A Wine Lover’s Diary, part 749: Argentina

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Staircase at Catena Zapata

It has taken me some time to compile this blog on Deborah’s and my visit to Argentina in December. Christmas got in the way and lots of family stuff. But, finally, here it is.

December 5th: Getting to Mendoza from Toronto is not a cakewalk. The route we went was Toronto-Punta Cana-Lima-Mendoza. On the Lima leg I ordered an Inca Kola, as there was no wine offered on the LatAm flight. Big mistake. It tasted like liquid marshmallows in a glass.

When we arrived in Lima for the final leg of our journey Deborah discovered that she had left her wallet containing her passport, credit cards, Nexus card and cash in the pocket of the seat in front of her. Frantic calls to LatAm as there was not only no way we could get on the Mendoza flight but we couldn’t leave the airport. The only solution was to fly back to Canada and hope they would let us in. But the LatAm ground staff in Lima went back to the plane and found the wallet and delivered it to us as the last passengers were boarding the flight to Mendoza.

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What greets you at the baggage carousel on arrival at Mendoza airport

We were met at the airport by Guillermo, who had a rental car taken out in my name. The one suitcase we had brought with us was somewhere in South America and not Lima. Guillermo drove us to Chacras de Coria, where our hosts – winemakers Ann Sperling and Peter Gamble – have a beautiful walled property called Villa Viamonte with a swimming pool (it operates as a B&B). They also own a 3-hectare vineyard on the legendary Cobos Road whose Malbec vines are 100 years old (planted on their own roots).

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Villa Viamonte by night

Once installed, we walked into town and had an al fresco breakfast of coffee, orange juice and pastries and then, further down the road, a glass of forgettable Viognier in an outdoor bar/restaurant. Across the road from where we sat was a parked car with an empty plastic container on the roof. From my last visit to Argentina several years ago I recalled this is the way Argentinians advertise that their car is for sale.

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How you advertise your car’s for sale in Argentina

Peter and Ann arrived from Toronto later that day. They had a a three-and-a-half-hour delay in Toronto and by the time they had gotten to Cancun, they missed their connecting flight to Mendoza.

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Wall art in Chacras de Coria

Saturday, December 7th: Stopped in at Clos de Chacras, the winery where Ann and Peter make their Versado Malbec. Then on to an outdoor asado restaurant where we picked up barbecued chicken for lunch, which we washed down with a gorgeous bottle of Mendel Semillon 2018.

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Peter and Ann in their 100-year-old vineyard

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Ann Sperling and Peter Gamble doing their barrel selection for Versado Malbec 2018

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Barbecue chicken

In the afternoon we drove up to Alto Manantiles El Satto to visit Cerveza Jerome, a craft brewery, where we sampled five of the local brews.

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Ann and Deborah with Jerome beers

Dined at Brindillas Restaurant (Guardia Vieja 2898, Vistalba, Lujá de Cuyo), an extraordinary seven-course meal, as fine as any I have had anywhere around the world. Wine of the night: Tomero Syrah Reserva 2017.

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Tasting menu at Brindillas

Sunday, December 8th: The four of us went riding in the mountains in Tupungato. The day was overcast as we set out and as we made our way into the foothills the rain came down in buckets, so we headed back to the ranch to dry out in front of the fire and had an asado lunch of grilled meat an jugs of a rustic Malbec. When the rain stopped we went out again on horseback.

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Gringo gaucho time

For dinner that night: Roberto de la Mota La Primera Revancha Chenin Blanc 2017. Roberto is the consultant oenologist for Peter and Ann’s Versado.

Monday, December 9th: Our first day of serious wine tasting. An early morning visit to Trapiche in Maipú. We tasted 11 wines under the glass pyramid (reminiscent of the Louvre in a small scale!). The wines by Daniel Pi are of very high quality, virtually all of them scoring 90 or above, particularly the reds. My top scoring wines were:

  • Trapiche Terroir Series Malbec Finca Coletta 2015 (93)
  • Trapiche Gran Medalla Cabernet Franc 2015 (92)
  • Trapiche Finca Ambrosa Malbec 2015 (92)
  • Trapiche Orellana Malbec 2015 (91)
  • Trapiche Iscay Malbec Cabernet Franc 2014 (92)
  • Trapiche Iscay Syrah Viognier 2014. (94)
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Trapiche Gran Medalla Cabernet Franc 2015

Next stop: Roberto de la Mota’s Mendel Wines in Luán de Cuyo. This turned out to be a remarkable tasting – the best New World portfolio of wines I have tasted.

