Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Wine Country in Mendoza, Argentina

The first day we were in Mendoza we drove an hour or so into the mountains to go white water rafting on the Mendoza River.  Apparently the water was especially high that day so conditions were better than a typical day.  We didn't lose anyone, but we came awfully close to flipping the whole raft at one point, I was only saved by my right foot being slipped into a pocket attached to the floor of the boat.  It was awesome, that was the best part.

 

The weather was perfect, a nice respite from the chilly NY winter, and after the rafting we partook in a refreshing cerveza.  I call this photo Andes in the Andes.

Despite being quite lush, we were told that due to lack of rainfall Mendoza is technically a desert.  They are able to grow all the grapes for wine production by skillful irrigation using the Mendoza River, which is fueled by plenty of snow melt coming off the Andes.  There is an intricate series of irrigation ditches and gates to divert the waters to specific properties and they each have designated time periods and allowances to coordinate the water usage.  A large benefit is that the vineyards can carefully control the water flowing to the vines to specifically tailor the amount to the plant's needs.  Eliminating this one variable of nature's whim is a great boon to the winemakers, as a late season rainstorm before harvest can wreak havoc with the quality of the grapes in other wine growing regions of the world.  There is, as always, a trade off however, because what little precipitation Mendoza does get often comes in freak hailstorms which can wreak havoc of their own.  One winery we visited, Achaval-Ferrer, had recently lost the entire crop at its main vineyard two years in a row!  (They make really excellent wines, if you are curious.)

This winery also sits right on the banks of the Mendoza River, but at this point the river, the same river we rafted on with extra high water levels only the day before, all that remained the day we were there was dusty riverbed, the flow having been entirely diverted for irrigation.

We also visited one of my favorite bodegas, Catena Zapata.  Here is the view of their main finca, or vineyard, from the top of their (faux Aztec pyramid) winery:

We also learned that Catena Zapata, like most bodegas, make different wines for export and their own domestic market.  Here we sampled two of Catena's top Malbecs, one for export on the left, and the one just for Argentina on the right.  Unsurprisingly they keep the best for themselves, the bastards.  (In all fairness, some of the differences are due to requests by the US distributors to have certain flavor profiles they find easier to market here, but I like the style they keep in Argentina.)  We got a bottle of the good stuff you can only get there to bring home.  As luck would have it, before I discovered that there was stuff you can only get there, I got a 1999 bottle of the same Malbec and brought it home whe I was in Buenos Aires like 5 years ago which I've held on to and yet to open.   Mmmm, it's gonna be good.

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