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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Mendoza...Wine Not? Day 3

Our last day of bodega touring was with Javier Inzaurraga, Plaza Italia B&B owner Mercedes's son, who had chosen some of his favorites for the day.   This was a nice change of pace, we had the benefit of a local's take on the best wineries to visit, a perfect contrast to some of the larger wineries that we had visited on our first day in Mendoza.  In retrospect, I recommend both.  If you have enough time, it's great to see how the big leaders operate, and be able to spend time with some of the smaller vineyard owners.  Javier also took us to Lujan de Cuyo, so I'm pretty sure that all of the bodegas we visited were located in the Cuyo region.  Next time we visit (and I'm sincerely hoping that there will be a next time) we will have to get out to Uca Valley, where some of the more premium winemakers have settled in.  We stayed away from there this go around because it's a 90 minute drive from our hotel, and we had our fill of driving on our Andes Mountains day.


Domaine St. Diego -
So boutique that they don't even have a website, so I give you this from Vino al Dia.  This winery is a family run operation started by Angel Mendoza (most appropriate last name ever).  Mr. Mendoza previously was the head wine maker at a large winery for over 25 years before he became a consultant to others in the business.  At some point along the line, he purchased a large parcel of land, previously an olive tree grove, and began planting vines of his own.
His family now owns a beautiful bodega that produces wonderful wine and olive oil under the Domaine St. Diego name.  This was our first stop of the day on Saturday where our guide was Angel Mendoza's daughter (who also designs all of their wine labels) and they made us feel like old friends.  We toured the vineyard first and she described how they have left the olive trees in the vine fields, even though it ran the risk of ruining the grapes.  What they have done instead is use the Malbec grapes from the vines grown closest to the trees to mix with Chardonnay grapes to create a unique sparkling wine variety.  This also means that they produce their own olive oil, which we were happy to taste with the bread and other munchie items provided.  One part of the family's philosophy is that they want to make their wines available to the local folks who visit their vineyard, so they don't export any of their wines.  All of their wine sales are done directly out of the vineyard, and we were happy to partake.  This turned out to be the only place we purchased wine on the trip, simply because we were not able to get it outside of Mendoza.  During our tasting we were even graced by a visit from Angel himself.  This was a great tour, probably my personal favorite.

Archaval Ferrer - The view from this winery could not be beat.  It was a beautiful vineyard with a beautiful brick building and one of the newest wineries on the block.  This bodega is owned by three business partners, two with the last names Archaval and Ferrer and a third who's family seal is in between the names on their label.
Our tour guide for this bodega was the son of Phillipe Schell, our French stargazing friend from Andes First so we had a very real feel for how small this town really was.  This was the first bodega we visited that used concrete in the making of their wines, as opposed to the wood and steel that others had used.  Archaval Ferrer has a huge export market and we saw several pallets that were packed and ready for shipment to the US.  Apparently they ship directly to a distributor in California, who then disburses the bottles around the country, so if you don't see this brand near you, it's because California is hogging it all.  If you're into the heavy Cabernets and Syrahs, this is just the wine for you. Their wines were full bodied, intense and, unfortunately for us, expensive by the Argentine standards we've become accustomed to. 

Ruca Malen - This was our lunch stop of the day and the only vineyard that we didn't actually tour.  Javier had us all (except Jon, so he says) convinced that we were just stopping for a Coke and a sandwich, so imagine our surprise when we walked in to a five-course meal complete with wine pairing for each course.
Jon jumps for Ruca Malen
The food was to die for, and the wines were just as good and perfectly paired.  For this lunch the winery was one step ahead and gave us a printed sheet with each food item, wine and a description of each so we were able to follow along.  The room we dined in inside this bodega only had 9 or 10 tables so each table was able to enjoy the amazing view from their one enormous window.  The window overlooks the vines set to the backdrop of the mountains, and we had a clear, sunny day to get the full effect.

Norton - Our last stop was Bodega Norton, one of the oldest winemakers in the area, and also one of the largest.  This winery has changed hands a number of times now resting in the hands of the Swarovski family.  That's the one, with the crystals.  This tour was unique because we only tried one of their wines, the Malbec, but we tried it at 3 different stages of the winemaking process.  Thus, we didn't really get a feel for Norton's wines, but we didn't really need to because we had all had them before.  The tour here was interesting because you start in the most modern area of the bodega, where there is state of the art machinery, and end up in the most ancient part, the dark and gloomy wine cellar.  Here is also where they house thousands of bottles of wine, some still leftover from 1970s vintages.  Our guide said that we needed to be really special to have a chance to taste the older vintages, and I'm guessing that we didn't have what it takes since we tasted the 2008 variety.

It was sad to say goodbye to our winery tours, they were all so fun and interesting.  I feel like some sort of scholar now since I recognize names on every wine list I see.  It is nice to have an idea of what you're doing when it comes to purchasing wine, especially when tasked with choosing a bottle for a table of friends.

Our table at Los Chocos
We rounded out our last night in Mendoza with a private dining experience not unlike Casa SaltShaker but this venue was called Los Chocos.  Los Chocos opens their home to private dinners every day of the week and offers a 5-course tasting menu with paired wines.  This operation is slightly smaller than our previous private dining experience since there is only space for a maximum of 8 diners.  The four of us were paired with another couple that was traveling through Argentina from the US.  The food was outstanding and the chef's M.O. is interesting, everything you eat (and drink, obviously) is from Mendoza.  This comes down to the even bottled water served, since all major bottled water companies in Argentina are from Mendoza.  It was a great dinner, a great night.  The chef did an amazing job and we really enjoyed the company of the other couple.  Hopefully they felt the same :).  If you are in the Mendoza area, Los Chocos is a must-do.

So that sums up Mendoza.  If you're not booking your tickets as we speak, I have done the trip an injustice.  It was a fantastic, fast paced, fun weekend and I would love to go back before our time in Argentina is up.

**Are you a sucker for photos?  I am.  For more pics of this and other trips, check out my Shameless Photo Sharing on the right side of the page.  Enjoy!**

1 comment:

  1. Thank you very much for your comment about our dining experience. It puts us very happy you enjoyed your dinner.

    Martín y Martín