We are in Mendoza wine country for one week and then crossing the Andes to visit wineries in Chile for another week. We have visited several wineries both big and small in Mendoza. It is interesting to note how proud the Argentine wine industry is of their wine and how confident they are that their wines measure up to the best from Napa Valley and the rest of the wine world.
The three most important wine regions of Mendoza are the Lujan de Cuyo, the Maipu Valley, and Valle de Uco. The length of these three regions is about the same distance as from Napa to Calistoga. There are some 1000 wineries in Mendoza but only ten percent are open to the public. The Mendoza wine country is east of the Andes Mountains, making the area very much a desert climate. Elevations range from about 1000 feet to as high as 4500 feet in some of the vineyards of the Valle de Uco.
Malbec is the most important grape of Mendoza. It was brought over by a Frenchman and planted around the 1850’s. There are currently many clones of the original grape and an Argentina Malbec has a characteristic all its own. In recent years many of the wineries here have found much success with growing Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. In the Valle de Uco, the higher elevations enable wineries to grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The Chardonnays we tasted from the Uco Valley are very similar in characteristics to the rich and oaky Chardonnays of the Napa Valley. The Pinot Noirs we tasted all have that familiar aroma but perhaps lack a bit of complexity. Pinot Noir is very new and experimentation with this grape in just beginning.
Water is the main issue in Argentina, much more critical than in the Napa Valley. There is little rainfall here, so most of the water comes the Andes snow runoff which is captured in aqueducts or from deep well water. Wineries often have difficulty in obtaining permits for water wells when they want to acquire land to plant new vineyards.
The Argentina wines we have tasted are excellent and well made. There is no doubt in my mind that the wines we have tasted are equal to the premium wines of the Napa Valley. The difference is the price of Argentine wines. These wines are affordable and selling in the $11-to-$20 range in the U.S. The winemaker at the Tempus Alba winery thinks that Argentina wines will gain popularity during the worldwide recession as wine buyers seek to purchase less expensive wines. We tried his top-of-the-line blend called Tempus Pleno. At $30 a bottle, a wine of this quality would easily sell in the Napa Valley for well over $50.