Venerable South

(by peter)

South African stunner

South African stunner

It’s been a good time of late to be a Londoner with a taste for southern Hemisphere wines.

The Beautiful South was a mammoth show featuring over 300 producers from Argentina, Chile and South Africa. Among my favourites that I got to taste at the show were: AA Badenhorst, Achaval Ferrer, Alheit, Ataraxia, Cape Point, Casa Marin, De Martino, Meerlust, Morandé, Mullineux and Zorzal.

But one producer had a couple of mind-blowing wines under the table: thank you Viña Santa Carolina. This is a winery taking an active interest in its winemaking history, to inform its approach in a new ‘heritage’ project to recreate historic Chilean wine styles from old vine material.

The Estrella de Oro Blanco 1962 was made from unidentified varieties (Semillon and Chardonnay?) in large old raulí vats. It was glorious: aromas of dried mint, glazed honey and roasted fennel and hazelnuts, with that distinctive aroma you get when you open an old library book. The flavours gently cascaded across the palate: lively, balanced, juicy, self-contained. Quite an emotional experience, really.

Pouring 1959 Chilean CabNext up was the Reserva de Familia Cabernet Sauvignon 1959, Macul. A captivating scent full of tobacco, cedar and dried fruit led into a juicy, fluid, gravelly flavour profile, very complex and cogent, a step up in quality from the Estrella de Oro Cabernet 1967 from the same vineyard I tried at the winery in May. Self-assured, silky and stunning, just superb. What an experience.

Luis Pereira 2012 is the modern take on these historic wines, made from mature Cabernet vineyards in Maipo, Colchagua and Maule which used the old Macul plant material. I tasted a cask sample – young, still, but not green, just earthy, elegant, understated and linear. One to keep an eye on.

I also hosted a vertical tasting of the Matetic EQ Syrah – one of the first wines to really put this key variety on the map in Chile. I’d tasted through the wines back to the very first 2001 vintage in Santiago earlier this year. My tasting notes from the event are as below but, in short, it was great to see how well these wines were maturing as well as the quality of the latest vintages (2011 and 2012). Matetic have done a lot of detailed terroir work lately and this, together with some new vineyards and a re-formed winemaking team, is all looking very positive for the wines. Syrah remains their calling card.


Matetic EQ Syrah 2002, 14.4% – quite a deep hue: some evolution but not old. Lovely Rhône-like aromas, black pepper, bacon, savoury, toasty, charry. A little bit light-weight on the palate but it’s refreshing: the levity works well. Perhaps not a great vintage but it’s savoury and characterful nonetheless. Coming back to it after the 2011, it’s elegantly refreshing. 7/10

Matetic winemaker Julio Bastias in action

Matetic winemaker Julio Bastias in action

Matetic EQ Syrah 2004, 13.8% – Youthful hue. Oooh – it’s meaty, carnal, spicy. On the palate you still get that vivid acidity but it’s balanced by savoury layers and bittersweet fruit. It needs food! Proper wine, really vibrant and vivid: resonant, lovely stuff. 7.5-8/10

Matetic EQ Syrah 2006, 13.7% – a bit more mint and eucalypt here tingeing the blackberry fruit. But lovely tannic finesse. Not as wild as 2004 perhaps, more self-contained, but sleek savoury really cogent and foodie, proper stuff. Different register. Really good. 8/10

Matetic EQ Syrah 2007, 13.9% – vivid, gutsy, carnal. Black pepper, flowers, fresh meat in market. Succulent, bittersweet, layered palate. Spicy. Pretty thrilling and cogent. This marks a step up in the evolution of this wine – it just has altogether more to it, without being overdone. It’s big but it’s winning. Savoury, characterful. Beautiful stuff. 8.5/10

Matetic EQ Syrah 2011, 14.4% – Young! Vibrant blue fruit and some pepper, herbs. But real grip and verve on the palate, bittersweet fruit, spices, floral. Pretty intense and attention-grabbing. A bit high on the alcohol? Perhaps. But it has the savoury intensity to stand it. Really sleek too. (8/10)