Posts Tagged ‘Mendoza’

Well, for now we will say adiós to Argentina. I had a marvelous time getting to know the land, people and wine of Mendoza. Our last day and a half was spent swimming, horseback riding, and relaxing around a large open fire as we recounted our adventures and sipped on a glass or two of Argentine malbec. An yes, we also took in a bit more dancing!

Until we meet again!

Next up: A tasting with Yalumba..and a second Medaille de Mumu.


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After our blending session with Susana Balbo, our group was whisked about 20 minutes away from DDP to this beautiful home overlooking a serene little “lake”. What was in store for us this evening?

photo courtesy of Lisa Johnson

A little socializing, followed by empanadas and argentine vino under the veranda, followed by a glorious dinner, followed by dancing! As you can see from the number of wine glasses laid out on our table, there was also going to be some pretty serious wine tasting / drinking too.

But prior to all of this, we took the opportunity to unwind a bit, relax, and have a snack or two with a cup of tea or a sip of mate. Pretty funny..I guess this is how wine people “unwind” before gearing up to taste more wine!

4-5-6 dozen empanadas ??

Lest we got too comfortable sipping assorted stimulants, about 45 minutes later our group was instructed to meet out back behind the casa  and under the veranda for a glass of 2009 Crios Rose de Malbec and 2008 Crios Chardonnay.

Check out this wood-fired clay oven!

And of course, Empanadas! All baked to perfection with some serious high heat.

The sun slowly set as our group enjoyed an empanada or two (or three) and sipped on Susana’s delicious white and pink wines. Good food, good wine, good company.

What a vista!

And then..to the table! Here is the view from my seat as I sat down to dinner that evening. Magical.

To accompany our superb dinner that evening, Susana offered the following selection of wines for us to enjoy. Clicking on each wine will provide you with additional info on each wine.

2009 Susana Balbo “Crios” Torrontes

2008 BenMarco Malbec

2008 BenMarco Cabernet Sauvignon

2007 BenMarco “Expressivo” (with 10% Tannat!)

2008 Susana Balbo Malbec

2006   Susana Balbo Cabernet Sauvignon

2005 Susana Balbo “Brioso”

2007 Susana Balbo “Nosotros”

Note: This wine has not yet been released for the US market, however I have provided a link with information on the 2006 vintage in order to give you an idea.

Ali, Jose y Susana enjoy a bit of dancing..

Just when we thought the evening couldn’t get any better than this, guess what? It did. Turn up the music and roll out the carpet for a fantastic live performance of classic Argentine dancing! Here, Susana and her son Jose Lovaglio (a UC Davis wine grad and up and coming Argentine winemaker in his own right) take in the performance.

This brief re-cap of the evening’s performance includes several various styles of traditional dance. In particular, the last segment in which the three male dancers perform together is called the Malambo.

The Malambo is traditionally a dance performed only by men. Developed in the 17th century, it involves highly stylized and very rhythmic “tap” dancing to music that contains no lyrics. Most often gaucho (or cowboy)  boots are worn, and the very complex footwork involved often include movements like the “cepillada”  or brushing the floor with the sole of the foot, as well as the “repique”, a strike to the floor using the back part of the boot.

Thank you Susana for hosting such an educational and inspiring day!

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The "Queen" of torrontes - Susana Balbo

Our third visit on that day found us back in Agrelo to visit the queen. Or more specifically, the queen of Torrontes, otherwise  known as Susana Balbo.  At her Dominio de la Plata  winery, Susana produces a range of wines that count amongst the best of the best from Argentina in terms of quality and value. She is widely considered to be on the top winemakers in Argentina.

Since receiving her enology degree in 1981, Susana has consulted and made wine on 5 different continents. With this global experience, she has most likely produced a more comprehensive range of different wines than just about any winemaker in Argentina. Impressive props for the woman who is also largely credited with introducing the wine world to Torrontes, Argentina’s light, bright and fragrantly aromatic white wine.

