I recently went to my favorite neighborhood wine shop in search of a bottle of red for dinner. For the past few years, I have been traveling to France, tasting and falling in love with their wines. Bordeaux has become my absolute favorite.

As I searched around, the shop owner suggested something different. A bottle of red from Chile with a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, Carmenére, and cabernet franc. It was produced in the Maipo Valley, about a 33-minute drive from Santiago, Chile’s capital city.

The wine had similar elements to what I loved and recognized in Bordeaux wines, and suddenly my desire to further explore Chile was awakened. 

We don’t often think of South America as a travel destination for wine. Yet Chile is the perfect place to grow wine grapes, with its coastal valleys setting the stage for ideal climate conditions. The mountains help shelter the land from harsher conditions and make for a wonderful harvest of grapes.

Viewfinder Tip: The best time to travel to Chile is February to April for those who want to experience the local harvest festivals.

There are 14 main wine valley regions in Chile, each offering a diverse flavor and wine experience—though after trying several bottles, I found I like their Syrah and Malbec the most. Just writing about them makes me thirsty!

Needless to say, I am adding Chile’s wine country to the top of my travel bucket list in 2016. I won’t have a problem finding a wine tour to go on, but I am also looking forward to learning about its food, its culture, and its people.

I would start my journey in Santiago and explore its architecture and art scene, starting with the city’s major museum, the Santiago Museum of Contemporary Art. The city was also recently awarded the 2015 Great Taste Award by Saveur magazine, who called it the “Next Great Food City,” so you know I have to taste everything!

Though the National Reserve Malalcahuello-Nalcas is about an eight-hour drive from Santiago (and past a few great vineyards), I would take the trip just for the views of the Callaqui, Lonquimay, and Tolhuaca volcanoes, as well as to check out what is now called the Navidad (“Christmas”) crater, which exploded in 1988 and left a scene which I have heard described as being out of this world.

In a perfect whirlwind Chilean adventure, I would do all of the above and tour Easter Island, a little over 2,000 miles off the coast of Chile. But maybe packing it all into one trip would take away from the special moments that a slower pace would bring.

Oh, well. I guess I have no choice but to “limit” my first Chile trip to good wines, great art, and amazing food. And then just come back again and again for more.

What destination is next on your travel bucket list?