Saturday 8 May 2010

Mendoza: A Sideways glance

I can't tell you a great deal about Mendoza. It has restaurants - I've tried a couple and haven't been disappointed. There are deep irrigation channels on every street - the locals call them Gringo traps. The roads are wide and there are beautiful big squares everywhere to mitigate the impact of earthquakes. I know this because I walked a few blocks tonight before sunset and read the Lonely Planet on the bus over. I can't add any more, or post pictures, because I have spent all my time in Mendoza doing what most people come here to do: drinking wine.

I love wine, but my enthusiasm is not matched with knowledge. I know the basics, like how it's made, the characteristics of grapes and so on. And when I drink it I understand about age, openness, tannins, acidity, body and finishes. But for the life of me I can't pick aromas, and often enjoy only slightly more luck with tastes. I'm always rifling through the memory banks, desperately trying to pin down a smell or flavour. And every time it is, quite literally, on the tip of my tongue.

This deficiency notwithstanding, I still want to try the stuff. I know what I like, and what goes with what, so I head out on tours two days running, with a company called Trout and Wine. Today I was in Lujain de Cuyo. We started with a little French run boutique, then graduated to a new estate called Decero (from zero). Some serious money has been thrown into this place. Every window points towards the snow capped peaks of the Andes, and the winery itself is straight out of Goldeneye. The investment paid off: their wines kicked ass.

Decero vines and the Andes

Inside the Decero Winery

After a good lunch (that peaked with the first course of citric mousse on an apple crisp) we took in Alta Vista, another big bucks winery. The building is stunning, and old. A tiled cane roof, and giant doors made from the metal struts of old wine barrels. The tasting room is the inside of an old concrete fermentation tank.

Yesterday we hit up three vineyards in the Valle de Uco. We start with a Sauvignon Blanc (at 9.30am) at Pulenta Estate and have a wander about in the shadow of the Andes. The place drips with money, and you begin to appreciate the absurd amount of investment required to get it off the ground. There's a saying, apparently, that if you want to make a fortune out of wine, you first need two fortunes. They're not kidding.

Just to prove that it's not all big bucks and James Bond film sets, we stopped at a boutique winery, La Azul, that produces an extremely modest 40,000 bottles a year. There are no pretty girls leading the 'tours' here. Nor tasting rooms, pictures of Ferraris or five course meals. Just an ugly cube in the middle of nowhere, and the winemaker, Luis, to guide us through their process and philosophy.

La Azul

We taste the standard line of Malbec and Cab Sav that retail for just 25 pesos. They'd have to be about the best value wine you can buy anywhere in the world. Then we graduate to the Reserva, a blend of the two. It is wonderfully rounded, though still quite young. He lets us try a new Syrah from the barrel which will eventually end up in the Gran Reserva blend. It seems stupid saying that my favourite wine of the two days is one that hasn't even been made yet, but that will be a bit special. And of course I secretly love the fact that my favourite wine, amongst all the grandeur, glitz and gambled fortunes, comes from a couple of guys in a concrete shed with the counter from their local kiosco as a 'tasting room'.

Luis: tour guide, winemaker, head of PR...

After two days, seven wineries and probably the best part of forty tastings, I make it back to to my room in one piece. I haven't over consumed thankfully, but I am dying for a beer and so I slug down a big bottle of Andes before showering off the day's sweat and brushing tannins from my teeth for about twenty minutes. I'm off to the best restaurant in Mendoza now - Francis Mallmann's 1884 - and I understand it has a rather impressive wine list...


  1. good doco shots, joe. julian will most likely know all these wineries (and their wares), and he'll be able to point you in the right direction for the chilean equivilents too. not sure when he last made wine but you might find a bottle or two of his stuff.

  2. Ha! that's where I went! The citric mousse starter cast a long shadow over the rest though and my beef was overcooked. Like the way they serve the food on the wood from old wine barrels though! When were you there?