Saturday, January 1, 2011

Cousiño Macul.

After a visit to Aquitania, we went a couple of kilometers down the road to Cousiño Macul. Unlike the former this winery is not a newcomer. In fact it was the 3rd winery in Maipo, part of the clan that began the fine wine industry in the region (and, in effect, in all of Chile). It is an interesting contrast to go from one end of the spectrum to the other… it really shows the lifetime thus far of Chilean wine.

Cousiño Macul was founded in 1856. In this year, Matías Macul purchased the estate from the conquistador who owned it previously. Macul’s plentiful wealth was largely resulted from Chilean silver mines he had developed. Upon Matías’ unfortunate early demise in 1863 his son Luís traveled to France, bringing back what he considered the best rootstock: Cabernet and Merlot from Pauillac and Margaux, Sauvignon from Martillac in Graves, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Burgundy. He managed the estate until his death at the young age of 38. But his widow continued management with the assistance of French enologist Pierre Godefroy. The families still work together.

For the Macul family wine was, and still is, an (albeit serious) hobby. They intentionally made wines for aging as money was no object. No need to extract any instant profit means, no harm in the wines passing some time in bottle at the estate before being introduced to the market. And age they can: the 1968 vintage wine is still very drinkable!

The Macul family now owns everything from the train station in Maipo to the base of the Andes. They occupy a large house near the vineyard that is blocked off from all view by lines of trees. Most of the staff has never laid eyes on this house. The cellar is a remarkable structure and the family’s personal wine collection, which rests deep underground in a dimly lit and well locked room, is phenomenal. An interesting bit of trivia: during the earthquake of 2010 which wreaked havoc upon many wineries, not a bit of damage was done to the cellars. Legend has it that the cement, made with egg whites as a binding substance, is strong enough to withstand almost any sizeable quake.

The Macul vineyards are planted in mostly shallow (10 centimeter depth) alluvial soil atop rocks and clay. I have been told of the salinity in the region, but there is none here. Hot days are moderated by a cool mountain breeze, and temperatures drop significantly at night. Only the red spider mite poses any threat, and not much of one. Rainfall is low here and high levels of ripeness are achieved leading to alcohol levels in excess of 14.5%. Reverse osmosis is sometimes practiced to lower the alcohol content for “a more enjoyable experience.”

One major issue is air pollution, which is causing more difficulties in recent years. Due to the particulate matter in the air the grapes must be rinsed and dried before vinification, and barrels are taken 30 km south near Concha y Toro to age. This was deemed necessary after a study was done using barrels of the best Chateau Margaux wines aged here at the estate… many quickly became vinegary due to the massive amount of bacteria easily transported on pollution particles.

The current winemaker is Pascal Marty, previously of Baron Phillipe de Rothschild (Chile and France), Mouton-Rothschild, Chateau d’Armailhac, Chateau Clec Milon, and Opus One. We tasted with sommelier Martin Duran, below.

After a lengthy tour through the vineyards and cellars, we tasted the following wines:

2010 Sauvignon Gris

This is a light 100% Cabernet Sauvignon rosé produced by must contact of only 40 minutes. An interesting dusty nose exhibits red fruits with a bit of lemon. This wine would make a very nice aperitif.

2009 Antiguas Reservas Merlot

Grapes for this wine come from original cuttings from Chateau Lafite and Chateau Margaux. After fermentation on steel tanks it spends 14 months in second-year French oak. Purple flowers, vanilla, plums, and baking spices abound; plums and strawberries with noticeably strong tannins coat the palate. A slight menthol component, according to the sommelier, is due to the presence of deep eucalyptus roots n the nearby soil. I’m not sure this is the origin. But this is actually a really delicious Merlot, enough to convert anyone into an avowed Merlot fan. We certainly bought a couple of bottles…

2008 Finis Terrae

60% Cabernet, 30% Merlot, and 10% Syrah. A good but not remarkable Bordeaux-style blend. In comparison to the Merlot, basically unmemorable.

2008 Antiguas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon

14 months in French oak. Intense red fruit and really good structure. This one is not quite ready in my opinion, but will be perhaps in 2-3 years.

For more information see Cousiño Macul’s website or contact Martin Duran.

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