It reads, “2J” on my ticket, my heart instantly skips a beat faster and my face is now drawn with a Cheshire cat’s grin. The power of single digit followed by an alphabet, it is the golden ticket in the air. This ticket will not only make me very special, but it will also be my life saviour for the next 14 hours or so, as I travel to South America for the first time via LAN Airlines – on Premium Business Class.
I am not that kind of person who whines about Economy Class (seriously people, be grateful that you are actually travelling); but to have that extra space in Business Class for a long haul flight is simply godsend. The flight from Sydney to Santiago is a two part journey with the first leg to Auckland that takes three hours and fifteen minutes followed by an eleven hour and twenty minutes to Santiago.
Our flight LA 0800 is an older airbus 340-300 which has a 2-2-2 seating configuration in the premium business class. Although the seat is not as fancy as the one on a A380, to have the extra leg room for a 6ft2 tall man like me is a bonus. Each seat comes with preset reclining positions that can extend into a flat bed or you can adjust it manually to make yourself comfortable. Plus, not many people actually know this, there is also a “massage” button on each seat. Each seat is equipped with two USB ports (hello, hours of Candy Crush!) and a shared universal power point in the centre console by the feet.
Fresh hot towels were handed out to passengers before the breakfast commences. We have a choice of hot scrambled egg with bacon and asparagus or a cold meat and cheese platter. My tray is already filled to the brim with fruit salad and also two slices of carrot cake, but somehow our friendly cabin crew still able to convince me to pick a croissant that my stomach doesn’t need out from the bread assortments basket – pure evil I tell you!
It is also time to explore the entertainment while having a bite. Have to say that the entertainment unit isn’t as exciting with limited movies and TV series selections (I am a movie buff, so I’ve seen most of them). I ended up watching a foreign film on our way to Auckland and also trying to catch the whole series of True Detective as I’ve heard good things from many friends. Unfortunately, the episodes aren’t listed in the correct order on the console and I ended up watching the last episode of the series. Doh! Hence I decided to spend the rest of the time to take forty winks and before we know it, we have arrived in Auckland.
Transit in Auckland is painless with only just over an hour layover, almost just enough time to check out the Qantas lounge in the airport and soon enough we have to hop back on the plane for the longer leg of this journey.
“Buenas Tardes!”, greetings from the friendly cabin crew and I can already feel the Latin fever as soon as I hop on the plane. I think is time to polish up my Spanish! This time I get assigned to a different seat and the whole premium business class is also almost full. All passengers are welcomed aboard to a glass of Maison Louis Roederer Champagne or Pisco Sour, the classic cocktail made famous in Peru and Chile. I can see myself drinking lots of this delicious cocktail on this trip already.
Since the merge between Chilean LAN Airlines and Brazilian based TAM Airlines in June 2012 to form LATAM Airlines Group, they have now become one of the world’s largest airline groups, especially connecting the South America region to the rest of the world. LAN Airlines has won many accolades for the past few years, including Best Business Class to South America (Business Traveler Magazine 2013 awards), Best South American Airlines (Skytrax World Airline Survery Awards 2013). But what is more exciting is that LAN Airlines has also picked up two awards for their wine list in Business Class – 3rd place in Best-presented Business Class wine list (Business Traveler Magazine 2013 Cellars in the Sky) and also 3rd place in category “Red Wine International Business Class” (Global Traveler’s annual Wines on the Wind 2013 awards).
Yes, they do take their wines seriously here in South America. To choose the best wines to be served onboard sounds like a long tedious process. After a rigorous pre-selection process, 300 chosen wines will be tasted over three days by a panel of wine experts of LAN, including Latin American only Master Sommelier, Hector Vergara, who has been advising LAN Airlines on its wine list selection for 20 years. Finally the panel will choose 30 wines to be featured on six distinct wine menus throughout the year, five wines at a time.
It is not “red” or “white” anymore, as there are five different types of wine to choose from in Premium Business Class. The wines chosen are mainly Chilean or Argentinean to represent the best of South America. The lunch menu comes with wine pairing suggestions, but you are welcomed to try as many or as little as you like.
For my entree, I go with the wine pairing suggestion of Vina Leyda Lot 21 Pinot Noir 2012 that has wild berries on the palate, soft tannins with long finish that works exceptionally well with the velvety smooth prosciutto. Delicioso! (See I learnt fast.)
