Geoffrey Dean
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Mooching around Mendoza

The latest leg of Geoffrey Dean’s grand tour of South America took him to mountainous Mendoza

If ever there was a good time to visit Mendoza, it’s now. Argentina’s best-known wine region ticks all the boxes for wine tourism, from a range of hotels spread over a wide area to wineries that are geared towards taking visitors, whether for a tasting or to dine.

With the peso having plummeted in the last year or so, and inflation in Argentina exceeding 40% per annum, visitors are getting exceptional value for money, even Brits with sterling. Those liking the exchange rate in South Africa will like it even more in Argentina.

Unlike in Chile, where domestic taxes of 39% make it more expensive to buy good quality Chilean wine there than in the UK, foreign visitors acquiring the best Argentine wine will get it at a massive discount. Some of the top labels are unavailable in Britain, so come with plenty of room in your suitcase and take back some premium wine at bargain prices. Similarly, you can eat out in Mendoza’s many fine restaurants for a snip compared to pricey British counterparts.

Giddy up: Mendoza is home to many a gaucho

If wanting to base yourself in the centre of Mendoza city itself, the Park Hyatt possesses not just the best location, but also a wine list that is truly special. Two formidable young sommeliers, Amparo Andaluz and Erika Hammerle, have transformed what’s on offer, either by the glass or bottle, increasing the number of Argentine producers represented to over 100, with 25 varieties to choose from.

“We have shaken up the list and brought many new wines in,” says Hammerle. “A large number of brands is important, as we are in the land of wine. The hotel now has arguably the best selection of wines in Mendoza.”

A cheaper alternative to the Hyatt, just round the corner, is the good value boutique Villaggio Hotel, which does marvellous breakfasts. Both are five minutes walk from the Siete Cocinas restaurant, which boasts not only wonderful cuisine but also a very extensive wine list.

Try the slow-cooked goat, for which celebrated chef, Pablo Del Rio, is renowned. His wife, Estefi, is export director for leading producer, Altos Las Hormigas, and uses her connections to secure some impressive allocations.

A culinary feast of equal distinction awaits you at Fogon, the Lagarde winery’s own restaurant, in Chacras de Coria, which is open for lunch every day as well as dinner at high summer weekends. Lucas Olcese, the talented chef there, conjures up delicious traditional recipes from the north of Argentina right down to Patagonia.

Juan Roby, Lagarde’s winemaker for 20 years, has crafted an exceptional range that is available for tasting at the bodega’s splendid cellar door. “We used to have hard tannins, and my focus was to round them,” Roby says. He has managed to do this very well, notably in the Henry No 1 Gran Guarda 2016, one of Argentina’s great red wines. This is predominantly Malbec (70%), with Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot making up the remainder of the blend.

Lagarde is one of several leading bodegas in Chacras de Coria, an attractive, leafy village half an hour’s drive south of central Mendoza. Many winemakers choose to live in Chacras, where there are two particularly nice places to stay. Finca de Adalgisa is an elegant property with 11 rooms and one-and-a-half hectares of vines first planted in 1916 by the great grandparents of the owner, Gabriela Furlotti.

The region is framed by the dramatic backdrop of the snow-capped Andes

Some good Malbec is still made from them in Adalgisa’s pocket-sized winery, which is lovingly constructed around a 100-year-old walnut tree.

A few minutes walk away is the delightful Casa Glebinias, which offers cottage-style accommodation in a huge garden adorned with scores of trees, many of them old. The owners live on site and are attentive hosts.

Those wanting to get close to the Andes foothills should head south to Casa de Uco, near Tunuyan. This new, luxury hotel has stunning mountain views over its recently-planted vineyards, which are producing good quality wine under the consultancy of Alberto Antonini. It is a lovely place to relax for a few days, offering wine tastings, hiking excursions, horse riding and spa treatments.

Close to Casa de Uco is the imposing Salentein bodega, named after the castle in Holland of the Dutch family who own it. As many as 31,000 people visited the winery in 2018, which has 850 hectares under vine, producing 20 million litres a year.

The winery is a remarkable piece of architecture, featuring a grand piano in the barrel room where two classical concerts are performed each year. Like Salentein, Zuccardi has an outstanding new winery and restaurant in the Uco Valley, whose delicious lunches make the 90-minute drive from Mendoza to Altamira worthwhile.

Nearer to Mendoza, Lujan de Cuyo boasts a plethora of wineries. Prominent among these is Catena Zapata, whose prestige cellar door with multiple label tastings is a must-visit. Close by is Bodega Monte Quieto, a small producer that is well worth popping into, although an appointment is necessary.

Sebastian Zuccardi at his family estate’s shiny new winery in the Uco Valley

Winemaker Leonardo Quercetti fashions a top-class blend named Enlace (meaning ‘link’), with the 2015 version made predominantly from Cabernet Franc (52%), backed up by Malbec and Syrah in equal quantities.

A trio of Lujan de Cuyo wineries that are in close proximity offer the visitor a good way to spend a day. Achaval Ferrer is not the easiest to find, but is well worth the trouble for the cellar door is atmospheric with stunning Andean views, and the wines top-notch.

The oldest Malbec vines date back to 1900. A short drive away is Casarena, whose restaurant is an excellent place to have lunch. A six-course menu with fine single vineyard wine pairings from the bodega attracts around 500 patrons a month. Meanwhile, nearby Norton trumps that with 10,000 visitors a year, lured by 65 different labels that make it the fourth largest producer in Argentina.

Finally, there are two wineries in Chacras de Coria that should not be missed. Bodega Familia Cassone, family-owned as the name suggests, is a boutique producer with an inviting cellar door. Catena Zapata’s head winemaker for their Agrelo vineyards, Estela Perinetti, is as charming as she is capable, and is a consultant for Cassone, helping to craft high-quality wines.

From Cassone, it’s a short journey to the historic Weinert bodega, whose ancient cellars date back to 1890. There, you can find giant intricately-carved 44,000 litre foudre (known locally as a ‘tonel’), which was built in 1940 with German oak. It is the only one still in use in Argentina (containing Weinert’s Malbec 2012), with the other two being in museums.

In all, Weinert has as many as 235 of these ‘toneles’, most being 7,000 litres but some smaller at 1,200 litres. All are still being utilised, and allow Weinert to hold back its top reds (their 2006 Malbec being the latest one). Old red vintages are available for tasting by the glass thanks to Coravin, with the 1983 Bordeaux blend showing superbly. Indeed, Weinert typifies how well tradition and modernity have juxtaposed in the Mendoza region, which remains the jewel in Argentina’s wine industry.

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