Important Aromas: Touring Cousiño Macul Winery


Wine has always fallen into one of two categories for me: ways that college kids embarrass themselves, and ways useless cultural capital makes some people better than others (See chart below). That being said, I’m twenty-five and began to drink alcohol a year and a half ago, so I never had much to work with.

Cousiño Macul Patio

I’m pleased to say that after touring the vineyard and winery Cousiño Macul and watching the documentary Somm, I now have enough knowledge to appreciate wine.  Theoretically.

After five years, three winery tours, and finally tasting wine, my wine knowledge has grown substantially and can be summed up by the informative video below:

Touring Cousiño Macul

Cousiño Macul Entrance

Since its founding in 1856, Cousiño Macul has remained under the complete ownership of the Cousiño family, which sets it apart from other vineyards established in the 19th century. Six generations later, the cultivation and production is split between the Macul site and another site in Buin.  However, the Macul site gets all the action, in part because of its beautiful and historic French construction.  (Side note, Macul is mapudungun for “right hand.”)

Our BFF, Matías Cousiño; notice Charles is "Macul," mapudungun for "right hand."

Our BFF, Matías Cousiño; Charles is Macul

Why here?  One of the great things about Chilean wines is that the weather and soil conditions are ideal for producing wine grapes:

  • vineyards receive a lot of sunlight;
  • the proximity to the Andes means a huge variation in daytime and nighttime temperatures, which helps maintain the grapes’ acidity;
  • it basically only rains in the winter, which keeps the grapes safe from many fungi and other threats;
  • there are plenty of sloped landscapes…

…the list goes on.


Wine barrels Cousiño Macul

Traditional barrels

And so, Chilean wine is increasingly popular worldwide: around 65 percent of Cousiño Macul’s wine production is exported around the world.

It is also because they keep their gender bias in tact.  You will be pleased to know that the grapes are hand-picked by women.  Because we are more delicate.  Which is also why there are more female surgeons than male surgeons… right?

For information on hours, directions, and booking a tour, check out the vineyard’s website here.  A tour costs $9.000, which includes wine tasting and a special Cousiño Macul wine glass.

 Drinking vs. Tasting: Story Time!

Wine barrels in Cousiño Macul

Edwin, Charles, and I chose the perfect time for a winery tour.  The weather was gorgeous, but apparently not too many people are interested in drinking wine at eleven o’clock on a Wednesday morning.

Consequently, we had Álvaro—chef, sommelier, and tour guide extraordinaire—all to ourselves.  And we were prepared to shamelessly ask more questions than he’d probably heard all year… I warned him that we knew nothing about wine.

We passed the time asking questions, “tasting” wine, and joking about wine culture (read: I was probably mocking more than simply joking).  At some point, Charles offered that a certain wine “smelled strong.”

Álvaro replied, “Yes, it has an important aroma.”

I couldn’t help but comment: the difference between a sommelier and your everyday wine drinker is that the former knows that wine has “an important aroma”—NOT a strong smell.

Our ignorance must have become painful to Álvaro, because he finally responded to one of our questions with, “Ustedes están tomando el vino, no lo están degustando.”  (“You guys are drinking the wine; you’re not tasting it.”)

He disappeared for a moment, returning with a wine glass, which he waved around until the cardboard smell was gone from inside it.  And then he did exactly what the wine snob in the video above had told me to do.

What I’ve learned:

This is science, I promise you.

This is science, I promise you.

Extra!  I recently published “The Sommelier,” a poem inspired in part by this experience, in RiverLit No.14.


El Mercado Central and La Vega: Get your market on

To find Chile’s freshest fruits, vegetables, and seafood, don’t settle for Jumbo.  The best is usually going to be in ferias, outdoor marketplaces that are usually open one or two days a week in each neighborhood.  Local, portable ferias will have to wait for their moment to shine, though.  Today, we’re talking about the big fish (and seriously, if you think you’ve smelled fish before, think again): El Mercado Central and La Vega Central.