The current range of wines from Susana Balbo include:  

Premium Wines:

Crios de Susana Balbo

Super Premium Wines:

Susana Balbo




Hang time at Dominio de la Plata

Surrounding the DDP property are approximately 10 hectares of cane-pruned comprised of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and malbec. These vines are drip irrigated with water sourced from the local river and fed via the Andes. Chief viticultural hazards here are low, although both ants and foxes in search of water and grapes are relatively common.

Fruit from these vineyards are most often utilized for the Susana Balbo, BenMarco and Nosotros range of wines. Fruit sourced from additional vineyards in both the Uco Valley as well as Salta (Torrontes) also make their way into these lines as well as the fantastically popular “Crios” line.

assistant winemaker Gustavo Bertagna at DDP

After a tour of the vineyards, assistant winemaker Gustavo Bertagna guided our group through this state of the art winery. He explained that upon arrival at the winery, the grape clusters are carefully sorted before stemming and crushing.

 All the stainless steel fermenting tanks have double external coils in order to lower the temperature during fermentation or raise it during malolactic fermentation.

State of the art at Dominio de la Plata

DDP also utilizes thermal insulation so that the wine can be kept at a constant temperature of less than 15° C all year round. These 15 or so tanks come in varying sizes, such that more controlled and precise fermentations can take place depending upon the particular characteristics of a particular lot.

Pneumatic presses are also utilized in order to ensure minimal trauma to the juice and pomace. The goal here is to avoid unnecessary trauma or extractions that would produce “undesirable sediments or rough aromas in the wines”.

 The elevage process is also quite varied, and depends upon the the style of wine being produced. More specifically, stainless-steel, stainless steel with the use of oak staves, and traditional French barrique are all de rigueur at DDP. In addition, micro-bullage or micro-ox is also utilized on certain cuvees. A tour of DDP is to witness modern winemaking at it’s most precise and fine tuned best.

Blending before..

After our tour of the winery and barrel room, our group was informed that we would now participate in the pro-active, hands-on part of the tour. Huh? Yes, that’s right, we were going to blend and create our own cuvee and be judged/critiqued by Susana. Eeek!

Great wine must always start with great "juice"

Here you see a selection of various varietals sourced from different locations and vineyards sites. Included in the lineup were:

 Cabernet Sauvignon

2 x Malbec from different vineyard sites



Blending during..

Our group was split up into 5 groups of 3 people each. We had 10 minutes to give it our best shot and create a balanced yet expressive red of which Susana would be proud. Go!

Blending after..

O.K. that was definitely NOT 10 minutes. At least it didn’t seem like 10 minutes. Man, time goes by fast when you’re having fun! This blending exercise was a bit like high school chemistry meets home economics meets college party time.  I might add, without the added pressure of knowing that we must then sell how many thousands of bottles of our custom cuvee once it’s in the bottle? I believe that our final blend went something like this:

 35% cabernet sauvignon

30% malbec

20% malbec “los arboles”

15% bonarda

the moment of truth..Susana's critique of our blending exercise

And now the moment of truth. Susana and Gustavo tasted through each of our respective cuvees, discussed and then passed judgement. Well, our group came in 3rd (if I remember correctly). Susana’s main critique was that our particular cuvee was lacking a bit of mid-palate and length. Juicy, bright, yes..but lacking in overall balance to kick it up a notch to good+ to excellent.

BTW, you can see the winning team in the photo above directly to the left of Susana. These three dudes (from L-R: Loyd, James -a master sommelier and Frank) were in the zone on this particular day, crushed the competition and took home the gold. Susana was most impressed with their work, as she described the wine as having all of the qualities she was looking for. Intensity, balance, and length.

Well done gentlemen!

Next up: Dinner, dancing and more vino with Susana Balbo!

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Smiles and Watermelon for everyone!

For me, this photograph perfectly distills why I love the wine business. Of course I love learning about and drinking wine. But really, when it comes down to it all, it’s the people that I get to meet, whether by circumstance or happenstance that makes what I do so incredibly rewarding.

