Recent travels have involved more time in South America. As wines frequently are found on our dinner table we have developed new interests in those produced in Chile and Argentina.
Early this year, we decided to return to Argentina and wanted to allocate some time to wine explorations in the region. It was only a matter of time until Mendoza, Argentina worked it's way to the top of our travel list.
We discussed visiting several bodegas and vineyards for reasons beyond tastings. We were looking for advanced technologies, interesting histories, modern and classic architectures, passionate winemakers, and hopefully, a culinary adventure or two. We would also leave a little time for undiscovered opportunities.
With only five days in Mendoza we knew we had to develop our 'must do' list (considering there are more than 1,200 registered vineyards in the region). We developed a strategy to first identify the best hotel for our needs and then sought out some local expert assistance for vineyard advice and recommendations.
Where to stay? We considered staying at a vineyard, but we felt that might isolate us. We did not intend to rent a vehicle and attempt self navigation (a lot of visitors do rent vehicles and it seems to work for them). Drinking and driving (even tasting and driving) is not our style.
We thought about staying in the heart of Mendoza City (the Park Hyatt Mendoza seems to be a perennial favorite with many visitors) but that would mean dealing with daily rush hour traffic (not as congested as major US cities, but still a bit of a hassle). We also considered a number of smaller hotels and a few B&Bs.
After reading several reviews regarding the Intercontinental Mendoza and exchanging several emails with management at the property, we decided it would be the best choice for our needs.
In retrospect, we are pleased with our decision. The hotel is just outside Mendoza City, adjacent to Ruta National 40, which allowed ease of access to the main autopista and avoided morning and evening traffic (we were never late for an appointment). We also knew the hotel was relatively new and adjacent to the largest modern shopping mall in the region. We also wanted some space and were also able to secure a large suite on the 14th floor with a fabulous view of the Andes.
After a great deal of 'web time,' examining wine history in Argentina, thumbing through numerous back issues of Wine Spectator and acquiring some used copies of Robert's Parkers Wine Buyer's Guides (6th & 7th editions were helpful), we finalized our 'must do' list!
We wanted dependable, knowledgeable and affordable private transportation. We corresponded with several companies, and eventually settled on a recommendation provided by Javier Palomo, Jefe de Recepion at the InterContinental. By contracting to utilize their services for airport transfers and several day-long excursions, we were able to negotiate a satisfactory 'package price' under $400 and utilized the same English speaking driver as well.
Just a few of our favorite bodegas:
Zolo/Tapiz is owned by Patricia Ortiz who has set a high standard for winemaking since acquiring substantial former Kendall-Jackson vineyards. She employs some of the most innovative and technologically advanced methods for her wine production. Although we are not prone to drinking whites, we were intrigued by the impressive reviews of her Zolo Sauvignon Blanc, Zolo Torrontes and Tapiz Chardonnay. So, after reading about Bodega Tapiz, we chose to visit one of Mendoza's finest and highest estate vineyards
Alejandro Darago of Vino Del Sol had arranged for Jose to be our escort through the vineyard and winery. He was among the highlights of the morning, caressing the rugged soil as we walked along the perfectly groomed rows of vines "at this altitude, these vines endure much stress, more than 300 days of bright sunshine and thrive from the pure water from the Andes". Once inside the winery, we were treated to tastings directly from the huge stainless steel tanks...as well as various oak casks. "There, can you taste the difference," quizzed Jose, "is this from French or American oak or maybe both...can you tell?).
The two hours sped by and the wines were extraordinary. "Now," said Jose, "let's finish this visit with a ride through the vineyard on one of our horse drawn carriages." What an impressive start to a full day in wine country.
Alejandro had called ahead and set up lunch reservations at Club Tapiz, just a few miles away.
Our meal at Club Tapiz's Resto Terruño proved to be extravagant....even for two vegetarians feasting among a room full of carnivores. The special dishes prepared for us were not only delicious, but absolute works of culinary art as well. Our server, Marcela, had been alerted of our pleasure at the sample tasting of the Tapiz Malbec Reserva, so she suggested we complement our meal with a bottle of the same vintage....we agreed.
After lunch we were invited to a private tour of the grounds and a tasting in their small olive oil factory. Should you decide to stay at Club Tapiz, make certain you request space in Casa Zolo, a separate structure less than a kilometer from the main facilities (restaurant, pool, spa, etc.) The rooms adjacent to the original hacienda, although clean, are a bit cramped, have limited natural light and are not nearly as inviting at the suites in Casa Solo.
Alejandro had made a phone call while we were dining and set up an unexpected late afternoon appointment. "Have you heard of Weinert Malbec," asked Alejandro, "Do you have time to make a special visit before returning to Mendoza?" We had read about Bodega y Cavas Weinert, but had never tasted their wines. Robert Parker has written about the legendary wine as well as the entrepreneurial founder of the bodega on several occasion. We jumped at this unexpected opportunity to not only visit, but to be personally escorted by Andre Weinert, son of the founder.
Andre generously shared his time and the many accomplishments attributed to his father's pursuit of excellence in wine production. The tour ended in one of the few actual underground cavas in Mendoza where were treated to a tasting of their 1977 Weinert Malbec Estrella. What an extraordinary wine! There was no 'sip & spit" involved; instead several full sensual swallows. Perfect end to our first day in Mendoza.
