Saturday, February 20, 2016


Sometimes I like to listen for voice inflections as wine salespeople offer their wares here at the store.  Honesty tends to win out over hyperbole in a sales pitch when the pitch of the voice is in play.  This time our vendor seemed to want to rush past the 2011 Cousino-Macul Finis Terrae Red Bordeaux Blend as if to get to something else that was good from Cousino-Macul but her voice betrayed her.  My follow-up question for her was, "What did you like about Finis Terrae?", to which she said, "layers (of flavors)" which, of course, frees up all kinds of images of Cabernet depth and complexity.  In short, I was sold.

That wine is in the store right now, just in case I may have piqued any curiosity out there.  According to just a couple wine writers I checked, those layers include aromas and/or flavors of black currant, blackberries, raspberries, violets, cigar box, cedar, tobacco, mushrooms, and spice.  Sounds just like a premium fruit-driven Maipo Valley Chilean Cabernet should taste.  Here are some more descriptors: full-bodied, unfiltered, dark red color; and those layers of fruit, by the way, are velvety in texture and display finesse in their subtlety.  Fine wine, I'd say.

So having sold Cousino-Macul for as long as I have, I thought it was about time I learned something about the company.  Established in 1856, Cousino-Macul is the oldest continuously family-owned winery in Chile.  They, along with a handful of others, parlayed their mineral mining wealth into travels through Europe and one thing led to another and grapevines ended up following them back home to Chile.  And these grapevines weren't just any grapevines.  For Cousino-Macul, the Cabernet and Merlot came from Pauillac in the Haut-Medoc of Bordeaux, home to the finest Cabernet in the world.

The Chilean wine country is a belt across the waist of that long thin nation.  Using that metaphor, the Maipo Valley is in the middle of the wine country so I guess it's the belt buckle and that's where the industry started in the 1850's.  Most early vineyards were further south than Cousino-Macul and I never found out how they happened to locate where they did.  It's fortuitous though because that area is now referred to as the Alto Maipo (Upper Maipo) and it is the most desirable region for making fine Bordeaux blends in Chile.

Cousino-Macul is in the northwestern corner of the Alto Maipo, literally abutting Santiago, the nation's capitol.  It is at the top of the Central Valley which has a ridge to the west that admits the cool breezes from the Pacific Ocean Humbolt Current while limiting harsher winds off the ocean.  The real treasure in an Alto Maipo venue though lies immediately to the east where the mighty Andes tower upward. Vineyards in Alto are already at a desirable altitude but what the Andes do for them is icing on the cake.

The diurnal effect of temperature changes as applied to grape growing is a subject we have discussed here many times.  In short, grapes ripen better when a cool evening accompanies considerable daytime sunlight.  What the Andes do for Alto is to block the morning sunrise intensifying the cold morning temperatures before giving way to the rest of the day's extended sunshine from the west.

Finis Terrae is a brand launched by Cousino-Macul in 1996.  The name means "end of the earth" and the red bordeaux blend is only made in the best years.  Food pairings include steaks and other stronger red meat dishes and aged cheeses.

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