Saturday, May 4, 2013
The Bodegas of Mendoza – Part 1
Our bodega experience began as we were traveling on Route 40 still some 30 kilometers or so from the city, where rich Andean soil ground from layers of volcanic rock is the source of famous Argentinean wines. Chandon Champagne Cellars had a sign stating they were located just a few kilometers from the highway. It was still early afternoon with plenty of daylight left to find our campground. Situated in an area called Valle de Uco and opened in the late 1950’s, Chandon, Argentina was the first winery that Moet & Chandon opened outside of France. A delightful young lady called Carolina, who spoke excellent English, guided us through the various types of sparkling wine they produce. She was wonderfully welcoming and tried to provide us with information that we were interested in, answering our questions very knowledgeably. With a combination of clay-based and rocky soils and a semi-desert climate with cold nights combine to create the perfect conditions for obtaining grapes with higher acidity, body and flavor. There is no doubt that Chandon believes, and rightfully so that Valle de Uco is the best region to grow the best grapes to make the best sparkling wines from Argentina. We stayed much longer than we originally thought and sampled quite a variety of wines, settling on 4 to take with us, all either rosé or made from the pinot noir grape including a bottle of their signature Baron B wine. Our campsite was a little difficult to find but after making our way down gravel side roads and past many vineyards, we eventually found it nestled between fields of vines. Camping Vina de Vieynes is a great campground in the Mendoza area known as Maipu and was perfect for our forage into wine country. During the next two days we went to three more bodegas based purely on the fact that they each produce a favorite Argentinean wine of ours. They are also some of the oldest and more established bodegas in the region and situated in an area of Mendoza known as Coquimbito, one of Argentina’s oldest viticulture zones. The first visit was to Bodega Finca Flichman which was first started in 1873 by the Flichmans who inaugurated the name “Finca Flichman” in 1910. This winery was on our list because it makes one of Tom’s favorite wines “Caballero de la Cepa”. It is a beautiful building offering wine tours and tasting. The grounds are amazing and actually won an award in Mendoza, where large bodegas with fantastic landscaping are the norm, for the most architecturally pleasing landscape and deservedly so. The “Caballero” that we like so much was created in 1947 and is considered the first Argentinean “fine” wine. In addition to a case of the Caballero, half in Cabernet Sauvignon and half in Malbec, we also buy some of their lower end Misterio Chardonnay and Malbec. Quite delicious and a good sipping wine. Our next stop is at Bodega Trapiche which make my most favorite wine in all of Argentina “Fond du Cave”. Tiburcio Benegas founded in this winery in 1883 and he is actually credited along with a Frenchman, Don Michel Pouget for introducing the Malbec grape to Argentina for which the wine of this country is renowned. Pouget was originally hired by then President Sarmiento to establish a vine nursery in Mendoza called La Quinta Nacional. It was on the tour of the winery and their wine-making process that we meet Tim and Naomi, a young couple from Melbourne who are making their way, the long way round, from Australia to Canada where they plan on working for a few years. Accustomed to working in high end restaurants, they are very knowledgeable about wine, its aroma, its complexity, its acids, tannins and nuances. Since they have no vehicle, today they rented bicycles and are doing a biking tour, we suggest meeting up with them and we can all drive together in the motorhome to different vineyards. They happily agree and we pick a time for them to be at our campsite the next day. Besides Fond du Cave, Trapiche make some other delicious although by Argentinean prices, expensive wines and in addition to Fond du Cave, we also purchase some of their Gran Medalla Malbec. Fortunately each bottle came with a free bottle of sparkling wine so we selected rosé, which for the past few years I have come to enjoy over the brut and extra brut champagnes. Our final stop for the day was at Bodega La Rural which makes a favorite of Mariano and Marcela, Rutini’s Trumpeter. Remember if you like Rutini wines, they are produced by Bodega La Rural. In addition to a modern wine-making facility, this 100-year-old colonial style bodega houses a museum of antique tools and equipment that were used to make wine in Argentina during the nineteenth century. As a result, the winery’s tour is like taking a trip back in time where you can appreciate the labor and sacrifice that went into wine production a century ago. As we tasted their wines, we browsed through the collection of antiques on display, it was quite unique. And so completely sated and thoroughly happy with our bodega selections and the Coquimbito region, we plan our next experiences in the Lujan de Cuyo area with Tim and Naomi.