Case in point, this group pic our Texas/California contingent along with a family who owns the modest tienda that you see behind us. In the front row is mom, dad (holding the watermelon) and their twin teenage children.

I'm thirsty!

After an afternoon of working hard (wine tasting!), our bus was headed back to Mendoza City when someone on the bus requested that we stop for some water/beverages. Nancy, our most excellent driver, obliged us and pulled up to this convenient little roadside market.

As it turns out, the owner of the market and his family had recently returned to Argentina after having lived 10+ years in New Jersey! He then declared that his family was so touched that we had stopped at their market that he wished to share a watermelon with us.  With this generous yey humble offer, I believe that our entire group trumped his group in the “touched” department.

The good life..

As we munched/slurped on our sweet watermelon I spotted these two pups (from the same litter no doubt). Yes, that is a cardboard box that the little one crawled into. A simple shelter no doubt..but these two seemed so happy and content. Perhaps they are onto something here..a simple life, a sweet life, a good life.

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East of Mendoza city and in the province of Maipú I discovered one of the most interesting and culturally significant experiences of my wine trip to Argentina. More specifically, Bodegas la Rural and the Museo del Vino were our next scheduled stop, along with an introduction, tasting and lunch with the wines of Mapema.

Sound a bit confusing? Allow me to break this down. Two of Argentina’s most seasoned and respected winemakers, Pepe Galante and Mariano di Paola decided to collaborate and produce a limited range of inspiring wines sourced from prime growing regions throughout Mendoza. They named their project “Mapema” which is derived from the first two letters of each winemakers name..ma –Mariano + pe –Pepe + another ma. Mariano jokingly admits that he is more important so his name should be listed twice. However most people agree that it takes two Mariano’s to equal the talent of one Pepe. BTW, these two guys are very good friends!

Here are their creds:  In addition to being the head winemaker at Catena Zapata for 30+ years, Pepe Galante is also a university professor of viticulture and enology at Juan Augustin Maza University in Mendoza. Since 1995 Mariano di Paola has been the head winemaker at Bodega La Rural, which is the domaine and homebase of the more famously known range of wines known as Rutini.

For this reason, and on this particular day, our introduction to the wines of Mapema took place at Bodega La Rural/Rutini. Besides the beautiful winery and vineyard setting, Bodega La Rural is home to one of the most amazing wine museums..possibly in all the world. Over 5000 different tools and artifacts highlight Argentine wine history in this beautiful historical setting.

If you go to Argentina, and you make a trip to Mendoza to explore wine country, then you must stop here. What an absolute historical and national treasure. And while you’re at it, you’ll also learn more about the Rutini family, one of the most important families in the development of Argentine wine industry.

2008 Trumpeter Extra Brut

We started off the festivities with a glass of Argentine sparkling wine. Rutini produces a line of still and bubblies under the Trumpeter range. I enjoyed a glass of this extra brut brut with an empanada  (or two!)

Asado -Mapema style!

As we sat down to lunch, a variety of fresh salads arrived tableside, followed by this meat extravaganza from the grill. In most latin american countries and certainly Argentina, such a selection is known as Asado: mini chorizo, mini morcillas, costillas, punta de espalda de cerdo, carne, chivo.

Los tintos de Mapema

To compliment our platters of asado, Mapema poured their current red releases.

 2008 Mapema Malbec: Fruit sourced from the Uco Valley (San Carlos-La Consulta) at 3200ft elevation. The average vine age here is 80+ years.  This beautifully balanced malbec weighs in at a slim 13.9% abv. Perfect. I can have a second glass!

 2007 Mapema PZ Malbec: The fruit for this flashier number is sourced from 50 year old vines located in prime zones or primera zonas “PZ” of Tupungato and La Consulta at 3500 ft. elevation. Although the PZ Malbec spends 12 months in 100% new barrique, there is sufficient extract to handle the wood regimen and produce a richer but still elegant red. The alcohol here too is definitely within the realm of food friendly. At 13.5% it paired beautifully with my chivo (goat).

