Today Cousino Macul makes excellent wines -- chardonnays lush with tropical fruit, a merlot redolent of black cherries and black pepper, a cabernet sauvignon rich and earthy and spicy.
In 1992 Cousino Macul launched what it vows will be its finest red wine, a cabernet sauvignon/merlot blend from a few remarkable acres of 60-year-old vines. It's called Finis Terrae -- "The End of The Earth" -- which is how the Incas of Peru described Chile to their Spanish conquerors.
"We will increase this only slowly," he says. "We're not in a hurry."
Another traditional Chilean winery gone modern, this estate, 25 miles south of Santiago, is one of the country's most beautiful. Against a background of rolling Andes foothills, endless lines of vines stretch across gentle Maipo Valley slopes, each vine pruned identically -- four feet of bare trunk, then a two-foot burst of green leaves and baby grape bunches, creating the impression of a mammoth field of leafy poodles.
At the end of each row stands the traditional blooming rose bush, a gesture to the tradition that roses suffer the same diseases grapevines do, only sooner, and so serve as sentinels.
Inside the traditional cellar, dug in 1880 on ground where Chilean patriot Gen. Bernardo O'Higgins hid out from invading Spanish troops in 1814, arises a clatter of construction as Santa Rita puts in $40 million worth of modernizing stainless steel and French oak.
When it's done, Santa Rita will be making 40 million bottles a year from its 2,600 acres, land that produces grapes at a respectable six tons per acre.
"Chile has fertile soils; we have to work to keep yields down," says export director Sergio Reyes.
Santa Rita's lines of wine, priced from $5 to $25, are uniformly bright, lush and fruity. Its entry to the new sweepstakes of premium wines, the $25 Casa Real Cabernet Sauvignon, is a chunky, chewy blockbuster redolent of menthol, chocolate and cassis.
Reyes echoes the pride heard today across his land: "This is Chile's finest wine."
* 1995 Sauvignon Blanc, Colchagua: Fresh pineapple and banana aromas, mildly grassy flavor, hugely fruity, with hints of tangy menthol; $6.
* 1994 Chardonnay, Colchagua: Aromas of pineapple, toasty oak, butter, menthol, rich, with flavors of sweet tropical fruit and grapefruit; $8.
* 1994 Casa Lapostolle Cabernet Sauvignon, Colchagua: Deep blueberry and leather aromas, lots of sweet-tart fruit, excellent balance of acid and firm but sweet tannin, $8.
* 1995 Chardonnay, Macul: Lush, sweet, fruity, with intense pear and banana aromas and flavors, $8.
* 1994 Chardonnay Antiguas Reservas, Maipo: Tropical fruit made complex with hints of oak and menthol, soft; $13.
* 1993 Merlot, Maipo: Complex aromas of black cherries, black pepper, menthol, oak, rich, firmly structured, excellent balance, chewy tannins; $12.
* 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon Antiguas Reservas, Maipo: Earth and menthol aromas, very dry, very rich, spicy, firm tannins, $9.
* 1995 Sauvignon Blanc, Series 120, Maule: Aromas of pears and bananas, soft, fruity, tangy, $5.
* 1995 Sauvignon Blanc, Medalla Real, Maule: Aromas of grass and menthol, classical figgy, minty flavors, $10.
* 1995 Chardonnay Reserva, Maipo: Mint, pineapple and oak aromas and flavors, $7.
*1995 Chardonnay Medalla Real, Casablanca: Oak and pineapple aromas, intense, tangy, crisp, $10.
* 1994 Merlot Reserva, Maule: Oak and raspberry aromas, dry, full-bodied, firm tannin.
* 1993 Cabernet Sauvignon, Series 120, Maipo: Black pepper and cherry aromas, bright, spicy, fruity, $5.
* 1993 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva, Maipo: Intense menthol and spice aromas, cherry and chocolate flavors, big body, firm tannin, $7.