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I’m sure each and every winery and bodega in Mendoza, Argentina, will have something special and different about it. Some may be more economic than others, and some may be more cosy while others will have fluent English speakers working there. It really depends on many things and unfortunately I still haven’t been to all of them (this would take a LOT of time but would be great fun!).

wine tour

A great picture here of a group doing a wine tour. I love the focus on the grape bunch and the man in the background taking a picture in the sunshine!

So in the meantime, here’s a few gems I’ve picked out so you can start to get to know a few wineries. If you don’t like the look of these, maybe it will give you some starter tips to look out for others:

Cuvelier de los Andes

 

The bodega Cuvelier de los Andes is a winery that holds family values high. Started when Henri Cuvelier, from the north of France, started sharing his love of wine in the 19th century. With his son the successful family continued on to purchase Chataus’ around France. Paul Cuvelier had come to Argentina and thought the wines ‘pleasant to drink’ but not up to the standards of the French. So he decided to keep a watchful eye on them. And how right was to do so!

 

In 1998 Bertrand Cuvelier and Michel Rolland embarked on the adventure to Argentina. The website of Cuvelier de los Andes boasts its modern technology in the wine making process.

 

Their wines have exceeded their original hopes with a great harvest from 2003 and one can find a great selection of their ratings including a Robert Parker rating 92 for their 2009 CLA collections.

 

Their selection offers a range of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Blend amongst others.

http://www.cuvelierlosandes.com/newsite/index.php?lang=en

http://www.fincamevi.com.ar/?s=bodega&lang=en

Finca Mevi

 

Rolando Meninato and Oscar Vignart are both partners and the owners at the Mevi Bodega. They built their first winery in 2003 and went on from there! Their curriculums shine out impressively as both have been president of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States in Argentina and the Chemical and Petrochemical Chamber, members of the Union Industrial Argentina (UIA) and Asociación Empresaria Argentina (AEA). This is all great to write about as I really feel this is one factor that shows how hard working these men are. Rolando is an Agricultural Engineer and Oscar a Chemical Engineer.

The Mevi Bodega has re modernized itself, with the new winery being inaugurated in April of 2011. Mevi use stainless steel tanks with “a total capacity of 120 m3”. These tanks also have cooling and heating external coils.

 

However, it’s not just a line of certificates that can show off a life of hard work. I personally love the Mevi San Gimignano Cabernet Sauvignon. I love to have it with some cheese and red meats. They also offer a large range of wines from Malbec Rose, Bonarda to a great Torrontes.

 

In case the name of the line is seeming a little more Italian than Argentine…. you’re spot on! San Gimignano is a location in Tuscany, Italy, and the labels on the bottles show the town and it’s buildings.

Bodega La Azul

 

The bodega Azul is another small Mendoza winery. This bodega lies at the feet of the Andes mountain range (separating Chile from Argentina).

A beautiful photo of the Andes Mountain range.

 

Currently the bodega is run by Alejandro Fadel and Gustavo Larghi. The wines they offer are: Malbec, Cabernet, Azul Reserva and Azul Gran Reserva.

Carinae

The Carinae winery is definitely a gem worth discovering if going down to Mendoza. Run by Brigitte and Philippe Subra (two very lovely people) this winery has such a friendly feel to it!

The name Carinae is after a star constellation that can be seen from the south!

The Carinae star constellation – how beautiful!

 

The boutique winery has a vat capacity of 260,000 litres and concentrates all its efforts on producing high quality wines. When trying the great wines that Carinae have to offer, you can often pick up hints of the French oak casks they keep!

 

Carinae offer: The Carinae Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon blend, Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Gran Reserva Malbec, Finca Denza Guarda, Gran Reserva Syrah and Passito de los Andes (just to name a few).

 

A great thing about many Carinae wines is that they are meant to be drunk young. This means there is no need to store away hoping for it to improve, not really knowing if this special occasion really is the right special occasion. Just go on and cork it open! We know you’ll love it.

I’ve only mentioned here a couple of wineries that I thought worth putting down, but in reality there are many great wineries to be visited.

Have you been? If so, where did you go? If not, which do you think you’ll be choosing, as seeing all would be virtually impossible!

 

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Argentina is an exciting country filled with equally exciting wines. And I bet that as soon as I mentioned ‘Argentina’ and ‘wine’ you started thinking of Malbec! And I hope so, as Argentine Malbecs are worth trying.

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You may have to go through your fair few of restaurant table wines, but surely you’ll hit that one Malbec that you’ll want to bring home to share with friends and family (or just sitting back on the sofa watching your favorite series).