El Mercado Central, Santiago

El Mercado central

A lovely work of architecture, rich piece of history, and great place to check out the dozens of Chilean fishes and shellfishes that you’ve never heard of before, the “Central Market” has long established itself as a tourist magnet.  When passing through with my partner, the Mercado Central has provided delicious meals and a somewhat romantic atmosphere—there are usually live musicians to enhance the building’s warm, antique feel, even though there is little intimate and private about it.

pescaderíaWhen passing through with Emily, however, it was more of a fight for survival.  If you look like a tourist, they’ll be on you like stink on fish.  Right as I was about to take out my camera to snap a couple shots of the pescaderías, I was intercepted by a man asking where we were from.  Emily was quick to point out that I was, in fact, married to a Chilean.  While her plan was successful in drawing the attention away from our foreignness, it had the interesting side effect of inspiring some terrible marriage advice  “Let him have his freedom,” he told me.  “Or else he’ll run away.  It’s like fishing; get the hook in there, and then slowly reel him in so he doesn’t get panicked.”  IS EVERYTHING ABOUT FISH IN THIS POST??

Don’t be frightened away by bad marriage advice, though.  When you visit, don’t let their seagull-like enthusiasm pressure you into settling on a restaurant before you’ve had time to look around a bit.  A firm “No, thanks” will be necessary at some time or another.  As with most places in Santiago, have your money and valuables in a safe place, especially if you are notoriously a foreigner.

You can get to the Mercado Central by taking the metro to Cal y Canto (on the Yellow/2 Line) and exiting toward the street Puente.


The largest feria I’ve ever seen, with some 500 stands and covering around 60,000 square feet, is La Vega.  This place is huge (map).

American flag in La Vega, Santiago

Emily and I, on our search for Fourth-of-July-inspired fruits, traveled past everything from cherimoya to pig heads to huge bins of olives and pickles… and most everything else anyone would want.

If you’re looking for the phenomenal spice of Peruvian cuisine, there are entire aisles of Peruvian shops.  If you’re looking for personal and house cleaning stuff, they’ve got it, too.  Need some pet food to feed the street dogs?  Got it.  In fact, there are places you can get pets, too.  Or a queen bee and some drones, if that’s what you’re into (we already had ours).

If you’re interested in reading more praise of the Vega, check out this article.  I’m not the only gringo that loves the Vega!

Photo courtesy of Christy Loftus 

Wild and Exotic! Fruits…

Part of my terribly exciting life in the magical land of Chile is that I get to eat cool things.  Being a vegetarian, I miss out on many parts of Chilean cuisine, such as the exotic-sounding anticucho, which is actually just meat on a stick.

Chile is truly distinctive because it is relatively isolated from the rest of the world—there’s a huge desert to the north, a huge mountain range to the east, a huge ocean to the west, and to the south… well, there’s the South Pole.  In addition to this isolation, Chile has an astoundingly diverse geography.  Mix these two together, and you get crazy varieties of unique foodstuffs that you—and many Chileans, for that matter—have never even heard of.

Fortunately, friends, I am here to share some of the wonders of the fruits (and maybe an algae or so) that I’ve tried while in Chile.

First, some more or less common fruits that you can find in the grocery store, the market, and maybe in other countries:

  • Cochayuyo: Let’s get it over with.  This is a huge seaweed that has been consumed in Chile for hundreds of years, One word: appetizingremaining common today in empanadas, salads, and soups.  You buy the cochayuyo dry (a form in which it is only suitable for teething babies) and then soak or remojar it until it’s soft enough to eat.  But be careful, remojar el cochayuyo also has a second meaning: coitus.
  • Membrillo: Known in English as the quince, this fruit is a really hard, astringent relative of the apple or pear.  Ok, I know quince is all over the world, but it is well-loved in Chile, mostly in the form of dulce de membrillowhich is basically a block of quince jam.  Or I guess some people call it “quince cheese” (What?).  If you feel like eating a membrillo raw, you can do a couple things.  You can bash it furiously until it’s not so hard or astringent anymore, or you can cut it up and eat 
    it with salt
    … a common practice for me during all-nighters in college.
  • Chirimoya: Mark Twain once called the chirimoya “the most delicious fruit known to men.”  Its popularity has spread to many countries, but in Chile it is very common, especially as a yoghurt or ice cream flavor.  Better yet, a typical Chilean dessert is chirimoya alegre, which is simply chirimoya with orange juice.  Delightful!
  • Tuna: No, not the fish.  The prickly pear.  For those of us that grew up in New England, it’s basically only something we hear about through Disney’s The Jungle Book.  It is sweet and juicy like a honeydew melon and has hundreds of hard seeds that you eat right along with the rest of the fruit.
  • Feijoa: The pineapple guava—not a Chilean fruit!  I tried it for the first time this month, and it was impossible for me to put my finger on what it tasted like.  It was like… a mix between kiwi and pineapple and a hint of spruce-like taste.
  • Pepino dulce: A melon-y and cucumber-y fruit that I find captivating.  It’s smooth, gracefully shaped and colored, and delicious!Pepinos dulces at the market

When I married, I suddenly became part of a huge extended family that grew up up in the middle of nowhere (Reumén, Paillaco and Cayucupil, Cañete).  I know, it’s basically like they’re from Vermont.  I mean, I remember living in Westford as a very small girl and finding wildberries.  I guess it’s just what you’ve gotta do.  Anyhow, this extended family also has a penchant for fruits of the forest—nuts, berries, stems, fungi… all of the tasty goodies that you find when living out in el campo.

  • Piñones at the market in MaipúPiñon: The amazing fruit of Chile’s national tree, the Araucaria.  When raw, this nut is fresh, crisp, and makes your tongue feel a bit dry, but when it’s been steamed, it is the sweetest nut I’ve ever tasted and is so smooth… I can’t resist them.  You can buy these at the outdoor markets in Santiago, but they’re much more common in the South.
  • Maqui: If you’re looking for a natural way to paint your tongue a ridiculous color, maqui berries will leave your teeth and tongue a midnight purple that’s enough to make anyone laugh.  The Mapuche have long used them for health benefits as well as to dye clothing.  We brought back a couple kilos from Papi Tilo’s house, and my mother-in-law (Eulogia) immediately dried them in the sunshine and stored them in the freezer.  She rehydrates a tablespoon or so to eat with breakfast.
  • Murta/murtilla:  One of the many fruits Eulogia uses to make jams.  We also tried a little aguardiente with murta (called murtado, a typical southern licuor) that one of Edwin’s aunts had made down in Reumén.
  • La rosa mosqueta: Eulogia dedicated an entire day to making about fifteen jars of the complicated mosqueta jam.  The rose hips have to be boiled in water for some time and then passed through a cloth or very fine sieve to separate out the seeds.  The tricky part is that the rose hips have many tiny thorns, but somehow Eulogia did not get pricked.
  • Chupón: Some of Eulogia’s siblings brought these unique bundles of white chupones, which means pacifier, up from the South.  This fruit comes from the plant Greigia sphacelata, which is related to the pineapple and endemic to Chile.  (To look at a couple more pictures, check out this blog.)  The chupones come from the part of the plant below the ground; you have to harvest a packed-together cluster , and once the cluster is dry, you can tug out one spiny leaf at a time.  At the bottom, you’ll find the white, sweet fruit with black seeds.  And they get their name because you just want to suck out all the goodness from them!Nalca next to the plaza in Paillaco
  • Nalca: Chilean rhubarb is like GIANT, sour rhubarb that tastes delicious with a little salt.  It’s incredibly common in the South of Chile, especially in Chiloé, where I have my first and fondest memory of nalca.

