How it all began
Rape and pillage is thirsty work and sometimes water just won’t do. The Conquistadors missed many things from their homeland, amongst them wine. As soon as they could, they brought vine shoots from the Old World to the New, primarily México and then Peru. The first vines in Mendoza probably came across the mountains from Chie.
Wine was also an essential beverage for the clergy. Monks and missionaries needed it to perform the Mass (well that was their excuse anyway). In 1557, a Father Cidron of the Mercedarian Order brought wine stalks from Peru, presumably on the backs of mules or natives and the creeping plant tool its first tentative hold on Argentine soil. It’s been growing ever since.
Mendoza’s soil and climate proved ideal for wine production. The hills and plains soon produced an abundance of crops. So successful was the burgeoning industry, the Spanish King Phillip II tried to ban the practice in an attempt to protect the Spanish industry. This hampered progress until independence.
But you can’t keep a good vine down. By the end of the XIX century, there was a steady flow of vino from Mendoza to Buenos Aires, albeit by oxcart. So prized were the wines, bandits and highwaymen plagued the trade, ambushing the precious cargo as it trundled along the potholed road. The grapes being used weren’t too sophisticated and the methods and equipment primitive.
The vine, for example, was grown like a bush, without a supporting trellis. Labor was provided by Native and African slaves. The wine-press was a hollowed out cow turned upside down. The fresh grape juice was drained into a bucket through and orifice where the animals tails had been. Thank God for progress.
Throughout the a XIX century, the industry advanced with several key improvements. Finer varieties of grape from Europe were introduced. Irrigation – essential in this regions dry and sunny climate, was redesigned and extended. Better canals, dams and dykes were built.
In 1885 the railway arrived, connecting the interior to the capital. Transport was no longer a slow and cumbersome business, not just for crates of wine but people too. Immigrants from Italy, Spain and France arrived, fleeing the depression and two World wars. Many brought valuable experience and knowledge in the art of the viticulture.
Argentine Wine today
Soon Argentina became one of the largest producers of wine in the world, yet for many years it was used primarily for domestic consumption. Happily, times have changed and an increasing amount of this country’s wine is now exported to foreign tables. The industry has become more professional. Technological restructuring at home, improved marketing overseas and a general new fashion for new world wines has firmly positioned Argentine wines on the international market.
Many things are needed to make a good wine and Mendoza seems to have all of them. The soil and lie of the land are perfect. The altitude guarantees a healthy fruit with little need of chemicals. Constant sunlight and little wind are other important factors. When the wind does blow, like the sporadic “Zonda”, it’s actually a good thing; dehumidifying the air and lessening the chance of disease. And of course you have the melted snow from the mountains, bringing water without cloud.
Mendoza’s impressive irrigation network feeds 16.000 thirsty vineyards. It consists of rivers, dykes, reservoirs, drainage channels and bore holes; a man made miracle that adds another facet to the uniqueness of the wine.
The wine itself
If you do cruise the vineyards or simply the supermarket aisles, look out for the following varieties.
This is Argentina’s signature wine. It is a fiery red variety that hangs purple on the vine. It has been described as “vigorous, racy and full bodied”. It’s so popular almost every winery produces it, making Argentina the world’s biggest producer.
→ Cabernet Sauvignon
Everybody’s favorite red wine. It is the popular choice worldwide. It is cultivated in the cooler, higher regions of Mendoza. When young it tastes of plums, raspberries and red currant. Let it mature and it becomes elegant and complex.
Torrontés is the great Argentine white grape. It’s origin go back to the very beginning. For the modern drinker it is a young, fresh and easy to drink golden wine.
→ Wine tasting tips
Wine tasting has a snobbish image – whether real or perceived is a matter of opinion. Perhaps the affected manner of taking (all that sniffing and swirling) and the flowery, over the top language doesn’t help. The fact is many people think you need money and a ‘plummy’ voice to qualify as a wine taster. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The only really essential tools are a pair of eyes, a nose, mouth and tongue and a bottle of vino of course. Any wine taster, professional or amateur, will tell you there is one abiding principal that is it’s entirely subjective. It all depends on the individual. In other words you drink what you like. One man’s poisonous plonk is another man’s delicious honey. Yet like any hobby it has its general rules and rituals.
It’s all in the grape. The variety of grape determines the color, aroma and taste. The deeper the color, and aroma the more full bodied the wine. Look first. Wines should appear clear and have a brilliant color. If it’s cloudy or hazy you’ve been done! A plastic cup just won’t do. It must be glass, preferably crystal. Large bowl shaped glasses are used for guzzling the red stuff, smaller ones for white and sparkling wines. Always hold the glass by the stem. Don’t be greedy.
Fill the glass to less than half to allow for swirling, then, swigging. It’s a good excuse to start early. The morning they say is best. Mind you, not straight out of bed by say ten or eleven. Away from meals, but of course never on an empty stomach.
Sessions should last no longer than two hours. Beginners should limit themselves to no more than eight different wines, more if you’re a more experienced imbiber.
Expert wine taster gets away with trying as many as eighteen different wines. Nice work if you can get it.
Wine tours give the visitor a chance to ddiscover the wineries of Mendoza and enjoy the region’s excellent wines, which are produced using environmentally friendly methods. These wines, especially the red ones, have a high content of antioxidants.
In the last ten years vineyards have undergone important reconstruction which has meant that Mendoza, as the spearhead in Argentina, has the highest quantity of high quality wines, enough to satisfy the growing demand from the international market. In this period, more than 25.000 hectares of fine quality vines were planted in the province. For red wine, the Malbec variety tops the league table, followed by Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, and Bonarda. For with, the predominant varieties are Chardonnay and Chenin.
Wine making began in Argentina at the time of the Spanish conquest but has developed most rapidly since the mid-nineteenth century in the Andean provinces. The area suitable for wine growing stretches the whole length of the mountain range from the province of Salta in the north to Río Negro, in the south. Because of the sheer size of the region and the topography of the Andean valleys, a wide range of stock and varieties can be grown.
The province of Mendoza has the largest area of vineyards in the country, with almost 140.000 hectares. There are four distinct vine growing oases. Mendoza Holidays wine tours are suggested as half or full day trips, including visits to wineries that differ greatly from one another. At each winery, visitors tour the vineyards, taste the wine and get a chance to buy if they wish. They also have the opportunity to visit scenic areas or places of cultural or historic interest.
We invite you to learn more about our organization by watching our 4-minute institutional video below.
Mendoza Holidays Wine Tours has once again received an International ¨Best of Wine Tourism Award¨ (2009/2010/2011/2012) thanks to the exceptional and memorable wine tourism experience offered to clients. Great Wine Capitals Global Network. www.greatwinecapitals.com