  • Mendel Semillon 2019 (93)
  • La Primera Revancha Chenin Blanc 2019 (94)
  • Mendel Rosadía 2019 (50% Pinot Noir, 25% Cabernet Franc, 25% Merlot) (92) Simply the best rosé I have tasted in 2019.
  • Mendel Malbec 2017 (93)
  • Mendel Cabernet Franc 2017 (91)
  • Mendel Unus 2017 (Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot) (91)

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Mendel Winery

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Mendel Rosadía 2010

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Roberto de la Mota at Mendel Winery

Tuesday, December 10th: Matervini is a relatively new winery founded in 2008 by Santiago Achával and Roberto Cipresso, as their website says, “in an attempt to answer the question: ‘What’s next after Malbec?’ Our answer was, ‘More Malbec! From different places with different personalities.’” And what Malbecs! We only tasted four wines here and all were delicious.

  • Matervini Antes Andes Vina Canota Malbec 2016 (92)
  • Matervini Salta Malbec 2017 (93)
  • Matervini Alteza Malbec 2016 (93)
  • Matervini Finca Malbec 2017 (92)

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Matervini Malbecs

Next stop Catena Zapata, the winery that pioneered the rebirth of the Argentinean wine industry. The striking architecture of the winery with its Inca-inspired pyramid is a magnificent sight.

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Catena’s impressive winery

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Catena’s elegant spittoon

We began by tasting three natural wines under historic Bodega Y Viñedos Nicolas Cantena labels – Criolla 2018, Bonarda 2018 and Malbec 2019 before moving down to the cellar. Here we tasted:

  • Catena Adrianna Vineyard White Stones Chardonnay 2017 (89)
  • Catena Adrianna Vineyard White Bones Chardonnay 2017 (90)
  • Catena Fortuna Terrae Malbec 2016 (92)
  • Catena River Stones Malbec 2016 (94)
  • Catena Mundus Adrianna Vineyard Bacillus Terrae Malbec 2016 (96) The best wine I had on the trip!
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The best wine of the trip

At lunch we tasted Catena Alta Chardonnay 2017 and Nicolas Zapata Malbec 2015, 2008, 2007 and 2006.

After lunch to Casa El Enemigo in Maipú, where we tasted eleven wines, all well-made but my favourites were Gran Enemigo Blend 2015 (a Bordeaux blend – 90), Gran Enemigo El Capillo 2015 (85% Cabernet Franc, 15% Malbec – 90), Gran Enemigo Gualtallary Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2015 (92).

Gran Enemigo Gualtallary Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2015

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Art at Enemigo

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Art at Enemigo

That evening the four of us went for tapas at Finca Adalgisa Wine Hotel, Vineyard and Winery in Chacras de Coria – a magical, hidden garden of a place that’s not easy to find. You have to be let in. They make a single Malbec here.

Wednesday, December 11th: After breakfast we were picked up for the 90-minute drive down to the Uco Valley in the south to visit Zuccardi and Monteviejo.

Zuccardi is a monumental winery that looks like a fortress and could well be a setting for a James Bond movie. We were welcomed by the owner, José Alberto Zuccardi, who joined us for lunch in the winery’s restaurant after we were given a tour of the facility and a tasting. “Terroir-driven wines is the future of our cantina,” he told us.

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Zuccardi’s winery, an architectural wonder

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Our tasting began with Zuccardi Amla 4 Viognier 2016 as we toured the building. Then we sat down to the following wines:

  • Zuccardi Q Chardonnay 2018 (92)
  • Zuccardi Q Malbec 2017 (90)
  • Zuccardi Q Cabernet Franc 2017 (90)
  • Zuccardi Poligonos del Valle de Uco San Pablo Cabernet Franc 2017 (89)
  • Zuccardi Poligonos Paraje Altamira Malbec 2017 (91)
  • Zuccardi Poligonos Tupungato Alto 2017 (90)
  • Zuccardi Poligonos San Pablo Cabernet Franc 2018 (92)
  • Zuccardi Concreto Malbec 2018 (91)
  • José Zuccardi Malbec 2015 (92)
  • Zuccardi Aluvional Paraje Altamira Malbec 2015 (93)
  • Zuccardi Aluvional Gualtallary Malbec 2015 (93)
  • Zuccardi Finca Piedra Infinita Malbec 2015 (96)
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Zuccardi’s Poligonos series

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Another trip-defining wine – Zuccardi Finca Piedra Infinita Malbec 2015

The lunch in the winery restaurant with José Zuccardi was spectacular – an aubergine dish that melted in the mouth, followed by a platter of grilled beef, enough for eight. With a baked apple dessert, a fortified Torrontes called Malamado Soleria and a fortified Malbec also called Malamado.

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Lunch asado at Zuccardi

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Zuccardi Soleria

Then on to Monteviejo in the Clos de los Siete, a new winery owned by the Pere Verge family who also own Château Le Gay and Château La Violette in Bordeaux. Here we tasted seven wines, very much in French style.