2008 Mapema Malbec/Tempranillo: España, take notice..this is one delicious and super smooth tempranillo blend. Lush, plummy with crushed red berry fruits and just a hint of smoke and mineral and the requisite acidity. Really lovely stuff!

Mariano di Paola in the middle!

Our group, along with the Mapema team enjoyed a leisurely lunch underneath the shady trees behind the Bodega La Rural/Rutini winery.

While some folks enjoyed a glass of the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc before sitting down to lunch, I actually waited until the cheese course was served. Contrary to what many people believe, I find that white wine is a more versatile and complimentary choice with most types of cheese.

The cheese course -a la Argentina

Mapema’s Sauvignon Blanc is bright and fresh, however 10% of the wine is aged in new French oak for 3 months, which provides a bit of richness and intensity. I love bitey, bitey Sancerre of New Zealand SB, however Mapema’s example is a welcome addition to my list of go to sauvignon blancs. I just love it.

For dessert, a Mango mousse with berry coulee was paired with Rutini’s 2005 Vin Doux Naturel produced from Semillon.

Let's finish on a smooth note..with a sip or two of Mapema Grappa!

And to round out this lunch, a sip of Mapema “Grapa”, which I have never before seen stateside. Grappa, which is basically a distillate made from the pomace, skins and pips 0f grapes is a great way to end a rich meal. A sip of this lightly fragrant digestif will miraculously make a full tummy feel, well, not so full.

Team Mapema

A huge thank you to the beautiful folks at Mapema for hosting such a great afternoon! 

For more pics of the Museo del Vino please check out Les Photos..

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A bright star in Mendoza -Añoro Chardonnay

The following morning took us just a short ride from our hotel to the neighborhood of Agrelo, located just south of Mendoza city. Behind a pair of discreet garage doors is the headquarters of Añoro, a joint project of Master Sommelier Ken Fredrickson, his wife Licy and Ed Lehrman and Nick Ramkowsky, owners of Vine Connections. After tasting many wines from the region of Mendoza, this group of four set their sights towards creating a small range of top tier wines to showcase the potential of the region. Roberto de la Mota of Mendel wines is in charge of the winemaking for Añoro.

Añoro further explained by Frederico Sanchez

On this particular morning our group was greeted by Federico Sanchez, who manages the Añoro winery. Frederico led us through a tasting of current releases as well as several works in progress.

Añoro's future stars: Malbec and El Regalo Malbec

The current range of Añoro wines consists of the following:

2009 Añoro Chardonnay

2006 Añoro Malbec

2006 Añoro “El Regalo” Malbec

These premium cuvees are produced from fruit sourced on high altitude (2700-3700 ft)  vineyards in the Uco Valley of Mendoza.

All of the grapes are hand harvested, go through a rigorous selection process and are fermented in small lots. The chardonnay sees regular batonnage, while the reds undergo manual punchdown or pigeage.

The wines are then aged in a combination of high quality first and second use French oak from a period of 4 (chardonnay) to 14 months (Regalo malbec) before release. 

Step inside my cement tank.. (a vestige of former winemaking times)

Frederico also took us on a brief tour of the winery, which did not take very long as the entire set up is not much bigger than an average garage and carport!

Scattered about the inner courtyard lay relics of a winemaking past..pieces of equipment that in and of themselves looked like majestic works of art and design.

Frederico showing us how it's done!

As we finished our tasting and tour of Anoro, Frederico demonstrated the traditional equipment and method for corking wine bottles with this beautiful contraption located just outside the Añoro offices.

Next stop: A delicious lunch, great company, and the beautiful wines of Mapema!

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After our Posada del Jamón extravaganza, we climbed back into the bus and made our way to the Laborde vineyard.

Laborde vineyard in La Consulta

at the edge of the Laborde vineyard..

This special vineyard is grown entirely to syrah. It is also the vineyard that Argentine Laura Catena chose to make a wine that represents some of the very best that her country has to offer. Much has been written about the legendary Catena family and their tremendous influence on the development of the modern Argentine wine industry.

