Argentina may have lost the world cup final but they are well and truly winning when it comes to wine, and Mendoza is continuing to make it’s mark in some exciting new ways.
From the classic malbec to the resurgence of cabernet franc and the bonarda grape, both new and old school wineries are at the forefront of a new boom in premium winemaking, and there is no better place than the foothills of the Andes to explore the wonderful world of wine, but with so many good bodegas to choose from (over 1200), it can be hard to know where to start…
Av Belgrano 1194, 5500.
Wine is complex beast, altitude, age of vine, type of oak barrel and grade of toast, the soil, yield, blend, climate, and the humble grape, all contribute to give each wine it’s own character and identity. If like me you know a good wine when you taste it, but you don’t know what makes a wine great, then your first stop should be the Vines of Mendoza tasting room, where you can sample an array of excellent wines and learn some insider tips from the experts.
As Emilcé, my wine guide explains, whilst pouring the first glass of torrontés (a varietal of wine solely produced in Argentina) from their Recuerdo range. “It’s all about memory”…
“When you smell and taste a wine it stirs memories, the smell of yeast might remind you of your grandmother baking bread, or if your a horseman (or a belt fanatic), you might detect hints of leather, It’s all about personal association."
The torrontés has hints of melon, honey, pineapple, peaches and jasmine. It’s fragrant, smooth and citrusy. It reminds me of sitting by a river on a summers day.
We glide through a malbec: Petit Fleur 2010, produced by Monteviejo and world renowned winemaker Marcelo Pelleriti, (with hints of blackberries, overripe black olives and a touch of spice, gained from 12 months in French oak). A Las Perdices 2011 Bonarda Reserva (with oaky smokiness, higher tannins, dark caramel chocolate, and dare i say, a hint of leather?). A 2010 Gran Cabernet Franc. (Lots of red and green pepperiness, not as full bodied as the malbec, earthy, with a dash of cloves and a long, smooth, aftertaste. It reminds me of christmas). And a 2011 Gran Pinot Noir from Pulenta wines (half way between a torrontés and a malbec, fresh and lighter bodied, with a hint of sweet chocolate).
Achaval Ferrer - Calle Cobos 2601, Pedriel (5509)
Taste buds prepped it’s time to explore the terroir. Achaval Ferrer, located in Luján de Cuyo, 45 minutes drive from Mendoza through stretching vineyards, is, in relative terms, the new boy on the block. The winery started in 1998 and has quickly established itself as a leader in the new wave of Argentinean winemakers, under the guide of winemakers Roberto Cipresso and Santiago Achaval.
Oozing elegance and sophistication they specialise in 4 distinct Malbecs and their Quimera blend, (a blend of malbec, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and a splash of petit verdon) all of which have received high ratings from renowned wine connoisseur; Robert Parker.
“To us the plant is 90% of the wine, the age of the vines are key to the process”, Felipe, my guide tells me. (They only use old vines, 90-114 years old, the older the vines, the more terroir you taste).
“We cut our clusters a lot (up to 80%, the norm is no more than 50%) in order to create wines that have more depth and a unique expression, malbec needs to suffer, to stress, to feel the heat, the cold. It has to work hard to pull the nutrients and water from the ground, so you can taste the roughness of the soil, the terroir, the clay”.
Wines to try: Quimera 2009, Finca Mirador 2011, Finca Altimira 2009.
Nieto Senetiner - Guardia Vieja, Mendoza
A short drive from Achaval Ferrer in Vistalba, Nieto Senetiner is a picturesque colonial vineyard, and one of the oldest and most well known wineries in Argentina.
Established by Italian immigrants in 1888, they now produce an immense 16 million litres of wine a year, and in the past 10 years have turned their attention to creating some interesting sparkling wines, made from pinot noir, (a grape usually reserved for reds, which gives their bubbly a slightly sweeter and less stringent taste than some of the more traditional chardonnay bubbly,) and it's one of the only vineyards where you can taste a malbec rosé, made in acacia barrels.
It’s also not too shabby a place to stop and enjoy a lunchtime assado or some traditional empanadas Argentinas along with your favourite wine, made by their excellent in house chef, and served on the veranda of the elegant Villa Blanca, overlooking the grounds of their ripening vineyards.
Wines to try: Brut Nature Extra Brut, Gran Cuve Extra Brut, Malbec Rose.
Carmelo Patti - San Martin 2614, Mayor Drummond, Lujan de Cuyo
Google "Carmelo Patti" and the word legend appears a lot, and as soon as you arrive at his charming little bodega, located in the garage of his home in the small town of Mayor Drummond you’ll see why. Carmelo’s passion for this work is infectious, and his reputation as an expert winemaker is second to none.
“Hola Como Estas, entrar por favour!” He shouts with a big smile. Carmelo personally greets and shows all his guests around himself, and is as well known for his hospitality and love of life as his excellent wines.
He is a traditional grass-roots, old school, winemaker, everything is natural, there is no management of temperature or humidity. "There’s no need to change the temperature in my garage, everything is perfecto!” he says, and once you taste his wines, you’ll tend to agree.
His converted garage has 6 concrete fermenting tanks and 2 manual presses, paint is pealing off the walls, there is wine on the floor, and it’s cluttered with hoses and barrels. It’s untidy, simple, and like his wines, authentically perfect.
Wines to try: Cabernet Sauvignon, Gran Assemblage, Malbec
Diamandes - Clodomiro Silva S/N Vista Flores Tunuyan
The newly built Diamandes (a pun on the words Diamond and Andes) winery would make the perfect setting for the next bond villain’s hideout. “Designed with a minimalist concept” by architects Mario Yanzón and Eliana and set a stones throw from the Andean mountains in Valle de Uco, it’s a place where attention to detail is everything.
From the steel diamond sculpture that points to the centre of winery overlooking the King Arthuresque round table in the heart of the bottling room, and lights that project diamonds on the floor of the sparkling steel fermenting tanks, a tour through this modern, gadget filled, wine fortress won't fail to impress.
Run by the French Bonnie family the focus is to produce “Argentinian wines with a french touch”. With a philosophy to build something from the ground up, the first vines were planted in 1999. This is a fresh, a high-tech, modern bodega, with an eye on the future, though they are already producing wines of note, with their Gran Reserve 2008 Vintage receiving 92 points from Robert Parker.
Wine to try: Viernes, Gran Reserve 2008 Vintage, Perlita Malbec 2010.
1200 metres above sea level and 12 mins drive west of Diamandes is the boutique bodega of the Gimenez Riili brothers, who come from 3 generations of Mendoza winemakers, dating back to when their grandfather planted the first family vineyard in 1945.
Pablo (Gimenez Rilli), who is also one half of the Vines of Mendoza project tells me; “My family started out producing table wines but when the crash of 1980 came we moved from Maipu to Valle de Uco and began making premium, low yield, high concentration wines… We have young vines but because of the terroir and the altitude we get great complexity from them”.
This is a quintessentially classic bodega, set amongst barren, rocky vineyards overlooking the Valle de Uco. Jeff Lewis, my personal guide takes me on an encyclopaedic journey through some of their finest grapes, trying them in three stages; in tank fermentation (they harvested 2 weeks ago) and barrelled, before retiring to the veranda to sample the finished product. “It’s like a person, you can meet them at one stage in their life, but if you meet them at three different stages of their life you understand them much better”. How very true.
Wines to try: Syrah, Cabernet Franc (straight from the Barrel) Malbec 2011, Cabernet Franc 2012.