In our last column we looked at the wines of Chile in South America in honor of the Summer Olympics. Now we go to Mendoza, Argentina, which is a short plane ride from Santiago over the snow capped peaks of the Andes Mountains.
As the seasons are reversed this time of the year, you can see skiers in the Las Lenas and Bariloche resorts as you pass over. When you arrive there’s no question you’re in wine country. More than two-thirds of all Argentinean wine comes from this area.
There’s a working vineyard just outside the front door of the airport, and large wine storage casks adorn the entrance road. Located in the foothills of the Andes, Mendoza has a continental climate, semi-arid desert conditions exist. Mendoza gets a lot of sun. With minimal rainfall, irrigation is essential.
The key to fine quality is the mountain elevations. With higher elevations, you get warm days but cool nights. This allows the grapes to mature slowly over a long period, which allows them to develop concentrated, complex flavors. The area is known for its Malbec, but Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Franc grow well here, as does the white grape Torrontes, which is only found in Argentina.
Grapes have been grown here since the early 1800s. However, it wasn’t until recent years the potential of the area has begun to be more utilized and fully appreciated. Argentina has no restrictions on foreign ownership of property. Capital and expertise from around the world has found its way here. Many of the wineries here, especially the newer ones, are the most cutting edge in the world both in terms of technology and architecture. The wines they produce are first rate, complex and affordable.
▪ Archaval Ferrer Quimera 2012, Mendoza, Argentina – about $30. Archaval Ferrer represents the pinnacle of winemaking in Argentina. By reducing his yield per acre of fruit he concentrates the flavors. This is an expensive undertaking. The wine is a blend of: 50 percent Malbec, 24 percent Cabernet Franc, 16 percent Merlot, 8 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 2 percent Petit Verdot. This wine in quite concentrated. It’s recommended to decant the wine to allow it to open, and the flavors to exhibit themselves properly.
▪ Mendel Lunta Torrontes 2013, Cafayate, Argentina – about $12. This light yellow with green highlight wine comes from a high altitude (over 5,000 feet) vineyard. It’s extremely aromatic with aromas of white flowers and roses. It has good acidity and well balanced with flavors of tropical fruit. This is an extremely good Torrontes at an incredible price.
▪ Zuccardi Malbec Serie A 2014, Mendoza, Argentina – about $16. This is an intense, aromatic wine made from grapes grown at high altitudes. It has a floral nose with aromas of herbs followed by flavors of ripe dark fruit, cherries, black pepper, tobacco, chocolate and spice. Soft round tannins give it a velvety mouthfeel leading to a dry finish.
Not only will you find fine wines in Mendoza, but also world class restaurants. Argentina claims to produce the best beef in the world. Our experience won’t dispute that. While there we visited Don Mario, a famous steakhouse. Marie ordered the filet mignon, hers was about a pound. Jim tried to order something described as a “rib with bone” but the waiter said it was too big for one person, so he ordered a flank steak instead. It entirely filled the plate. It was about 2 pounds. The total bill including two bottles of good Malbec, one for there, one to take home, including all tips and taxes was $43.
If you’re thinking of visiting Argentina now is a good time. The new government has abolished all arrival and departure fees. You don’t need a visa just a valid passport. The government also has removed monetary sanctions regarding exchange rates. It’s easy to exchange money, and most cab drivers will accept American dollars.
Jim and Marie Oskins live in the Lake Wylie area. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.