The Wine List: Wine-tasting at Cousiño-Macul in Santiago, Chile

Old storage barrels, Cousiño-Macul in the Maipo Valley of Chile
All photos by me

If ever you’re in Santiago, taking the wine tour at Cousiño-Macul is really something you should do. I did, and ended up buying a case, which I do not regret one whit. First, some basics. Though Chile has a burgeoning wine industry, finding out about wine tours is surprisingly challenging. There are some bus tours that I find quite expensive and therefore, did not do. Unlike California, you have to pay the winery for a tour and you need to schedule it beforehand. These things run about $10-$20 and will include a guide that walks you around a bit and usually tasting two wines (though, if you’re friendly and eager, they might open up other bottles just for fun!). Getting to Cousiño-Macul is super easy if you don’t have a car or a designated driver: take the subway to the Quilin station and then hail a cab (or walk for half an hour) to Avenida Quilin 7100, the winery.

Unlike many of the other large wineries founded in the 19th century, CM is still owned by the family that started it and not by a mass of anonymous shareholders (read: Concha y Toro, which we also visited and which was a smooth well-oiled machine producing dependable wines… a big superstore rather than craftsmanship. Meh.) This means the owners have a personal (not just financial) investment in the history of the winery. And it means you get to see a lot more of the actual process, a real education not in wine-tasting snobbery, but in the art of making it.

Carlos, actually making wine

In this room, tons and tons of grapes are sorted and eventually moved into these steel vats before being transferred to French barrels for aging.

From the “Export Room,” the original 19th century machines used to transfer wine to bottles, cork them, and then the stencils with the names of the destinations. Apparently, it was exported for free to Alaska in exchange for barrels.

Cousiño-Macul “Gris” Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Maipo Valley, Santiago de Chile: Martin, the guide and aspiring sommelier, presents “Gris”… This is not a rosé… it’s color is a bit more amber and the flavor less fruity. Passion fruit on the nose and always worth picking up. The story goes that, following the French tradition, each winery should have its own personal, distinctive wine that they do. This is CM’s.

During a particularly bad earthquake years ago, the barrels in this cellar were ruptured and it became a sea of wine, into which workers dived, drank, and, well became drunk. That harvest was lost (of course!) but you can still see the “water”-level on the walls.

Cousiño-Macul Antiguas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Maipo Valley, Santiago de Chile: The second wine we tasted was an excellent cabernet, strong, peppery, well-balanced and mature (even only after two years!). I bought plenty of this as well.

Oh, okay, a couple of photos from Concha y Toro (including the fabled “Casillero del Diablo”… which I personally believe is a marketing story made up for visitors).

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