Posted by: acooksca | 04/03/2009

How to Taste Wines in Mendoza

Wines from Mendoza and smaller regions in Argentina are easy to find on the shelves in U.S. wine shops. Most are vine-of-mendoza-1amade from the Malbec grape, which in the consistent dry, warm climate along the Andes yields juicy, noncomplex everyday wines. They are well priced, usually between $10 and $20. But there are premium wines being produced in Argentina as well, wines that are seldom found in the U.S.

Our search began at the home of friends just outside Buenos Aires. Martin and Mary Clare let us rummage through their wine cellar. In particular, a five year old Cabernet/Malbec blend from Pulenta Estate in Mendoza struck us all as balanced and full of character and a wine we needed more of. Pulenta went on our list of wineries to visit.

Next we stopped into several upscale wine shops in Buenos Aires to chat. The names of two wineries kept popping up… Achaval Ferrer and Bodega Bressia…and everyone agreed that lunch at Ruca Malen winery would be the highlight of a Mendoza stay, if you could obtain the coveted reservation.

We also started collecting advice and etiquette about how to taste wines in Mendoza. One just can’t pop into a winery, an appointment must be made ahead.  Locating smaller producers is difficult as maps and signage are vague at best. Plan on visiting only two or three wineries a day, as a visitor is expected to tour the winery, get to know the folks and slowly work your way through the wines. And one last issue. We were headed to Mendoza during their busiest week of the year, the harvest festival.

We needed help navigating the Mendoza wine region, making tasting appointments and a little pull to get that lunch reservation on this busy weekend. Some months earlier, a young man walked into the San Francisco wine shop where I work. Todd had worked the crush in Mendoza for the past few years. He explained that there were many wine-tours we could take but they often head for larger wineries that poured the same everyday wines we were selling in the shop. “To taste the best wines in Argentina all you need to do is go to a tasting bar called Vines of Mendoza.” 

Vines of Mendoza was founded four years ago by a partnership of American and Mendozan friends to offer a superlative Argentine wine experience. You could relax in their outdoor patio with taste or a glass of 100 hand selected wines. Or you could order a flight of wines in a private tasting room and let the very knowledgeable staff educate you.

There are less ambitious tastings available but we felt this was an opportunity to taste wines in the $60 – $150 range that we would normally never taste. We sat down to flights called Las Reservas de Argentina ($80 for six 3-oz pours) and Los Iconos ($175.00). Most of these wines are very small production and would not be offered for tasting even at the wineries. Three hours later we emerged from this extraordinary tasting with the understanding that world class wines were indeed being produced in Argentina and for about 40% less than their equivalent Californian or European counterparts.

Fortunately, Vines of Mendoza offers a wine club here in the U.S. of top boutique wines (see link below). And, for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, you can purchase a turn-key Private Vineyard Estate in a prime region of Mendoza and they will help you grow and craft your wine.

As we sipped and chatted with everyone from the Argentine sommelier to the American sales manager, one member of their team phoned to secure our lunch reservation at Ruca Malen and tasting appointments for the next several days. Todd was right. Vines of Mendoza is all we really needed to know about how to taste wines in Mendoza.

Some of our favorites:
Preludio Acorde #2, Malbec/Cab/Merlot 2004
Achaval Ferrer Cab. Franc 2006
Amuta Malbec/Cab/Syrah  2005
Turjan Poesia Malbec/Cab 2002
Bressia Conjuro Malbec/Cab/Merlot 2005
O Fournier Alfa Crux Tempranillo/Malbec/Merlot 2002

Originally published in Farmstead Cheese News by Karen Bolla, edited for A Cook’s California (A Cook’s CA)  by Karen Bolla.


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