Stacy here, with some help from our friend, Rebecca, (guest author in residence). OK, advance warning to those of you who could care less about wine tasting and vineyards … Skip this longer-than-usual post, and wait for our next post from Brazil. This past week has been all about wine and the harvest festival (Vendimia) in Mendoza, Argentina, so we decided to combine this post and generally tell you about what we drank and ate and did. Since few if any of the iconic (or even their good) wines of Argentina (meaning predominantly Malbecs) ever get to the U.S., we hired the services of Uncorking Argentina to give us daily tours of several wineries in each of the key growing regions in the province of Mendoza. They not only arranged the tours and tastings, proving transportation to some incredibly out of the way vineyards, but also arranged all of our special activities. Jim has already mentioned the invaluable Mauro, who added to these daily journeys with commentary and explanations of Argentine customs, politics and economics. All of us heartily agreed that the team at UA made an essential part of the success of this visit. Cooking with the Uncorking Argentina Team (and family) at Cordillera Vinos y Fuego Crossing the Andes With Rebecca at the Monument to the Heroes Monument to San Martín Our first day, we woke to light rain, and headed off to the region of Lujan de Cuyo, one of the four main wine-growing regions (along with Maipu, Godoy Cruz, and the Uco Valley). Our first stop was at Domaine St. Diego. We walked among the vineyards with Laura, who along with her father, are the winemakers at this family-owned winery. One of the most interesting features of this vineyard was that in the middle of the rows of grape vines Are mature olive trees, which makes this an especially picturesque vineyard. The vineyard also presses and sells its olive oil, so our first taste of the day was of their oils. Olive trees at Domaine St. Diego Interestingly, Domaine St. Diego not only made a sparkling wine (a rose called Alea) which is somewhat unusual in Mendoza (which does not produce many sparkling wines), but they also had an unoaked red blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, called Paradigma. This was Jim’s first purchase. Rebecca liked the Malbec called Pura Sangre. Then it was off to Benegas Lynch for our second tasting. The Benegas family started one of the largest wineries in Mendoza, known as Trapiche. They sold Trapiche a couple of decades ago, but repurchased an original Trapiche vineyard to start Benegas Lynch. We were interested to learn that in Mendoza, many wineries do some or all of their wine fermentation in concrete vats lined with epoxy which are now temperature controlled, and this was also the case at Benegas Lynch. We tasted three wines: a 2013 100 percent Malbec, sourced from the Uco Valley; a 2009 red blend of cab. sauv., Cab. Franc., and Merlot (from their label Finca Libertad) from old vines ; and a 100 percent cab. Franc from 2012, which both Jim & Rebecca liked. Although we didn’t buy any wine here, we had a great discussion/explanation of Argentine politics with the Benegas rep and another small tour group. Our final tasting for the day was at Casa de Aguas, a charming vineyard and restaurant way out in the Lujan de Cuyo countryside. They served us what passed for a light lunch in Argentina: empanadas, salamis, cheeses, bread, and dessert. The food was all artisanal and yummy, but we also really liked the wines. The winemaker is Swiss guy named Dieter Meier. They had a very drinkable 100 percent Malbec from 2022 called Puro, but my favorite was the Torrontes, which I bought to drink at “Casa de Julio” during our stay in town. Mauro returned us to our house for a much needed siesta, and then picked us up for an early (9:00 pm) dinner at Dantesco. This was an excellent restaurant recommended by our friend, Reid Kinnett, in Chacras de Coria. Day 2 of the Vendimia marathon had us again going to the Lujan de Cuyo region to visit the Carinae vineyard. This is a very interesting winery in that it is based on an existing vineyard and winery, which was rebuilt according to the original winery plans, but it is now owned by a French couple. The consulting