Over the last 30 years, Mendoza has grown to become one of the world’s best known wine regions, and it’s one that produces wines I truly love.
If you don’t know Mendoza yet, here is a guide to this amazing region.
Where is Mendoza?
Mendoza is the capital of the province of Mendoza in Argentina.
It is located in the west of the country, right on the edge of the Andes Mountains.
Mendoza is by far the largest wine region in Argentina. The province is responsible for roughly 70 percent of the whole country’s annual wine production.
The principal sub-regions are Lujan de Cuyo, Maipu and the Uco Valley.
What is the heritage of Mendoza?
The region has been growing vines and producing wines for the best part of 350 years. Malbec, the region’s key grape variety, was first introduced there in by a French agronomist, Miguel Aimé Pouget.
In the mid 19th century, the Mendoza wine region enjoyed a period of high growth after the construction of a new railway line between Mendoza and Buenos Aires, which helped in providing a cheaper, easier way of sending wines out of the region.
The production of wine was mostly aimed at the local, domestic market, until very recently. However, export has grown strongly over the last 30 years, putting Mendoza firmly on the world stage. Today it is one of the most exciting regions in the world, and it keeps improving thanks to its unique terroir.
What are the dominant features of the region?
When you think of Mendoza, you need to think ALTITUDE.
It is very much was makes the region so unique. Most vineyards are situated between 2600ft and 3900ft (800m-1200m) above sea level. This is very high, practically ski resort altitude.
Warm, sunny days are followed by cold nights, which means the grapes have time to ripen and develop rich flavours, and yet they can keep their acidity. A great combination for growing grapes.
Another interesting feature in the region is irrigation. Developed by the Incas, a rich network of canals helps to make the best use of the snowmelt water coming down from the Andes, and channel it to the vineyards, which would otherwise struggle with the extremely low annual rainfall.
What are the main grape varieties of Mendoza?
The French grape variety Malbec is THE star variety of Mendoza. And while you will also find grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Syrah, Torrontes and Sauvignon Blanc, the region has undoubtedly become associated with Malbec.
Argentine winemaker Nicolás Catena Zapata has been widely credited for elevating the status of Argentine Malbec AND the Mendoza region. He has achieved this through a series of serious experimentation into the effects of high altitude.
Malbec works so well in Argentina because it’s a grape that needs a lot of sunshine to ripen, but not too much heat as this would produce overly ripe, flabby wines with too low an acidity.
The altitude here helps lower the temperatures while still having the sunlight for maturing the fruit.
As a result, the combination of sunshine and altitude in Mendoza is perfect for Malbec.
Typically, Mendoza Malbecs have an intense, dark cherry red color, which may look almost black.
Aromas include cherries, berries and plums. While on the palate, Mendozan Malbec is warm, soft, with velvety tannins.
When aged in oak, these wines develops coffee, vanilla and chocolate aromas.
So what are some top tips for buying the best Malbecs? Here are some things I look at:
- Aging: has the wine been aged before being bottled? And if so how long? Although this is a bit of a generalisation, the longer it has been aged, the better. A period of aging longer than 12 months tends to be a good indicator of quality.
- Region of origin: as explained above, there are several sub regions within Mendoza. My particular favourites are Luján de Cuyo and The Uco Valley.
It is there you will find wineries such as Zuccardi, Achaval Ferrer, Bodega Vistalba, Catena Zapata and many more!
Cabernet Sauvignon is the second most important grape variety planted in Mendoza. While Malbec is still seen as THE grape from Mendoza, Cabernet Sauvignon is slowly starting to make a name for itself.
Cabernet Sauvignons can be found both in blends with Malbec, or as single varietal.
In Mendoza, you will find that each sub region produces Cabernets that are quite specific to their individual sub-regions.
As a result, it’s a bit difficult to pinpoint a single description for Mendoza Cabernets. However, the trend is to produce wines that are quite aromatic and intense yet still keeping an elegance, freshness and finesse.
Typical aromas are blackcurrant and ripe red fruits, and a medium to rather full body.
FOOD PAIRING WINES FROM MENDOZA
Of course, I am going to recommend you enjoy these solid, deep and intense wines with food that is similar in style.
And, of course I am going to recommend the Argentinian speciality that is beef.
Beef with its high protein content, its fatness for certain cuts is superbly suited to tannic, deep and intense wines.
The Asado, which is the Argentinian barbecue style will give the meats smoky notes which will be superb alongside the wines which have been aged in barrels.
Five to try:
- Enzo, Valentin Bianchi
- Matias Riccitelli, Vineyard Selection Malbec
- Mendel, Finca Remota
- Catena Zapata Malbec
- Zuccardi Q Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
So here you are, you now know what makes Mendoza so special, and what to expect when buying wines from this beautiful region.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, favourite wines from Mendoza, and maybe stories of your experiences travelling to Mendoza.
So do let me know in the comments section below.
Until next time, Santé!