The one above shows the general lay of the land with the main growing areas of Maipu and Lujan de Cuyo moving out from the city of Mendoza (see this topo/satellite/weather map. Further south is the Uco Valley with many wonderful wineries and 200km south of the city lies San Rafael, home to Famiglia Bianchi among others. I didn’t visit San Rafael on my trip but I did visit the other regions.
There’s an incredible vitality to Mendoza. The region is experiencing a boom. Foreign direct investment, particularly from France and Chile, is pouring in to vineyards and fancy new wineries are going up everywhere. Several locals told me that unemployment is at 6 percent, well below the national average of 20 percent. Demand for luxury hotels is such that the Park Hyatt is often full and two other five-star hotels are being built. And there are luxury boutique hotels such as the 14-room Cavas Wine Lodge sprouting in the vineyards themselves.
The Andes provide a dramatic backdrop for the city as well as plenty of activities for tourists, from hiking to rafting. But it’s the wineries that I went for and I wondered, does terroir matter? Or put more simply, are there different microclimates in Mendoza?
It is always hard to decipher the influence of the vineyard as opposed to the influence of the winemaker. So I had an excellent chance to taste the terroir in the very cool tasting room at Alta Vista with three Malbecs from different vineyards made by the same winemaker. Patrick d’Aulan and family sold the Champagne house Piper-Heidsieck in 1999 and still owns Chateau Sansonnet in Bordeaux, purchased this winery in 1998 and started restoring it and acquiring properties. They now have four vineyard sites including 540 acres in the Clos de los Siete project in the Uco Valley area of Vista Flores (planted in 2002; the d’Aulans have since left the venture).
The other three vineyards are much smaller and run from south to north in Mendoza. La Consulta is a cool-climate, 17-acre vineyard south of even the Uco Valley at the base of the Andes; the Alto Agrelo vineyard is 225 acres an situated in Lujan de Cuyo; and the 17 acre La Consulta is the closest to the city of Mendoza and has a wide temperature fluctuation between high and low. They all lie at more or less the same altidue, about 3500 feet, and about 33 degrees south of the equator. The Alta Vista premium line of Malbec has a limited production of wine bottled from each vineyard site and they are only sold as a boxed set (about $50). While American consumers no doubt have difficulty distinguishing between the various subregions, Argentine laws on place names don’t provide much help since only generic geographic indications, such as Mendoza, are allowed much to the chagrin of many winemakers I met. Alta Vista overcame this problem by including the vineyard name as the brand name for the wine.
I tasted the wines in the order of the vineyards above and they were dscribed as ranging from “elegant and feminine,” to medium, to bold. Well, if the if the La Consulta one is feminine, the woman rides a Harley. While I liked the wine with its aromas of violets, it was still big and lush with a gorgeous mouthfeel. The third wine from Las Compuertas was perhaps more “manly” since on the finish was a rare dose of mouth chomping tannins.
My favorite wine was the middle of the road “Serenade” from Alto Agrelo. Inky purple in color, the attack draws you in with notes of plums, dark cherries, a faint whiff of asado, and lush, velvety mouthfeel. Although the wine sees some oak, it is harmoniously balanced with the fruit and the tannins are sweet.
All in all, the Alta Vista terroir experiment was very instructive and a very good overview of the different vineyard characterisics. It’s a pity it isn’t more widely available in the US–I guess you’ll have to go there to check it out for yourself.
Alta Vista: Alzaaga 3972, M5528AKJ, Chacras de Coria, Menodza, Argentina. Open for visits–check the Alta Vista web site for more info, vineyard maps and photos here. Also, see additional wine maps of Mendoza here.