The first bottle of Chilean wine I bought in Puerto Natales was from a tiny shop that obviously did not specialize in wines, and it only cost US$6.
It was delicious.
I had heard that the food in Chile is terrible, and the wine in Chile is better and cheaper than the wine in Argentina. I can tell you the former is not true, but I am still deciding about the latter.
My challenge in Chile is that I am not putting down roots in a location.
I only have so much time (and money) to learn about the best wines through trial-and-error and suggestions from others. I had lots of time to explore wine in Buenos Aires, especially with the many wine events in the city.
By the time I arrived in Central Chile, I knew one thing about Chilean wine. The cheap wines I am drinking in Chile are better and cheaper than the cheap wines I had in Argentina. (Seriously, my go-to cheap Chilean wine costs US$4, people! And you know I’m a wine snob.)
But I appreciate good wine. I want to know what Chile has to offer.
My Best Wine Experience: Matetic
I visited three vineyards in Casablanca Valley, and Matetic was by far the best experience, not just in Chile but EVER. Matetic is a fairly young vineyard that has grown at the right pace and in the right way using organic and bio-dynamic practices, and they are producing some of the best wines in Chile.
They do not usually have large tour groups visit. It is more important to them that they offer more personalized attention to guests that actually have a desire to learn about their process and wines.
If you are not interested in the details and just want to know about the wines, I will not be offended if you scroll down to the bottom. However, I have to share the cool facts I learned about Matetic.
History: Family Run
The Matetic family is from the Slovenia/ Croatia region. In 1990, they started farming sheep on part of the 10,000 hectares they bought between San Antonio Valley and Casablanca Valley.
Their first wine production was not until 2001. That is incredible development in such a short time. They are now planting in 5 different areas and have 120 hectares in production. This is still a small area compared to how much land they own, so there is much room to grow.
The company is still family-run, and they are an enterprising group, which impresses the business-woman in me. They also export blueberries to the US and Germany. They recently started making cheese from sheeps milk. They have just started making handcrafted goods from the sheeps wool.
This stuff is STRONG but delicious. I have never tasted anything like it.
Basically, they are using what the best of what their property offers to continue to expand their business.
Location: Casablanca Valley
Matetic is in a sub-region of Casablanca Valley called Rosario. Casablanca Valley is a cold climate, close to the sea. They get a large variation in temperature between day and night.
At night, a fog comes in over the valley, which provides more humidity for the grape and leads to more concentration in flavors and aromas.
My favorite wines tend to come from this type of environment.
Biodynamic: Bio what?
Matetic has been completely organic from the beginning of their wine production, which is not a claim most vineyards can make.
Biodynamic is a new term for me, and it is an interesting theory and practice that seems to combine ecological self-sufficiency and the spiritual/ energetic side of nature. I will not go into all the details here, but you can read more about it in this Wikipedia article.
They use animals to naturally tend to the land (e.g. sheep and alpaca eat the weeds and grass, chickens eat insects and worms).
Although I do not think ALL biodynamic vineyards do this, Matetic follows the moon calendar with the help of a consultant from California. They create different composts to use according to the moon calendar. Ingredients in the composts include different types of flowers and even quartz. Quartz provides more energy which leads to greater photosynthesis.
The Facility: Beautiful and Intelligent Design
The building is 7 years old and was designed by an architect from Norway who knows about wine. The tanks are underground for two reasons: the temperature is cooler, and the grapes are pulled in by gravity rather than pumping to avoid breaking the skins.
The building has all natural light and is kept cool without using air conditioning by having a garden on the roof and utilizing concrete and river stones in the construction.
In the barrel storage room, there is a machine that monitors the conditions and will release a mist to increase humidity when needed.
Quality and Innovation
These practices and use of technology are not enough for Matetic when it comes to quality. They also only use French oak barrels (6 different kinds) because they are made by hand and are more delicate with the flavors. The barrels are used only 3 times and carefully washed between uses.
They use smaller tanks to ensure better quality control.
We passed this small laboratory.
I love that there is a glass of red wine in the middle of test tubes and other geaky equipment.
This is something I had never heard of previously. For their first experiment, they are going to compare their Chardonnay and Syrah.
EQ Coastal Sauvignon Blanc 2011
This wine has a wonderful fruity smell but surprises with a dry taste of citrus and minerals. I know that “minerals” sounds like a weird taste, but it is actually nice. A crisp, refreshing wine. Perfect for summer.
EQ Chardonnay 2009
This wine smells of butterscotch, flowers, and a hint of vanilla. I do not usually like Chardonnays, but this one tastes clean with a perfect balance of sweet and buttery flavors.
EQ Pinot Noir 2009
I am a big fan of Pinot Noir, and I really liked the balance of this wine. It was delicate and smooth but still full of flavor.
Matetic Syrah 2008
This is their new and highest-end wine offering. It spends 18 months in French oak and then stored for another year. There are only 200 cases produced. This was my second-favorite with a bold, fruit-forward smell and taste.
My Favorite: EQ Syrah 2009
This wine spends 1 year in French oak. It tastes of cinnamon, cloves, pepper, and leather. Since I love a wine with buen cuerpo (good body) and these flavors, this was an easy pick for me.
The name of this line EQ and the symbol on label represent equilibrium, or balance. The company practices what it preaches.
How to Visit Matetic
This is one of only two vineyards in Chile where you can actually see the harvest. They start in March and finish May, so it is best to visit during this time. (I was there a little early).
Joseline really took the time to explain their processes and their wine, which is what made this such a special experience for me. If you actually want to learn and see the facilities, you will love this tour.
Tours are by appointment only, and you can contact them via email at tours (at) mateticvineyards (dot) com or contact the Santiago office at (56-2) 232 3134.
Visit the Matetic website for more information.
How to Drink Matetic
The majority of the wine is exported. I can be bought in Chile at the specialty wine stores of La Vinoteca and through CAV. It can also be found at fine restaurants in Chile where it is distributed by La Vinoteca.
For exports contact dennis (at) quintessentialwines (dot) com.
So How Did I End Up At Matetic?
There are multiple wine areas in Central Chile. While it is easy to get to the nearest town in the wine valleys by bus, you really need a car to explore the vineyards.
I got lucky.
Paul, an American expat living in Santiago, invited me to tag along visiting some select vineyards in Casablanca Valley. I had never even heard of Matetic, and he told me it is one of the top wines in the country. (He was right.)
How did I meet Paul?
While I was in Santiago, I decided to see what Meetup groups exist. There is a Santiago Wine Explorers group, so I immediately sent them an email to see if they were doing any wine events in the city.
Unfortunately, there was nothing scheduled during my stay, but Paul told me he and his girlfriend would be going to Casablanca Valley, and I was welcome to meet them there and tag along to visit some vineyards.
I cannot thank Paul enough for leading me to this experience.
During my travels, I have found that expats are so generous in helping travelers with both their knowledge of the area and even a tour through wine country.