The region of Mendoza is actually very large and is made up of a series of sub-regions which vary largely based upon their altitude. Mendoza lies in the eastern foothills of the Andes with Santiago (the capital of Chile) just a short 45 minute flight across the mountain range. It not just any mountain range though; at its peak the Andes reach 7000 metres, with Mendoza spanning the altitudes of 900-1800 metres. This is extremely high by grape-growing standards and really defines the style of wine produced here. Days during the growing season are hot and dry, while the temperature at night drops significantly, giving the fruit the necessary time it needs to rest and maintain its all-important natural acidity.
Having spoken to a few importers here in Sydney, I arranged a few visits to a variety of producers. First on the cards was Catena Zapata: a very well-established, high quality producer with a large portfolio and a very impressive winery, cellar door and underground cellar. Upon our arrival, somewhat to our surprise, we were given the red carpet treatment and ushered into a room with winemaker Estela Perinetti where we tasted through her top tier of wines ‘Adrianna Vineyard’. This included two Chardonnays and three Malbecs, all unique in their own way but all of very impressive quality. They are not cheap but as wine writer Richard Siddle puts it: Adrianna Vineyard is “South America’s Grand Cru Vineyard.”
The following day we journeyed to a nearby producer in Lujan de Cuyo. Achaval Ferrer is much smaller than Catena Zapata but no less highly regarded. They only produce red wines which are richly concentrated, powerful and very age-worthy. Over two hours we tasted a range of their wines and learnt of the producer’s strict demand for concentration in their fruit – achieved by intense green-harvesting (fruit dropping) in the lead-up to vintage. Up to 70% of potential yield is culled off the vineyard in order to concentrate flavours in the fruit that remains. The quality is certainly evident in the wines.
On our final day in Mendoza we visited Matias Riccitelli. Pulling up to the winery we had no idea that this would be the visit of the trip – by far. Matias is a young winemaker who in recent years has been receiving some great press for what he is doing in the region. He comes from a family of winemakers and to me, it shows. He is a winemaker showing the world that Mendoza can produce so much more than just Malbec. In fact it was his whites that really blew me away. In particular, he makes a Vineyard Selection Chardonnay from altitudes of between 1400-1700 metres and a ‘Blanco de la Casa’ which is a textural, bright and complex blend of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. I was quick to order these wines in to the store upon my return to Sydney (as well as the reds which were equally impressive).
All in all, my visit was exceptionally enjoyable and eye-opening in terms of the quality of wines being produced and the range of wines being made outside of the already famous Malbec variety. What was more special though were the characters met along the way: the generosity of Estela at Catena Zapata through to the great time we spent with Matias, driving between vineyards in his ute and tasting his range in the winery. On top of that and yet to be mentioned is the spectacular scenery around every corner as you travel through the region. Some call it the most beautiful wine region in the word – and with good reason. Green vineyards for miles with the snow-capped Andes in the background. What’s better is that Mendoza is perhaps slightly closer than you think: 12 hours on a plane to Chile then 45 minutes across the Andes and you’re there. Keep it in mind…