Globetrotter David Jenison visits the Vines of Mendoza Blending Lab in Argentina and explains how to take your own experience home in a bottle.
Bordeaux wine is one of the most famous blends in the world, and only six varietals are allowed in this French classic. Did you know Malbec is one of them?
Mendoza and Malbec go together like Russia and vodka, but the resurging grape hails from France and had a long Californian history prior to Prohibition. The difference is that the French and Golden State vineyards primarily used the grape for blends. Thanks to a perfect combination of climate and elevation, Argentine wine country now produces unrivaled single-varietal Malbec, which makes its modern blends that much more exotic. Mendoza tourists typically visit the vineyards and jot down their faves, but the best place to appreciate Argentine blends is in the Blending Lab at the Vines of Mendoza.
The Blending Lab is a hands-on experience in which participants learn about the distinctive varietals and combine them in various ways to taste the difference. At the start of the two-hour session, each person receives glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec, and the bilingual teacher explains how blends can achieve certain characteristics and complexities that exceed the sums of their parts. After tossing back a few glasses and doing some small-scale mixes, it is time to create some blends.
Using provided forms, each would-be winemaker proposes two different blends by listing percentages of each varietal. The mixes are up to each participant, and they can include as many or as few of the varietals as you chose. The participants then measure out the proper amount of each wine and blend them together into a single colander. After each person creates two blends, they are all sampled in a blind taste test to determine which are best. Even the Lab Professor doesn’t know which blend he or she is drinking. After matching the votes to the wine, each person’s top blend is bottled and corked for that person to take home.
Vines of Mendoza, which is located a block from Plaza Independencia, also offers several options for flight tastings, and these offer further insight into Argentine blends. Among the wines in their top flights, the best was Achaval Ferrer Finca Bella Vista 2008, a truly exceptional single-varietal Malbec, but the next best wines – Bressia Conjuro 2006, Urraca Primera Blend 2006 and Mendel Unus 2008 – were all blends. On a price-to-quality ratio, these are some of the best wines a person can buy.
With the success of Malbec, local vineyards are looking for the next hot grape, and Mendoza is currently testing out Bonarda. Fittingly, this grape was predominately used for blends and table wines in Mendoza, but several winemakers hope to make a superior single-varietal that can become the next Malbec. Time will tell, but if they succeed, it will naturally change the way Bonarda is blended as well.
Aside from the wine bar and Blending Lab, the Vines of Mendoza hosts weekly events like Meet the Winemaker nights on Wednesdays and the fabulous Vino y Tapas at the Park Hyatt on Thursdays. Visit the Vines of Mendoza website for more information on the Blending Lab, wine flights, sensory tastings, weekly events and various recommendations for Mendoza travel.