But I’m not here to talk about Argentina’s ‘teacher’s pet’ or ‘class favorite’’. I’m actually more interested in the quieter kid in the class.

The Malbec would be the ‘class favourite’ in the Argentine wine world.

 

I want to brag a bit about the Bonarda. If you go to any wine tasting in Buenos Aires, Mendoza or Salta I can assure you they will mention the Bonarda to you. The Bonarda is known as the ‘secret grape’ of Argentina. I actually find this rather strange as it is one of my favorites and constitutes 18% of wine produced in Argentina.

The Bonarda was given the title of ‘patito feo’ or the ugly duckling. As I mentioned before, when coming to Argentina you have your wine tastings, your great wines and then you have the high production bulk wines that unfortunately continue from an old habit that Argentina fell into over twenty years ago for making high production, tannic wine to be blended. The Bonarda was a great blending grape. This created a sort of ‘Damajuana’ mixed with soda water.

So the Bonarda has suffered an uphill struggle. But it’s doing amazingly well and you can you find it all over Argentina and even under other names such as ‘Dulce Nero’ in Italy and ‘Charbono’ in California.

When drinking a Bonarda you may pick up on notes of spice and pepper. This is great with a traditional argentine style picada with Salami and cheese. Or maybe a piece of steak would go just fine. Just make sure it’s not too heavy that it overpowers the wine!

picada

One of the low production, higher quality Bonardas’ you will find in Agentina – Las Perdices

Are there any other wine varietals from Argentina, or even South America, that you’ve heard of or tried that aren’t too famous?

Malbec, the flagship red wine of Argentina, achieves excellent wines and it is appreciated and recognized by consumers nationally and internationally. It has a tremendous fruit expression and very soft tannins. However, it is a very demanding grape in terms of region and crop management in order for it to reach its full potential.

I love malbec

Its origin is debated to this day but it has been proved genetically that it came from southwest France.  Though the exact region is still unknown, it is to believed to have started somewhere in Cahors, Bordeaux, Quercy or La Touraine. In this areas, it is most commonly known as “Cot” but it has over 400 hundred names, including Auxerrois, Cot de Bordeaux, Cahors, Pressac, Cot Noir and many others.

 

This varietal shows peculiarities which are due to the differences in climate and soil, plant genetic characteristics, vineyard management as well as the processing methods. The French Malbec grape is a thin-skinned grape and needs more sun and heat than either Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Syrah, as it ripens mid season and can bring very deep color, soft tannins, and a particular plum-like flavor. Sometimes, especially in traditional growing regions like France, it is not trellised and cultivated as bush vines. Here it is sometimes kept to a relatively low yield of about 6 tons per hectare.



As a varietal, Malbec creates a rather inky red (or violet), intense wine, so it is also commonly used in France to bulk up for other mixes, such as with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to create the red French Bordeaux claret blend. It has been long used as one of the five blending grapes in the red wines of Bordeaux, Malbec is difficult to ripen in cold years there, and is susceptible to damage by mildew and other “pressures” that may infect damp, densely planted vineyards.

In the Cahors region of southwest France, Malbec produces a more robust vine and is often vinified on its own. Known as the “black wine of Cahors” because of its very dark color, this Malbec can be offered as a varietal wine or used to add body and color, as mentioned before, in other blends.

The invasion of Phylloxera in French vineyards in the 19th Century greatly diminished the amount of Malbec planted there. The vine seems particularly sensitive to pests and disease. The “great freeze” that struck France in 1940 was another blow to Malbec. Since the frost killed 75 percent of the Malbec in the Medoc region, and growers replaced those vines with varieties which had more value in the marketplace.

 

From Europe to the New World…

Malbec came to Argentina in mid-nineteenth century (somewhere between the years 1852-1868) where it spread rapidly, it was introduced by french agronomist, Mr Michel Aime Pouget before the Phylloxera epidemic punished European vineyards. In Argentina, which was never subject to the epidemic, most of these vines grow on their own roots. But if escaping the blight of Phylloxera provided a start, the key reasons for the recent emergence of the grape are improvements both to viticulture and vinification. Producers have dramatically cut yields and replaced large old wood casks with oak barriques. They’ve taken more care in selecting appropriate planting sites, developing cooler, high altitude vineyards that benefit from warm days and cool nights. International consultants have arrived, too, imparting up-to-date knowledge about vinification techniques as well as a sense of what style of wines compete successfully in the international wine market.

 

Map of Europe

 

As soon as it came to Mendoza it was known as”The French Grape” although this name included other vines such as Tannat and Petite Verdot, and they were the most widespread grapes in Argentina.

