Since being able to say 'malbec' Ben has wanted to visit the Mendoza region, which accounts for 70% of Argentina’s wine production. Yet another ambition accomplished and what a way to do it...
Situated in a semi-arid valley with rainfall of only 200mm a year Mendoza is not your typical wine country, but the previous inhabitants (before the Spanish arrived) of the region, the Huarpes, very kindly bequeathed a system of river fed aqueducts, turning desert into the perfect vineyard host.
The Jesuits first planted vines here over 500 years ago but it wasn’t until the French, Spanish and Italian immigrants of the 19th century arrived with their 'noble varietals' (Malbec, Cab Sav, Merlot, Syrah) that the fun began, although production remained predominantly for the domestic market with an emphasis on quantity rather than quality until 30 or so years ago.
Falling domestic demand (in favour of soft drinks such as coca cola!) a huge advance in wine growing + production techniques, low humidity (which removes the problems caused by insects and fungus) controlled irrigation (avoiding the risk of a damaged crop from too much rain just before harvest) and the Argentinian economic crash in 2001 (which hugely assisted the export market as prices plummeted) have all helped to make the Mendoza region one of the worlds prime producers of quality wines.
And if you would like to take part in Mendoza’s development there are three ways that we now know of – drink as much Malbec as possible (we know some of you make admirable efforts in this direction already) or visit the region and go tasting in as many bodegas (wineries) as possible (highly recommended) or indeed purchase a vineyard yourself and get producing (more below)...
We visited 6 bodegas over two days (by bus and bicycle), which means starting the first tasting at about 10.30am and finishing at about 1730 each day - it was tough work but intoxicatingly fascinating, hic – which takes account of a tour of the cellars + production facilities and a fabulous lunch, of course with plenty more Malbec, hic.
Everything that we tasted was at least good and some of it was spectacular right across the range from rosé, to whites (Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Torrentés (only found in Argentina)) to reds (Malbec, Cab Sav, Syrah, Merlot + some blends).
The best we tasted was a 2008 Malbec from a young producer (Pulmary). His family bought 25 hectares in 2004 for approx US$625k and then lovely old cellars/production facilities for a further US$2 million in 2008 (can be bought for as little as US$2 per litre of production or outsourced completely) – they currently produce approx 150,000 bottles but are increasing output steadily.
So a serious level of long term investment, but if you want to produce wine then Mendoza is a fabulous place to do it. A city of approx 120,000 it was largely destroyed in 1861 by an earthquake, and rebuilt with low buildings arranged in a grid system of broad avenues lined with trees (every street), restaurants and bars and many squares which all adds up to making it a très pleasant place to spend time.
Being close to the andes it is also prime country for skiing, white water rafting, trekking - you’ve heard the list before - and it is close to Aconcagua – that highest peak which you have also read about in this bloggedyblog – and the surrounding national park, all good reasons for us to move here, hic...