winemaker for Carinae is Michel Rulan, who is considered minor royalty in the Mendoza winemaking world. We started with a Torrontes, which was too acidic and dry for my tastes ( although Bec and Jim liked it), and then rolled on to a 100 percent Malbec from their 2011 Harmonie vintage. They have a higher end label called Hommage, but we liked the Harmonie label better. This was a good classic Argentine Malbec, and Rebecca bought a bottle to drink at Casa Julio. I bought some salami and cheese, because being Sunday, and facing an epic lunch at our next stop, I thought it might be prudent to lay in some supplies in case we wanted to stay in that night. The epic lunch (and wine tasting): a nine-course lunch and wine-pairing at Familia Zuccardi Vineyards. For those of you who follow us on Facebook, this is Jim’s now infamous picture of 6 wine glasses and more silverware than you could count! Here is the menu. Following lunch, we very slowly walked over for the vineyard tour, and then Mauro poured us into the car and took us back to Casa Julio for a much needed siesta. Suffice it to say, we did not go out for dinner that night! Monday morning dawned clear and hot, and instead of our trusty Mauro picking us up, we were met by our biking guide, Luis Laciar, of Rueda Ubre, who bills himself as an International Cicloturismo Guide. Since he has completed numerous solo cycling tours, including down the African continent from top to bottom, I guess he has the creds to back up the title! We headed first to the far western edge of the Lujan de Cuyo region, where our destination was Kaiken vineyard, which is based on an existing vineyard of 80 year old Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyard is owned by the giant Montes winery of Chile, but they use a local winemaker. In addition to having some great wines, (we liked their Malbecs as well as the Cabernet Sauvignon), the vineyard had an awesome view of the snow capped peaks of the Andes.
Then we mounted bicycles to ride through the vineyards to the more central part of Lujan de Cuyo, at the vineyard called Clos de Chacras. The ride was about 10 miles through some pretty rugged back roads, and tested our off-road biking skills!
Although yesterday’s meal at Zuccardi had been a gastronomic experience extraordinaire, I think we all enjoyed the more relaxed approach at Clos de Chacras better. And, their wines were pretty darn good, too! After a thoroughly enjoyable lunch with Luis, complete with tales of his biking expeditions, we headed back to Casa Julio for another well-deserved siesta. I think we’re getting used to this! Tuesday morning, we had a change in schedule; instead of tasting Malbecs, we went to the vineyard Cruzat in the southwestern end of Lujan de Cuyo to taste their sparkling wines! They make some amazing sparkling wines, and our first tasting really set the tone for this special day of tasting at some of the epic vineyards of Mendoza.
Our second stop was at Achaval Ferrar. These are some of the few premium Argentine wines that make it to the U.S. (in our opinion, largely because the extremely inflated prices charged for their wines can probably justify the excise and shipping costs). The Achaval Ferrar family is justifiably known as some of the best winemakers in Argentina, and they have not only large and and varied vineyard holdings all over Mendoza, but also have partnered with Roberto Cipressi , of Montalcino, who is probably the preeminent Brunello winemaker in the world today. Without doubt, the wines we tasted were complex, premium wines, but we all agreed that there were probably equally great wines in Mendoza for a fraction of the price. These wines also weren’t really in our favorite style, many of them being blends of the Super Tuscan style, and most of them not being ready to drink for at least 5 to 10 years. Our final stop for the day was at Viña Cobos, the winery at which our friend, Reid, had worked his harvest season in Mendoza. Viña Cobos is a beautiful winery, and we had a fantastic tour. We also had a light lunch (by Argentine standards) paired with some of the best of the Viña Cobos wines. We particularly liked their Bramare label Malbec sourced from 100% Ljan de Cuyo Malbec grapes.