 

The first growers planted the Malbec using the European tradition: six plants of malbec and one white variety of Semillon. Since a cut was produced, according to the ancient winemakers, this balanced the high concentration of color and took away the marked roughness provided by the tannins

 

During the ’80s, Argentina experienced a strong process of eradicating the vines of Malbec (especially the oldest, with more than half a century) which endangered the very existence of the strain, it was believed that the future was secured on the basis of a market scheme preventing high-yielding vines. But then, with the restructuring of the wine industry in the early 90s Malbec resurfaced implantation. Currently, the area planted with this variety is the world’s largest followed by France and the USA.

 

The origin of the Malbec name has also been in debate  for quite sometime. A theory suggests that the name was provide by the french term of “bad kiss” (Mal=bad, bec=kiss), but the most probable of the theories implies that Malbec was the name of the Hungarian vintner who spread the vine all around the South west of France, Monsieur Malbeck.

 

About the grape…

 

In the Patagonian south it is grown beside apple orchards and poplar trees which protect the vines from the wind. In Mendoza the conditions are much warmer and drier. Though the province’s low-lying vineyards are twice as high as Rio Negro’s, the style of Malbec produced is fairly soft and simple. Malbec is grown all through Salta to Patagonia, being the most widely produced grape of Argentina.

 

The Malbec color is a thick, lustrous, dark inky-black purple that almost stains the glass . Gooare often surprisingly floral and aromatic with a scents of plums and violets. This translates into sweet, well-rounded flavors on the tongue and sometimes a spicy edge softened by smooth, velvety tannins. The balance of fruit and tannin is what makes a top Malbec so perfect.

This wine is typically a medium to full-bodied, dry red wine with plenty of acidity and higher tannin and alcohol levels, topically but not necessarily.  It pairs very good with many types of food, but it is undeniable that it matches beautifully with juice steaks, Morrocan tajines and all sort of gamey meats being definitely a red meat wine but adaptable enough to stand up to spicy Indian, Mexican, Cajun or Italian fare, with preference given to barbecue, spices and hard to pair meat-driven dishes, Malbec is extremely food-friendly and ultra accommodating.

A wine you must try especially while visiting Argentina either in a wine tasting, or traditional “asado”, is a wine you must seat and enjoy no matter what…

Before 2004, or so, nobody had ever heard of Malbec (unless you are a total and utter wine geek!). The reason for the explosion of malbec in the world market is really the 2002 economic crisis in Argentina. Well that was the catalyst at least. The story of malbec in Mendoza goes back to Paul Hobbs in the late 1980s visiting Nicolas Catena, the owner of the Catena Zapata winery (the biggest bodega in Argentina). Basically, it is said that Hobbs told Catena that he needed to invest in modern winemaking techniques in order to transform his wines into an exportable product.

Catena followed Hobbs’ advice and invested in things like oak barrels and stainless steel tanks in order to make better wines. Another recommendation by Hobbs and the other flying wine makers like Michel Rolland and Alberto Antonini was to start planting Malbec. Prior to this time, Bonarda had been the most widely planted grape in Argentina. Bonarda was great for making high yield, low quality wine… basically bulk wine, that in Argentina was called Dama Juana (Lady Jane in English). This wine was consumed with ice or soda water (as you still see in Buenos Aires today!) and not really appreciated the way that one would at an luxurious wine tasting in Buenos Aires.

 

Malbec Vines, Club Tapiz

Malbec it was said, by the flying wine makers, would do very well in the terroir of Mendoza. The dry, high altitude climate and poor soils would create a naturally pest free environment for malbec to thrive in. Malbec had a problem with humidity in its native France in that its thin skins made it prone to disease and rot and fungus. Not good things if you want to let your grapes ripen on the vine! So Catena and the other wine makers listened and started planting malbec. The rest of the history of Argentina wine in a few….

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

This system might work for Shakespeare, but it does not work for wine. Why?  Marketing.  Wine consumers young and old are identifying more with the wine varietal, the primary grape used in the production of the wine.  “Old world” wines, especially those from France tend to be identified by their region rather than their varietal, but with the emergence of “new world” wines from countries like Argentina and Australia into the market, even the French are adapting certain wine labels to the varietal naming system.

Although I have always found the varietal naming system very helpful, I did not realize until recently how it initially handicapped me in my discovery of wine.  Unlike Shakespeare I got caught up in the name – the name of the varietal.   Once I found a varietal I liked, it became my “go-to” and I never ventured much outside my comfort zone.   All of that changed on my first trip to Buenos Aires two years ago when I dared to venture outside my “go-to’s” and tried my first Argentine Malbec. .  I had never heard of the varietal Malbec before my visit, but since I was traveling I allowed my palette to venture as well.   I am glad I did, because I instantly had a new favorite!