Bodega Catena Zapata
This is a special place and a tribute to Nicolas Catena, who envisioned producing great Malbecs and never relented from his passion We developed a taste for Catena, Alta Malbec, when a friend introduced us to a bottle of 2007 vintage. It was love of first sip.
Bodega Catena Zapata is a modern structure influenced by Mayan architecture and elemental design (the Mayan civilization never resided in South America and there is no record of them drinking making or drinking wine).
The Bodega Catena Zapata 'temple' is a compelling sight, situated among hectares of prime vineyards. Inside, the building winds through several levels, including the visually impressive barrel room and the one-of-a-kind copula atop the 'temple' By climbing the series of metal steps, a visitor is afforded an impressive vista of the distant Andes.
We were treated to a comprehensive tasting by Mercedes Labat, Wine Educator for Catena Zapata. We enjoyed a range of impressive visual experiences at Bodega Catena Zapata, as well as the several of the most sophisticated “microclimate blends” in Argentina. Not much 'sipping and spitting' mostly swallowing and enjoyment.
Trapiche was not initially on our list of must visits. Mistakenly, we had associated their wines as only "bulk" and 'budget' products (easy to occur since they are the largest single producer and exporter of wines in Argentina).
Fortunately, we had communicated with Gastón Ré, Visitor Centre Manager at Trapiche who assured us we 'must' visit Bodega Trapiche. Ultimately, it was the architectural restoration of the old winery, as well as the close proximity to the InterContinental that enticed us to do a tour and tasting. Luciano Rudman, one of the top wine educator at Trapiche, proved to be the perfect host and guide for us. He was patient and responsive to our many questions. He encouraged us to, stop frequently for photographs of the surroundings. He was passionate in, sharing the history of the company as well as the restoration details of the building. Most of all he was, methodical and entertaining while introducing us to several of the best wine.
Sitting in a secluded wine library, snow covered Andes in the background, sipping iconic Malbecs, while peering through a 'glass' floor and watching the beehive of activities in the barrel room below.....well, we felt privileged. Then to be treated to several precious sips from two of their recently release single vineyard Malbecs (annual tribute wines to their three top grape growers).
Does it get much better than this? We think not!
This is what an afternoon in Mendoza should be!
Luis Segundo Correas Bodegas
Bodega Correas is not the easiest place to find as it is somewhat remote. It is best to have someone who knows where they are going handle the transportation. Our driver wound his way through acres and acres of the richest agricultural region we had seen since arriving in Mendoza. We wondered what we would find. We had already been alerted by our 'expert source' not to anticipate any iconic monumental structures. "Simply two functional buildings - the larger of which contains all of the winemaking activities while the smaller one is for guest reception and wine tasting."
And so it was!
As we stepped out of our car we were met by two gentlemen and two young women
Broad smiles, warm handshakes and a genuine welcome were the order of the day.
"We are so happy to have you join us," said Victoria Correas as she introduced Diego Correas, President (4th generation on this land ) and the Winemaker Daniel Mayorga (more than 15 years with the company) as well as her cousin Julieta. "We're going to be your hosts and guide today." It was nice to meet Victoria face to face after exchanging a number of emails upon learning they would accept visitors. The initial tour was brief...this is where we receive the grapes, this is our crusher, these are our vats and our oak barrels are right down here in our cava.
"Those ladies over there are applying labels for an order we will soon ship," noted Victoria. Interesting, since the labels were being applied by hand and the very, very important 'neck hanger' reflecting the Robert Parker 90 point award was be attached as well. This is why we were attracted....the 90 points in a blind tasting. How could such a small winery catch the attention of Robert Parker when there was such stiff competition from such huge competitors? Their Valle Las Acequias Malbec Oak 2007 received 91 Points from Robert Parker and their Valle Las Acequias Cabernet Sauvignon Oak 2007 received 90 Points. How did this happen?
We would learn the answers as we adjourned to their tasting room.
Following the tasting, we were invited to spend some time with Diego, Julieta and Victoria at San Luis House for an afternoon of further wine and cheese on the veranda, followed by a specially prepared 'vegetarian' lunch of homemade humitas (quite a concessions for a family that thrives on meats). During the afternoon, Diego shared stories of the history of their winery, his great grandparents, and the years of making wine and selling it to in bulk before deciding to bottle and submit his wines to a blind tasting by Robert Parker. The rest is history. How extraordinary to engage a passionately dedicated winemaker in direct conversation. Diego convincingly challenged winemaking giants of Argentina and proved his wines could rival the strongest competitors.
Victoria Correas would welcome contact for additional information regarding a visit [email protected]
Now we treasure several bottle of Valle Las Acequias Rosedal 2007 Malbec in our wine keeper and relish in relating our Mendoza stories and wines with our friends and family.
Our time in Mendoza proved to be a magical experience and exceeded our expectation. Our pre-departure research had served us well.
We better understand some of the history of Mendoza, including the visionaries and artisans who are continuing to explore the potential of Malbec. It is impressive to realize the force Argentina has become in the world of wine today and appreciate the prospects for greater dominance in the future.
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For several generations, wine has been a part of our family but we've never elevated it much beyond basic sustenance (certainly not to irrational extremes of oenophiles snobbery ). As the memories of this marvelous trip to Mendoza settle in our minds, we can still enjoy a balance of interesting wines, good food and interactions with close friends and family. All key elements to a great life!
We simply ran out of time, but have added these notables to our list for next time visits:
Pulenta Estate Winery
Bodega Antigal Winery & Estates