Dr. Catena (she is also an emergency room doctor in San Francisco, Ca..sheesh!) has furthered this reputation by championing and developing the potential of Argentina’s smaller vineyards and grower-producers. The Laborde vineyard and wine is one such example. Here again, Luis Reginato is in charge of the winemaking.

Parral system @ 6+ feet off the ground

The vine training system found in the Laborde vineyard is known in Argentina as “parral”. This system of horizontal vs. vertical shoot positioning is also referred to throughout the wine world as “pergola” or “tendone”. This method of training vines on a horizontal plane vs. a vertical one is also most evidenced in parts of northwestern Spain (Galicia) as well as throughout certain regions in Italy.

 In the high altitude Uco Valley, where frost damage to fruit is a relevant concern, the parral system is beneficial in that grapes are a good 5-6 feet off the ground, where temperatures are at their lowest.

Don't hate me because I'm beautiful (syrah)..


How did the Laborde come to be? And what exactly does “double select” signify?

In the mid 1950’s, an Argentine viticulturalist by the name of Luis Laborde traveled through France’s famed Rhone Valley and made a first selection of what he believed to be the very best syrah vines. Laborde brought these vines back to Mendoza and immediately planted them in a research vineyard in order to track their quality and potential in Mendoza.

From this research vineyard, Laborde then made a second selection, choosing only those vines that he believed to be superior in terms of quality and expression. With these vines he planted his own 10 acre vineyard in the Uco Valley, where he believed such vines would ultimately produce great wine.

Let there be water..

Alongside the vineyard, irrigation channels can be seen. At regulated intervals throughout the growing season (July-January), a “tomero” or person in charge of regulating water flow, will flood irrigate vineyards throughout the region. The water (which comes from the rivers stemming from the nearby Andes mountains) will pass through these channels and into the vineyard.

Provignage or layering @ work..

Provignage or Layering in action at Laborde

A second most interesting viticultural “find” for me was to see up close and personal the system of layering or provignage. This technique of replanting or replacing vines is seriously old school and falling out of favor in many regions..except in Argentina. Why? The relatively low threat of phylloxera permits most vineyards to be planted on their own rootstocks rather than on grafted vines. In addition, flood irrigation also does a mighty fine job of killing the louse.

Provignage basically involves taking a cane from a mature vine, laying it in the ground a suitable distance away and burying the end of the cane under the soil. The end of the cane will be slightly cracked as a rock will be used to keep the can in place. Over the next growing season, the cracked portion of the vine will sprout roots and new shoots, which if trained properly, will grow into a new vine.

Pros: As the new vine is really an extension of a previously existing vine, therefore technically speaking, practicing layering preserves the average age of the vineyard. One could therefore, have a vineyard with vines that are over 150 years old!

 Cons: These newly planted vines will retain all of the genetic strengths and weaknesses of the parent vines. This could be an issue if a vineyard is struck by a particular disease or parasite.

As were headed back towards the bus, were were greeted by a young caballero on horseback, handing out steaming hot empanadas.


2008 Laborde Double Select Syrah

Varietal: Syrah

Vineyard region: Uco Valley / La Consulta

Elevation: 3500 feet 

Average vine age: 46 years

Rootstock: non-grafted /selection massale 

Harvest method: hand harvested 

Vinification: stainless steel fermentation

Elevage: 12 months in 50% new French and 50% second-use French barriques

Fining: no 

Filtration: no 

Alcohol: 14.4%

Case production: 1500

The 2008 Laborde Double Select Syrah  is deep and rich..lots of blackberry fruit, nuanced with touches of smoke, black licorice and El Rey dark chocolate. Tannins are ripe and fine.the acidity is squarely in the medium range. Missing are the cracked pepper or more savory notes and more streamlined structure that one often finds in syrah from the northern Rhone. It really just depends on which “style” you prefer. Would be really nice with a rib-eye steak or perhaps some wild boar?

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