’s start with Neruda himself.
Neruda is regarded as Chile’s national poet, having his first works published at the tender age of 13 ad his first formal collection of poems in print by the time he was 20. In a career path somewhat at odds with traditional expectations of poets, he served in his 20s as Chilean consul in Burma, Ceylon, Java and Singapore, and later in France and Mexico. He also found time to be elected as a senator and in later life acted as an advisor to Salvador Allende. He died only days after Allende was overthrown, his death possibly hastened under Pinochet’s orders.
His three houses in Chile – in Santiago, Valparaiso and Isla Negra – are preserved as part of an art foundation project in his name. We decided to visit his Santiago residence – La Chascona.
The house has been preserved as it was when Neruda lived there. Well – restored rather than preserved since it was vandalised immediately after the military coup of 1973. When Neruda died shortly after, his widow invited the world press and diplomats to his wake in the ruins of the house so that they could bear witness to what had happened. His funeral also turned into the first public show of dissent against the Pinochet regime.
After our visit, we strolled back through the Bellavista district which is full of bars and restaurants, many of which have staff deeply committed to persuading passers-by to step inside and partake of their wares. We were already booked for our local wine bar that evening so resisted their solicitations.
Apart from time zone calculations, I also find myself consistently adding six months to the date to try to understand what is the current season in the Southern Hemisphere. Mid-March here should be the start of autumn, but temperatures are still around 28°-32°C so long city walks necessitate a shower and change. We relaxed for a while and played some bluegrass before heading out for dinner at Bocanariz.
The restaurant offered wine flights – tasting glasses of three different wines curated around a particular theme. We kicked off our evening with a selection called Chilean Heritage – a range of wines from some of Chile’s oldest vines – accompanied by a selection of oysters. For our main course, we went for the tapas option to sample some different flavours. The morcilla (spanish black pudding) was delicious, but so was everything. The wine flight here was entitled Carmenere: National Emblem. Our waiter, Israel, did a wonderful job of talking us through the wines but also explaining why this is such a uniquely Chilean grape. It was thought to have become extinct as a result of the phylloxera plague in Europe in the mid-19th century but it was inadvertently reserved by Chilean growers. Inadvertently, because it was thought to be a strain of Merlot until it was correctly identified as Carmenere in 1994.
The three Carmenere wines we tasted as part of this flight were all excellent but the middle one, Undurraga Founders Collection Carmenere 2015, was outstanding. We had another glass of this.
Highly content with our alternative to a vineyard tour, we took a short walk back to the apartment and called it a night.