As a brief thought, I would like to comment on the fact that Chileans are often said to not like strong flavors–many of their cuisine is prepared with little to no spices, their bread and cheese is often bland, and their beer is either sweet or weak.  But astringent foods, those that make you pucker and leave your tongue feeling rough and dry, are somewhat common and well-loved here: quince, persimmon, maqui, wine… all foods that seem to have strong tastes to me.  Just a thought.  Also, can we talk about the word mouthfeel?

Little bits of happiness (No, not only manjar candies)

Charquicán: Mapuche dish that’s made my stewing and slightly mashing a ton of veggies (and I guess usually meat or horse meat) like carrots, potatoes, squash, ginger, etc.  It’s not really like a stew in consistency; it’s thicker. I know it looks like puke, but it’s delicious.  Of course, I was given the vegetarian version, which is an oxymoron in some ways: charqui is the Quechua word for meat that has been dried and salted, like horse meat.  Try saying charqui and jerky together.  Yup, that’s where it came from.

Jumbo!  So much more than a supermarket. Like Cosco, but with more variety and not in bulk. It’s super-cool to think that it was named after our mascot.  Also, every time I visit, I hear  instrumental versions of Billy Joel songs.

Plazas are everywhere.  Walk a couple blocks in any direction.

All** women under age 40 have long hair.

Metro bits:  Women apply makeup in the metro, which is fascinating as I can hardly fit in the door. Many stations have huge displays of art.  There are TV screens in stations, buses, and trains, usually playing music videos, which leads me to…

Random music that has made me smile:

  • Ordinary World (Duran Duran),  I Want It That Way (Backstreet Boys); played back-to-back in the hostel…
  • Dead and Gone (TI and JT); reached #2 on Chilean charts?
  • Honesty, Just the Way You Are… as I said above, Jumbo randomly plays instrumental Billy Joel tracks.

If you’re not happy with something here in Chile, put some mayonnaise on it.  Chileans love mayo on everything.  I recently ate artichoke with mayo.  It was delicious.

streets flooding in Viña del Mar... more to come!

Santiago is not a pretty city in the rain.  The next day it is; the smog lifts, leaving the air brilliant and the cordillera pristine.  But about ten minutes into a shower, the streets start to flood.

In America, when someone sneezes, whether it be a family member at home, in a classroom, or really almost any scenario, you reply with “Bless you,” “God bless you,” or “Gesundheit” (for the more adventurous**).  In other Spanish-speaking countries, they say ¡Salud! or ¡Jesús! … In Chile it’s not acknowledged.  <(*o*)>  Just don’t sneeze in Chile.

And now, the language part of today’s lesson:

  • Your momma jokes become “your sister.” Por ejemplo: Tomás¿Qué estás haciendo? (What are you doing?)  Charles: ¡Tu hermana!  Good one, Chaz.**  That’s Americanized usage, of course.  More common might be Me: El tipo terrible peludo. (That dude’s really hairy.) Tomás: Y tu hermana!
  • Po—As in “Sí, po”… an abbreviation of the word “pues.”  It adds emphasis, po.  Sometimes after every two words, po…¿cachaí?
  • Cachaí—basically, “capice?” Except it can be conjugated… although it is more frequently used in the same way ‘po’ is…obnoxiously.  It’s supposedly derived from “you catch?”
  • Colorina—Pelirroja! Charles’ host father (Carlos) laughed and said, “Colorina!” when he saw me at church today.
  • Ojo—One of my profes says this all the time during lecture. It means “eye,” but as an exclamation it usually means “look out!” or “careful!”  He uses it every couple sentences just to remind you that he’s probably saying something very important.
  • Tipo— if you don’t want to say man or woman, you say tipo.  Like, I met this guy in the street…  Also, if you want to say something like “The party will be at my house around 7 PM,” you can say “tipo 7 PM”. (With the period on the outside of the quotations… because this is Spanish!)


