by Lauren Mote
When an invitation to join in at one of the rarest, most exotic wine tastings, I jumped at the chance – part of me knew it would be a great story, but the other side knew that an opportunity to try 4 decades of Cousino Macul Antiguas Cabernet Sauvignon probably wouldn’t come up again for a long, long time…
I was joined by 10 of the city’s most seasoned wine writers, enthusiasts and teachers, including Judith Lane, Michelle Bouffard, Barbara and Iain Philip, and Anthony Gismondi to welcome winery President Arturo Cousino, and his many cases of wine. Setting up shop in the private dining room at The Fish House in Stanley Park, we were each greeted by members Derrick Cousins and Richard Somerset of Free House Wines & Spirits, who were graciously hosting this event, and a refreshing glass of Sauvignon Gris to kick things off.
Cousino Macul could very well be one of the oldest family owned wineries in Chile today. “Macul” itself is a commune located in the central-eastern part of Greater Santiago. “La hacienda” Macul (or the property) was purchased by founder Matias Cousino in 1856. Imported grape varieties from abroad, especially Bordeaux, and in particular from Margaux and Paulliac – Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were collected for the Macul vineyard. What makes this extremely special, and to give an idea how long ago this was, the vine cuttings were taken during the pre-phylloxera era which started around 1863, where vine deterioration was first noticed in the southern Rhone Valley. Apart from the Bordeaux varieties retrieved, quantities of Chardonnay were removed from Burgundy, Semillion and Sauvignon Blanc (from the Graves district of Bordeaux) from Martillac, and Riesling from the Rheingau.
Contrary to the practices of other winemakers, Cousino Macul is unique because of its dedication to the preservation of their original rootstock – these vines have never been cross-bred or sold. Today, the wines of Cousino Macul are still directly inspired by the wines and the wine producers of Bordeaux, and the other retrieval areas where the vines were cultivated so long ago. Today’s technology has aided in the fruit character that winemakers’ at Cousino Macul have sought out to achieve, while preserving that “classic style and elegance” that their wines have always promised. The overall distinction of the Chilean terroir and soil have really “shaped [the wines] personality”.
In 1996, the Cousino family sets their sights on a 300 hectare chunk of property, rich in calcium carbonate, sedimentary rock and the ideal climate in the Alto-Maipo Valley. The towering Andes lie quite close to this site, and considerably affects the valley. The slopes of this majestic mountain range brings warm days and cooler nights which was thought to be ideal for progressive maturation. It was here that the fairly young Buin Vineyard was born. The Bolivian Winter also a climatic effect in this new location, brings rain to the slopes of the Andes until about February. It was here that the ideal conditions could be used to create the beautifully balanced white wines that the Cousino family had sought after, like their Sauvignon Gris 2007 (tropical nose, well balanced combination of silkiness and bright acidity) and their Riesling 2007 (classic Alsatian style – apples, blossoms, citrus and a distinct minerality) – both of which I was fortunate enough to try.
The luncheon had begun. For first course, to be paired with either of the white wines mentioned above, was a choice of clam chowder, or baby arugula salad, with roasted potatoes, apples, finished in a maple bacon vinaigrette. For second course, the choice of miso glazed sockeye salmon with daikon radish butter and green beans, or a flank steak with kale, mashed potatoes with a bernaise aioli, to be paired with Finis Terrae 2005 (60% Cabernet Sauvignon 40% Merlot – black fruits, velvety tannins, vanilla, spice) or the Lota 2005 (75% Cabernet Sauvignon 25% Merlot – black fruits, elegant tannins, chocolate, sweet oak spices). For third and final course, a cheese plate, with a goat, an applewood smoked cheddar, and a stilton, with generous quantities of nuts, dried fruits and blueberry croutons. This perfect plate was paired with the star attraction; this was the 4 decades vertical flight tasting. Here are a couple of factors affecting the end product of the vintages: Until 1994, the wines were aged in large American oak casks (2000-3000 L). For a brief experiment in 1994, there was a switch to small American barriques, and quickly in 1995 there was a changeover to small French oak barriques. You can definitely taste and smell the differences between the vinification techniques.
Tasting notes: Antiguas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon – Vertical Flight
2006 (Winemaker Pascal Maquis) Medium ruby, legs, minty, eucalyptus on the nose. Medium to high intensity, acidity and alcohol, with flavours of plums, black fruits and sweet spice. High chewy tannins. Vinification takes place on the new estate – 100% Maipo Valley
2003 (Winemaker Matius Roida) Medium ruby, legs, juicy red fruits. All spice, eucalyptus. High acidity, medium body, good structure, round and fat. Long finish. Vinification takes place on the new estate – 100% Maipo Valley
2001 (Winemaker Matius Roida) Medium ruby, legs, minty, frutal nose. Astringent tannins, smooth red fruits. More elegant then the 2003 or the 2006. Vinification takes place on the new estate – 100% Maipo Valley
1999 (Winemaker Hyman Rios) **excellent vintage** Ripe juicy red fruit and gamey, animal, leather. Slight sediment. Intensity of colour is starting to fade. Pale to Medium ruby core. Medium+ tannins, and slightly lower acidity then the newer vintages. “Classic nose – style”.
1997 (Winemaker Hyman Rios) Red fruit, cedar trees, grass, herbaceous, green bell pepper, slight smokiness. “A California style” says Anthony Gismondi (local wine critic and writer) “… a claret style” rebukes Arturo.
1995 (Winemaker Hyman Rios) Minty nose, red fruits, round, dry tannins
1992 (Winemaker Hyman Rios) Intense medicinal nose, extremely minty and refreshing, smooth alcohol, hard tannins, round mouth. This was thought to be one of the worst Chilean vintages; Spring 1991 a terrible frost.
1988 (Winemaker Hyman Rios) **excellent vintage** Pale ruby in colour (the lightest we have seen so far). Red fruit, minty freshness, nice tannin, complex, round and fat in the mouth. Generous in flavour, body and texture. Persistent, long finish.
1984 (Winemaker Hyman Rios) **excellent vintage** Red fruits, red spices (paprika), smooth, medium tannins, round medium body.
1981 (Winemaker Hyman Rios) Structure, body, red fruit, low to medium tannins, long finish, green notes. Body os brilliant and juicy. Secondary evolving characteristics of vegetal and animal notes.
1978 (Winemaker Hyman Rios) “A dusty nose” (and a really dusty bottle!) tawny rim colour, pale ruby core. In the mouth it’s well structured, completely developed and vegetal. Round and fat with a persistent ending. The differences between the smoky, purple, black fruits and chewy tannins of the 2006 are incredible compared to the elegance and development of this predecessor some 38 years earlier.
What was a rare opportunity of sharing this afternoon will turn into something more realistic and attainable: The four wines we originally tried are available in this market so we too can enjoy the splendor of these wines at home… for $20 a bottle!? The taste of the older vintages this afternoon have left a lasting impression in my mouth and on my mind. The beauty of being a passionate writer is that the memories never fade… they are well documented, and constantly reflected upon. Until I get to the Cousino Macul winery, I will savour the wines at home, or at Plan B on Homer St. in Yaletown where the 2006 Cousino Macul Cabernet Sauvignon has just become their house wine.