What I am most looking forward to try is the Bogeda Renacer Malbec 2010 from Argentina. You simply can’t come to South America without trying some Malbec, which is what Argentina is famous for. I get the big chunk of grilled steak with mushroom sauce for main to pair with the full bodied, sweet tannins red wine, aged in French oak barrels for 24 months; it is bold and gutsy.
Here’s some trivia for you – you actually can’t call fortified wine ‘Port’ anymore, unless it is from Portugal. When there is a bottle of Croft Oporto late bottled vintage 2005 port from Portugal for tasting, I say why not and finish my meal with a slice of passion fruit cheesecake with it.
I still feel like a (big) kid in the candy store whenever I receive the amenities bag on the plane. This amenities kit by Salvatore Ferragamo is possibly the most comprehensive one I’ve ever received – sleeping mask, ear plugs, hand cream, face cream, pen, comb, mirror, toothbrush and paste, socks, lip balm, tote bag and even a shoehorn.
The sky is already dark outside the window and is time to catch some sleep as my seat slowly buzzing away and turning into a flatbed. I don’t sleep well on my back so I turn to my side and still able to find myself a comfortable position (don’t mind my tush facing everybody) on the flatbed. No Valium nor sleeping pills, but thanks to the fine wine, I dosed off almost immediately. I managed to have 6 hours sleep and woken up for breakfast, 2 hours before landing.
Finally we see the coast line of South America!
My first glimpse of the snow capped Andes, the longest continental mountain range in the world.
It is time to fasten my seatbelt, turn off all electronic devices, seat back in upright position, windows up, trays away (I can be a flight attendant I reckon), as our plane slowly descends and hits the tarmac with a sudden bump. We have finally landed at our first destination – Santiago, Chile.
Chile looks like an exciting country that I would love to explore, but sadly not on this trip. We only use Santiago as a pit stop before continuing our journey to further afield. We have few hours to kill on the inbound flight and an overnight stay in Santiago on the way home – just enough time for us to have a taste of this city.
A quick freshen up at the airport hotel, we all hop into a taxi and zoom straight into the city of Santiago. We spend the afternoon in the bohemian quarter of Barrio Bellavista, a lively neighbourhood populated by uni students from the St Sebastian University and University of Chile, the Faculty of Law campus. The whole Pio Nono street (same street as St Sebastian Uni) is teemed with restaurants, bars and nightclubs. We randomly pick a restaurant and grab a quick drink sitting outside to wind down after the long haul flight. Not far from it is the Patio Bellavista, an outdoor complex made up of upmarket eateries, bars and souvenir shops, that’s where we decided to grab some lunch.
You can’t come to Chile without tasting the superb Chilean wine. Despite Chile has a long viticultural history dating to the 16th century when the Spanish brought the vines with them, wine had always been considered a cheap peasant drink only for the poor and farmers. Then it all changed in 1980s when stainless steel tanks and oak barrels were introduced to winemaking. Farmers started to produce quality wine commercially and within 10 years, the number of wineries has grown from 12 in 1995 to over 70 in 2005. Chile is now the fifth largest exporter of wines in the world.
The Casablanca Valley is a renowned wine producing region 75km northwest of Santiago. It is only about an hour and twenty minutes drive from Santiago, which makes this wine region an idyllic spot for a day trip or weekend getaway. Since we only have enough time to make one stop, we waste no time and head straight to Matetic Vineyards for some wine tasting.
The Matetic family, originally from Yugoslavia bought the property back in 1984 for farming and started a successful wool business. When the wine production started to grow in Casablanca valley in 1992, the Matetic family decided to diversity their business ventures and enter the world of wine. They didn’t plant their first vine until 1999.
Matetic Vineyards is located in Rosario Valley, between Casablanca and San Antonio. This completely enclosed valley possesses the ideal climatic and topographic conditions for wine growing. And what makes Matetic wine different from the others is that they are one of the only two officially certified organic and biodynamic wineries in Chile. Matetic has three vineyards in Casablanca and Rosario Valley, a total of 121 hectares of certified organic and biodynamic vineyards that grow almost every kind of grapes including Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Riesling, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer.
Less talk, more drink, I say. Bring on the wine!
Matetic produces three different wine range. Matetic Syrah is their cream of the crop, they have been pioneers in cultivating Syrah (known as Shiraz here in Australia) in the cool climate of the San Antonio Valley. The Corralillo represents the name of the still-standing century-old wine cellar and winery in Rosario Valley where wine of the old Mission grape was once made. But today we will be tasting the EQ range. Short for equilibrium, EQ’s concept stands for the commitment Matetic vineyards has with nature in creating a harmonious balance between the soil, climate and the vines.
