Mendoza is synonymous with Malbec – Argentina’s signature red grape that put the country on the wine making map at the turn of the century, and continues to be appreciated around the world for its easy drinking appeal.
Dismissed as a second-rate grape variety in France, Malbec was rescued by the Mendoza wine region after cuttings were sent over during the Phylloxera outbreak that decimated European vineyards in the mid-19th century. The heat and high altitudes – most vines are planted between 1,800 – 3,600ft above sea-level – provided an unexpected sanctuary where Malbec flourished to become Argentina’s main wine export. Mendoza currently produces 75% of the country’s entire wine production, with Malbec accompanied by premium wine varietals including Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
Settled on a high-altitude plateau at the edge of the Andes mountains, the Mendoza wine region can be divided into five distinct sub regions, each with their own individual characteristics:
Situated just south east of the city, Maipu is the largest and most established wine region in Mendoza – home to revered wineries such as Familia Zuccardi, Rutini and Trapiche, with a reputation for producing great value Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir styles.
Visitors can expect to pay higher prices for premium wines from the prestigious Lujan de Cuyo region – where some of Argentina’s most revered producers are based, including Catena Zapata, Bodega Septima and Cheval des Andes.
The ultra-modern wineries, which are accompanied by glamourous boutique hotels, are renowned for producing world class Malbec varietals, which reveal subtle differences according to where in the region they were planted.
With some of the highest vineyards in the Mendoza wine region, the Uco Valley is known for producing elegant wines that age gracefully, attracting producers from around the world, including Clos de la Siete – a brand from Wine Paths’ own consultant Michel Rolland. Malbec reigns supreme at the high altitudes here, while the breathtaking mountain scenery and state of the art facilities have seen the area draw comparisons with California’s Napa Valley in terms of wine tourism.
This smaller wine growing region was established by Italian immigrants in the 1900s, and is limited to only a few wineries. Not many of the wines, usually from Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, are ever exported but San Rafael remains a good value area.
Many of the older vineyards in east Mendoza are planted with Argentina’s local esoteric varieties such as Criolla Grande and Moscatel Rosada. The quality of Malbec from this region is questionable, but the area has plenty of potential and its fortunes could be swiftly changed with the arrival of a good wine producer. The city of Mendoza itself is also one of the most beautiful in South America, with its five enticing plazas surrounded by a surprisingly rural atmosphere – where the traditional charm of a bygone colonial era shares company with accelerating modernisation.
Each plaza has its own personality, for instance: Plaza de la Indipendencia is awash with streets stalls that play host to artisan night and weekend markets; Plaza Espana is arguably the prettiest with its mosaic fountain; and Plaza San Martin is closest to the city’s most striking church, the St Francis Basilica. Adventure seekers are also well catered for, with adrenaline outdoor activities including white water rafting, horse-riding, trekking and mountain climbing at the nearby Mount Aconcagua – the highest peak in South America.
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