  • Monteviejo Lindaflor Chardonnay 2018 (90)
  • Monteviejo Petite Fleur Malbec 2017 (89)
  • Monteviejo Petite Fleur Blend 2017 (Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah) (89)
  • Marcelo Pelleriti Signature Blend Malbec Cabernet Franc 2019 (90)
  • Marcelo Pelleriti Signature Malbec 2016 (90)
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Monteviejo

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Rooftop sculpture at Monteviejo

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Monteviejo winemaker Marcel Pelleriti and me

Marcelo Pelleriti Signature Malbec 2016

Thursday, December 12th: An early morning visit to Bodegas y Cavas Weinert in Luján de Cuyo. Weinert was my first experience with Argentinian wines back in the late 1970s. Today they have 1.3 million litres in large oak casks. We tasted nine wines with the winemaker Hubert Weber.

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Weinert’s magnificent cask

  • Weinert Carrascal Malbec 2017 (88)
  • Weinert Carrascal Corte Classico 2017 (89)
  • Weinert Carrascal N/V (89)
  • Weinert Malbec 2010 (89)
  • Weinert Merlot 2011 (90)
  • Weinert Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (91)
  • Cavas de Weinert 2009 Oak Cask Selection (40% Malbec, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot – 7 years in cask, 1 year in concrete. Very Bordelais) (93–95)

Cavas de Weinert 2009 Oak Cask Selection

Weinert cases

Then Hubert produced a bottle of Carrascal 1978 – a wine I had written about in my Toronto Star column in 1988. It was a double gold winner at the Toronto Wine & Cheese competition that year. Still youthful with a lovely mouth-feel and ripe tannins.

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A wine full of personal memories

  • Weinert Estrella Cabernet Sauvignon 1994 (Nine years in cask) (92)

Next stop, Luigi Bosca in Luján de Cuyo. Here I learned that Argentina consumes 18 litres of wine a year per capita – it used to be 90 litres! Luigi Bosca produces 52 different products. Mercifully, we only tasted fourteen. Argentina grows 80% of the world’s Malbec.

  • Luigi Bosca Chardonnay 2019 (89)
  • Luigi Bosca Rosé 2019 (Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris) (89)
  • Luigi Bosca Malbec 2017 (40% barrel aged) (90)
  • Luigi Bosca Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 (90)
  • Luigi Bosca Malbec 2018 (90)
  • Luigi Bosca Terroir Los Miradores Malbec 2017 (92)
  • Luigi Bosca Gala 1 Petit Verdot-Tannat 2017 (90)
  • Luigi Bosca Gala 2 Cabernet Sauvignon-Cabernet Franc 2017 (89–91)
  • Luigi Bosca Gala 4 Cabernet Franc 2015 (90)
  • Luigi Bosca Gala 3 Viogniner Chardonnay Riesling 2017 (90)
  • Luigi Bosca Riesling 2019 (89 – 91)
  • Luigi Bosca Finca Los Nobles Malbec Petit Verdot 2016 (90)
  • Luigi Bosca Finca Los Nobles Cabernet Bouchet 2014 (90)
  • Luigi Bosca Icono 2015 (53% Malbec/47% Cabernet Sauvignon) (91)

Luigi Bosca bottle: a Rosé is a Rosé is a Rosé

Luigi Bosca Terroir Los Miradores Malbec 2017

Luigi Bosca Icono 2015

Next stop Escorihuela Gascón, founded in 1884, the oldest winery in Mendoza City. Famous for its bike polo field and its 630 hectolitre barrel. Here they produce a single Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Malbec.

  • Escorihuela Gascón Pequeñas Producciones Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (89)
  • Escorihuela Gascón Pinot Noir 2018 (89)
  • Escorihuela Gascón Pequeñas Producciones Malbec 2017 (88.5)
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Magnificently carved cask at Escorihuela

Our final winery visit of the trip was to Caro, owned by Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite). A great art gallery here. Their first vintage was in 2000.

  • Caro Aruma Malbec 2018 (89)
  • Caro Amancaya Reserve Red Blend 2017 (60% Malbec/40% Cabernet Sauvignon) (89)
  • Bodegas Caro “Caro” 2017 (75% Malbec/25% Cabernet Sauvignon) (92)
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Bodegas Caro “Caro” 2017

After this tasting we attended a demonstration of tango. After the dancing we went to dinner at Francis Mallman restaurant, adjacent to the winery.

Friday, December 13th: To the airport of the flight home. When we arrived in Toronto our box of nine wines didn’t. (It was brought to us at midnight the next day, which drove Rosie the Rescue crazy.)

An amazing trip to Argentina, helped by having Laura Catena’s book, Vino Argentino: An Insider’s Guide to the Wines and Wine Country of Argentina (Chronicle Books).

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Christmas in Mendoza

 

 

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2 Responses to A Wine Lover’s Diary, part 749: Argentina

  1. Cynthia & David Enns says:

    Thanks Tony! Ann Sperling had sent the link for our upcoming trip to Mendoza. Now since we have more free time!

  2. Bob Josefchak says:

    I could recognize Deb doing the tango but Tony looked a lot different. Must be the Malbec. Bob Josefchak

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