The view of square acres of olive trees and row after row of grapevines was a beautiful sight as we dropped out of the grey clouds that had caused our turbulent, flight and into Mendoza. From the plane I could just make out a massive wall of mountains in the distance – The Andes! We’ll be traveling over this vast range of snow-covered peaks later in the week and I’m looking forward to a scenic journey.
We had arrived in famed Malbec land, where the dry fertile soil is fed Andean mountain spring waters, the vines face south to north to bathe in the bright sunshine, the higher altitude maintains cool nights and the Andes barrier between Argentina and Chile protects the landscape from the Pacific rains. But mother nature doesn’t get her own way, as this year El Nino bought in cold wet winter weather that has delayed grape development. But now the Mendoza region is flooded with the spring sun, the Malbec vines are full of small hard green berries that will ripen over the next few months ready for harvest in February and March.
The first part of our week we stayed in a cute informal B&B away from Mendoza city out in the Maipu region. Tikaykilla in the Inca Quechua language means ‘Spring’ and with the garden courtyard fragrant with lavender and jasmine perfumes we were certainly in blooming springtime. We wanted a countryside place to stay for a few nights within the wine route with options to visit a few of the many wineries. Although we didn’t rate the outlying local Coquimbito area, with its array of exceptionally old rusty Ford Cortinas being driven around – it’s still relatively new to tourism, but we did visit a few pleasant wineries with gorgeous rows of picturesque vines to sample Malbec.
Argentina’s signature wine is Malbec, this grape is known in the region as ‘The Black Wine’ with a rich purple colour, flavours that are spicy and peppery with tobacco aromas from the French oak barrels the wine is aged in. Malbec has a smooth, rich, dark cherry finish that pairs just perfectly with Argentinian juicy steaks cooked on the asado grill.
Our first tour was to winery Domiciano De Barrancas. Their distinctive wine label design is one with the night sky and twinkling stars. They harvest their grapes at night when temperatures are lower so as to stop wild fermentation of the grapes. We tasted a dry white with pineapple green flavours. A strong red, very dry Syrah where the grapes are grown nearer the mountains and rocks warmed by the sun in the day retain warmer night temperatures. Their Malbec was typical of the region but didn’t excite us too much. However the tour of the bodega with Sandra was really informative explaining about the fermentation and conservation cycle of the wine.
We moved down to visit one of the larger wineries in the region of Trapiche. We enjoyed the tour with Andres of the stunning renovated 1912 buildings complete with old train tracks that once went directly to Buenos Aires. There we tried Fond de Cave, a white Sauvignon Blanc, which was light in colour and taste. A dry red blend cellar selection, aged in older barrels, which would pair well with lamb. Then bingo! we find of course we love one of more expensive 2011 Malbecs. Trapiche buy in grapes from the higher altitude of the Uco Valley, where the Malbec vines grow in rugged soil and has thicker grapeskin and seeds that produce a deep purple, heavier red wine that is aged in new oak barrels. The wine grower Orellana gets his name on the label and it was delicious. We also tasted a crisp Rose Vino Espumante which at 100 pesos each was a bargain for drinking on a sunny afternoon.
The following day we took a self tour of La Rural wine museum. The Rutini family has collected many artifacts from the last 150 years of wine making in Mendoza including the horse drawn carriages used before the railway was built that would transport wine to Buenos Aires.
We had been searching for a classy winery with views of the vineyards backing out to The Andes, with a comfy place to sit and enjoy a bottle of wine – thank goodness we found it at Tempus Alba. While Trapiche was a grand old winery with huge concrete wine storing tanks, at Tempus Alba it was all shiny state of the art vats and slate floors. They are using new wine making methods with all the old wine experience. We enjoyed a Malbec Rose on the sunny patio terrace with an afternoon lunch.
Although the ‘authentic’ (grubby) countryside of Maipu wasn’t quite what we had in mind – we probably needed to take a tour to the Uco Valley or Luján de Cuyo regions for Italian looking landscape and older style properties, but we did enjoy a couple of days in the intense sunshine.
We move into Mendoza City centre later for tree-lined avenues, pretty squares and hopefully another fabulous steak dinner before we leave Argentina and enter Chile across The Andes.