First we try the EQ Sauvignon Blanc 2013 produced from grapes grown in Casablanca. It is characterised by having nuances of ripe tropical fruits and a slight hint of mineral aromas. The EQ Chardonnay 2011 is produced the traditional style but only 40% of the grapes were fermented in French oak barrels at a shorter period of time, so that the Chardonnay is less intense, less oak-y with a nice balance of acidity that gives it life and freshness, an elegant long-lasting finish. Next we try is EQ Pinot Noir 2012, all the grapes were hand harvested from Casablanca valley then fermented using only indigenous yeast in oak barrels for 14 months before bottling. The Pinot Noir is intense with red fruit and cherries on the nose and a subtle earthy, mineral notes. It is soft on the palate and very drinkable. The last one we try is the EQ Syrah 2010, a firm body, with spicy, peppery aromas, which mellows down to a soft, elegant finish. If you love an intense, bold Shiraz, then this is for you.
Down the road from the cellar door is La Casona, a luxurious holiday accommodation and restaurant within the Matetic Vineyards. We have a quick snoop around one of the rooms before settling down at the garden for some appetisers.
Macerado – Casablanca
We drop by at Macerado restaurant in Casablanca for lunch before heading back to Santiago to catch our flight home. Built in 1955, Macerado was once a lovely home to Mr Gaston Arancibia and Mrs Rebeca Garces for over 30 years. It was (and still is) an important piece of architecture in this area as part of the Casablanca heritage. The property has been passing down through different owners since 1988 and eventually was turned into a restaurant in 2006 by current owners Mr Rafael Donosa and Mrs Ana Vasquez.
It is like walking into someone’s home, where home cooked traditional Chilean cuisine awaits. Rafael greets everyone who walks through the door, whereas his wife Ana is the chef in the kitchen who specialises in traditional Chilean cuisine.
This is no fine dining, the portion size is humungous and is home cooking at its best. A basket full of freshly baked marraqueta bread rolls are still warm to the touch, it looks like scone but is a lot denser on the inside. We then share a couple of entrees between the 5 of us. The Macerado style grilled octopus was smokey and superbly tender, resting on a bed of sautéed vegetables with a light drizzle of olive oil from Casablanca. I read ‘lengua’ on the menu and simply have to order it. The young bull tongue (with all the trimmings including the tiny bumpy tastebuds!) is slow cooked in casserole until tender, soaked up the creamy bearnaise walnut sauce, then served with fresh green leaves picked from the vegetable garden at the property. I think I’ve just French-kissed a cow and I loved it!
South American cuisine tends to be meaty and heavy, and there is no exception here in Chile either. All our mains come with a big hunk of slow-cooked protein and a small side. Even though the baked short beef plate and Macerado pork ribs (actually the ribs can be in the oven a little bit longer) are pretty darn tasty, but my cured Huachalomo beef neck is the best hands down. The cured beef neck is slow cooked in Merlot from Casablanca until the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender and delightful juicy by soaking up all the rich gravy, served with sauteed leeks and potatoes gratin on the side that is extremely decadent. The meal was so rich and heavy, I simply have no more space for desserts.
Our time in Santiago is short but sweet, it definitely leaves me wanting more. But our trip in South America has only just started. It is time to bid Santiago farewell and we are ready for our next big adventure.
PERU, HERE WE COME!
Where to stay – Lastarria Boutique Hotel, Coronel Santiago Bueras 188, Santiago 8320135, Chile
- Make sure you have your vaccination for Hep A & B, Typhoid and Yellow Fever prior to departure.
- Get some US dollars and then exchange it to local currencies when you get to South America.
- Drink Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Camenere, Syrah from Chile; Malbec from Argentina
- Best to get bottled water rather than drink from tap
- To create your own holiday in South America, please visit South America Travel Centre.
Most commonly used phrases
Most South Americans speak Spanish. Learn a few makes the trip a lot more enjoyable.
- Hola! – Hello!
- Buenos días! – Good morning!
- Buenas Tardes – Good Afternoon
- Buenas Noches – Good Evening
- Gracias – Thank you
- ¿Cómo estás? – How are you?
- muy bien y tú? – I am good, and you?