After Mauro returned us to Casa Julio, we walked into town to take into some of the Vendimia activities. Among other things, we walked along the “peatonal” (pedestrian walking area) in the center of town, where we checked out the various beauty queen contestants for the title of Harvest Queen of Mendoza, and found out how to change our US dollars into Argentine pesos at the “blue rate”. The crowning of the Queen and the blessing of the harvest are the highlights of the Vendimia festival. Finally, Mauro picked us up about 8:30 for our dinner at Francis Mallman’s Mendoza Restaurant 1884. It was an exceptional meal, heavy on … you guessed it… meat! Wednesday dawned clear and hot. Our first stop of the day was the Pulenta vineyard in the northern end of the Uco Valley. Uco has become the premier wine growing appellation in Mendoza because its higher altitude (on the edge of the Andes) and its rocky soils mean that more grape varietals can be grown there, and the grapes are of premier quality because they are stressed. Pulenta is another long-time Mendoza growing operation. Because the Uco Valley is at the foothills of the Andes, the views from most of the wineries there were fantatstic, and Pulenta was no exception. During our tasting, we did a really interesting game where we tried to guess the aromas of various smells found in Mendoza wines while blindfolded. The owners of Pulenta also own the largest Porche dealership in Buenos aires, so along witht heir wine trophies, they display classic Porshe engine blocks. Bottom line: While we all really liked the Pulenta wines, there were many others we liked more, but the wine-tasting experience was a good one. Our next stop was at the Catena Zapata vineyard. Jim and I had the pleasure of trying several of their wines over our weeks in South America, so we were really looking forward to this tasting. Sadly, the experience did not live up to the anticipation. Although the winery is an architectural work of art, and the wines produced for argentine consumption are really great, apparently the marketing geniuses at Zapata decided that since we were Americans, we should be limited to tasting the Catena Zapata wines exported to the U.S. Sadly, they were not nearly as good as the Argentine-market wines! This somewhat sured the tasting experience for me, particularly when they make a practice of not selling their better wines for shipment to the U.S. Advice for the fellow traveler: Enjoy the Catena Zapata wines while you are in Argentina (or Chile, if you find them), but don’t bother going to the winery to visit.
Thankfully, the great team at Uncorking Argentina had planned another great wine pairing lunch for us at Dominio del Plata vineyard, so the day ended on a very happy note! Thursday was a much-needed day off from wine-tasting. Even Jim agreed! We slept in for once, and then made a huge breakfast of Tomatican. Jim and Bec read quite a lot, and we did some laundry in Casa Julio, and drank some of the wine we had bought while trying out Julio’s unheated Jacuzzi, which we enjoyed because the weather had turned quite hot (about 95 degrees F.). I availed myself of the local nail salon, and then we set off to walk to Plaza Italia, one of the main plazas of Mendoza about 12 blocks from Casa Julio. Because of Vendimia, the descendants of the whole Italian population of Mendoza got together for a street festival, with booths representing each of the major provinces in Italy. Each booth was selling food and drink from that province, so we bought our tickets and joined the throngs of Mendozans eating and drinking in the plaza. There was live entertainment (mostly Argentine artists singing classic Italian songs), and from the throngs of crowds surrounding them, the highlight of the evening (at least for young Mendozan males) was the appearance of the contestants for the the crown of the Harvest Queen!
Friday morning marked the end of our week at Casa Julio and our move down to our second location in Mendoza, and we said our fond farewells to our great landlord, Julio Cesar Cobos! Mauro drove us all the way down to the Uco Valley through the towns of Tupungato and Tunayan to our destination resort, The Vines of Mendoza. This is a really cool concept in that it’s both a high end resort and a working vineyard/winery (actually, several wineries), where you can even buy a plot to grow your own grapes and bottle your own wine with the consulting advice of Achaval. There are also about 6-8 professional wineries resident on the property, including the Vines of Mendoza and Gimenez Rilli. We had a tasting at The Vines, and then rode bikes through the vineyards to get to Gimenez Rilli, where we said goodbye to our dear Mauro, and had a killer asado lunch paired with the great Gimenez Rilli wines. We even bought a case of their wine with Rebecca and shipped it home.
Saturday, we actually had a day of total rest hanging out on the gorgeous grounds of The Vines. Rebecca and I checked out the spa, while Jim took up residence in a cabana at the pool. We enjoyed dinner outdoors looking over the vineyards at the restaurant onsite, Francis Mall an’s Siete Fuegos. Bright and early Sunday, we left The Vines; with Rebecca returning home and us returning to Rio to start our two week odyssey through Brazil. Stay tuned!