This unforeseen discovery made me wonder what other varietals I might be missing.  In addition to Malbec, Argentina has many more varietals to offer including Bonarda, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Tempranillo, and Torrontés.  Yes, these grapes originally hail from other regions of the world, but the terroir of Argentina –high altitudes, dryer climate, and the runoff water from the Andes – creates an ideal climate for them to grow resulting in delicious wines.

The moral of the story – explore the world of wine!  The varietal naming system, although helpful, can make it is easy to stick with your “go-to’s”.  Attend a fun wine tasting in Buenos Aires and you may discover a new varietal or an old favorite from a new region of the world.  Maybe Shakespeare does have a point after all …

 

In 1941, Argentina embarked on a path to create a pure Malbec wine that would encapsulate the true flavors of the grape. Bodegas Escorihuela Gascon was the first Argentine winery to produce a 100% varietal Malbec wine. From this point on Argentine wine makers discovered the perfect collaboration between Malbec grapes and the Argentine climate, and since then Malbec has become Argentina’s primary production wine.

Argentina develops such phenomenal Malbecs on account of the unique geography and climate that differs from other regions in the world. It just so happens that the ideal conditions for growing Malbec grapes is found in the foothills of Argentina’s Andes Mountains. Mendoza, Argentina produces more Malbec than any other region in the world, and the high altitude districts of Lujan de Cuyo and the Uco Valley, which are located at the Andes foothills of Mendoza, produce some of the highest quality Malbec. These districts are located between 2,800 ft and 5,000ft elevation.

The Mendoza region offers the ideal growing conditions for Malbec grapes, which encourages the grape to flourish and become a better wine. In France, Malbec was grown, as a secondary component to be blended with Bordeaux wines, and this was a result of the French terroir that could not compliment the Malbec grape. The Malbec varietal of France needed more sun and heat, and needed to be grown in the absence of mildew. Mendoza is refereed to as the “desert oasis”, which became the perfect compliment to Malbec grapes. The loose and sandy alluvial soils found in the high altitude create a harsh environment where pests like Phylloxera cannot thrive. The Zonda winds of Argentina produce a dry airflow that pass through Mendoza, which ultimately keeps mildew away. The vineyards are refreshed from the melting snow of the Andes, and rest under the warm sun for a high majority of the year.

As the Malbec varietal improved, winegrowers took the most superior cuttings to proliferate them, designing a purebred Argentine Malbec. Most Argentine Malbec does not need site-specific root variations, because few Phylloxera exist, so traditional Argentine winegrowers believe these Malbecs embody more focused and true characteristics of the Malbec grape.

 

The Malbec varietal began in the Bordeaux region of France as a grape to be blended with Bordeaux reds, because the Malbec grape embodied robust characteristics that brought out the tannins of red wines. Bordeaux lost a great deal of trust in the Malbec grape after the devasting effects the weather had on the grapes in 1956 when 75% of the Bordeaux crops were destroyed by frost.

Today, Malbec is not a primary varietal of France, but the South West region known as Cahors continues to grow Malbec in great numbers. The frost of 1956 did not stop the Cahors region, and growers decided to reshape growing techniques after the destruction, and this resulted in an improved Malbec grape with stronger capabilites. Now Malbec is blended with Merlots and Tannats of Cahors, and Cahors even produces 100% Malbec reds.

The Malbec varietal is grown in a few other regions of France, but the name has changed over time, so though vineyards are growing the Malbec varietal the opposing names diverge attention from Malbec on the wine spectrum. For instance, in Cahors Malbec is called Auxerrois or Cot Noir, and in other regions Malbec is referred to as Pressac. The change of name has diminished the attention and publicity of the Malbec varietal. A French ampelographer and experienced viticulturalist named Pierre Galet claims that Cot was the original birth name of Malbec, and the varietal was primarily dominant in the northern region of Burgundy.

There is an old folk tale of a Hungarian peasant who is believed to be responsible for spreading the Malbec grape throughout France. Some say this peasant was the first to come in close contact with the grape, and this led him to grow fields of the grape in various regions. Historians and scholars have not researched this tale, so little fact constructs the base of the argument.

However, the introduction of Malbec to Argentina has a clear-cut story. In the mid 19th century, roughly in 1868, French agronomist Miguel Pouget brought Malbec vines and grapes from Bordeaux to Argentina as a request from Argentina’s 7th president Domingo Faustino Sarmiento. The Malbec varietal flourished in the high altitude, continental climate of Argentina, which is the chief incentive for Malbec to be produced in Argentina and consumed in mass quantities.

Here are some sites to look at if you want to read more:

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