Our recent wanderings through South America included Mendoza, Argentina, which drew us like a Malbec-powered magnet. About 600 miles due west of Buenos Aires (an hour and twenty minutes by plane, around 13 hours by bus, we opted for the former, thanks) this province sits on a wide, dry plain stretching out along a saw-toothed cordillera that forms the Andean border with Chile.
Mendoza is gaining increasing prominence as one of the world´s top wine regions, and with good reason: a dry climate, a reliable source of run-off from the snow-capped Andes and an increasing global appetite for premium wines is making Mendoza hotter than one of its 100-degree midsummer scorchers. Wine-sippers and day-trippers abound, mostly from Buenos Aires, Europe and an increasing number of North Americans. They´re drawn by a wealth of options that include day tours to Andean foothills within site of towering Aconcagua, the tallest peak in the Western Hemisphere, rafting and trekking tours and of course, visits to vineyards.
Like walking into a fabulous wine cellar, there are no shortage of choices here. With over 1,000 winemakers ranging from small, family-run boutique outfits to mega-operations backed by vine-zillas like Diageo and Chandon, the industry has popped the cork here and is pouring it on big-time. Thousands of hectares are under cultivation and a drive along roads like Highway 40 reveal row upon row of exuberant growth sheltering varietals such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and the very Argentine Torrontes. However, no varietal is considered more Argentine — and has more land dedicated to its propagation here — than the lofty Malbec. Argentines, and a global fan-base now savvy to the increasing quality of New World wines, are mad about Malbec. Blends (Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon are popular) 100 percent Malbec and rosés chilled to take the sizzle out of a Southern Hemisphere summer can be sampled from wine bars in the capital city of Mendoza to the tasting rooms of nearby Maipu.
Some of our favorite bodega drive-bys were the family-run operation Familia di Tomassa, which offers a glimpse back into Argentina´s wine-making past with its rustic surroundings (the hot tip here is a killer fortified dessert wine called “Vino Generoso” or generous wine); the big marquee operation of Familia Zuccardi, with its vast acreage, state of the art facilities and showy restaurant that could be at home in the heart of Napa; and mid-sized Tapiz, an Argentinian marque comprised of vineyards once owned by Kendall Jackson. An interesting sidenote recounted by a well-placed local source told us the famous California vintner couldn´t figure out the finer points of local water management and had to leave the proverbial building.
If you’re impressed by the Tapiz operation and want more (we did), check into Club Tapiz, the Ortiz family´s boutique hotel, situated 20 minutes away in Maipu. Sited at a 100-year old bodega surrounded by 10 hectares of vineyards, its amenities are tailored to those who like to enjoy life one sip at a time.
Hot tip: Whether you’re at the Tapiz vineyards or hotel, DO NOT MISS any opportunity to taste their Malbec Reserva, it´s nirvana for the discerning palate.
[Editor’s note: This feature was originally posted earlier this year, but since the Northern Hemisphere’s winter months are an excellent time to visit Argentina, we thought we would bring you more Mendoza — because you really can’t have too much of a good thing].