Things I should have told you about Chile altiro

The only church that illuminates is that which burnsGraffiti is much more political/ meaningful here.  For example:

“Aquí se tortura!  Liberación animal!”  Here they torture!  Animal freedom!  written on the side of a university building

“No educación burguesa!”  No bourgeois education!

Estufita! Look at that fire.“La revolución es ahora!”  The revolution is now!  written across a Bank of Chile

It’s winter here.  Many of us weren’t intimidated at the thought of cold, 60-degree weather.  What we didn’t realize is that 60 degrees outside means 40 degrees inside.  Central heating doesn’t happen here.  In honor of that, here’s a picture of my new BFF, Estufita!

People kiss you.  It’s a cultural thing, really.  ;)  I, as a female, give a quick cheek-to-cheek to everyone when I say hello or goodbye.  At first I was confused because I thought maybe it was like shaking hands, which usually only occurs when you meet a person.  But it’s not really comparable to hugging in our culture, either, because hugging happens much less frequently.  If you’re a man, you don’t kiss other men.  Generally.  Sorry that you were confused, Charles.  But then, most of us were at least a little confused.  Sometimes I have awkward do-we-kiss-now? pauses…

Bippity boppity boop!

Transantiago consists of the metro (not the T!), micros, and bip! cards.  The metro stations are clean and generally pleasant; they frequently have art, including the amazing murals at the University of Santiago stop.  Then there are the micros, the extensive system of buses with certifiably insane drivers.  By extensive, I mean that they make up about half of the traffic on main streets and that you usually don’t wait for yours more than five minutes.  By certifiably insane, I mean they’re volvo drivers.  Yes, the micros are actually volvos.  And in order to use this great system, you just bip! your little card against the scanner and voilà!  You’re on your way.

Now the short and sweet things:

Yoghurt batido: it’s everywhere.  Beaten yogurt.  It’s thinner and more liquid-y, but tastes the same.  Drink up!  Oh wait, it has gelatin?  What?

All my condiments are in pouches!  They’re pouch-happier than Katy the kangaroo!  Jelly, mayonnaise, ketchup, all in pouches.

Manjar:  A sweet, caramel-like cream made from condensed milk and used as a spread. Basically dulce de leche.

What you mean you don’t want no meat?

What are they feeding me?

tomatoes, celery, carrots, cauliflower, beets, rice cake, and pity french fries

tomatoes, celery, carrots, cauliflower, beets, green beans, rice cake, and pity french fries

Usually empanadas, bread, and salad are served before the main course.  Salads take some getting used to.  All the veggies are separate and usually include shredded lettuce, beets, tomato, avocado.  Instead of dressing, you put oil, salt, and lemon on top and cut everything up!  Mmmmm.  Avocados are also mashed, salted and put on top of bread.

Fruit, srsly.  A lot of fruit.

Fried eggs are sometimes put on top of french fries… usually with meat.  This is called a lo pobre, for example, bistec a lo pobre.

Meat, meat, meat, and “ensalada vegetariana con ave”… vegetarian salad… with chicken?  OK.

At the supermarket, fruits, veggies, and bread must be weighed in the corner of the store somewhere before you try to buy them. Otherwise the cashiers, who are usually sitting and looking irritated, become even more irritated.  It’s ok, though, because 5 bananas cost me under 400 pesos… and a US dollar is somewhere around 540 pesos.

Speaking of bananas, they don’t make PB & banana sandwiches here, probably because peanut butter is in the imports section of the grocery store.

Breakfast is light, if it exists at all; lunch is a big meal served around 2 PM, and dinner happens after 9 PM at my house.  Sometimes we have tea, called las once, around 7 PM.  Sometimes I come home at 7 PM to find everything dark in the house and no sign of life… so I sneak away to my little cabin and am incredibly shocked at 9:30 when my host mother tells me it’s time for dinner…

Also.  One word.  Chirimoya.