LUGARES MAGAZINE Nro. 45
Page. 38 - 42
By: Rossana Acquasanta
THE WINE ROUTES
Trapiche was the first winery to set up guided visits for tourists; only some years later, others followed suit. Located in Coquimbito, it is the ideal starting point to Mendoza's wine route.
Visitors are led with studied hospitality through the various stages of production and are impressed with a massive oak cask that once served as fining-room, accommodating a table with table-cloth and all. Nowadays, a wineryhopping itinerary may be followed and combined with the many leisure activities Mendoza has in stock. Attractions in this region seem to reproduce with the same euphoria yeast ferments grape juice.
In the environs of Mendoza City
Bodegas Escorihuela is one of the oldest cellars in the province and has been exquisitely renovated. It is located only a few minutes from the capital, in Godoy Cruz, by a small verdant square brimming with flowers. There is an exhibition room with a permanent art-collection, an ample tasting-room, a shop and Francis Mallmann's restaurant, named after the winery's foundation year, "1884". Advanced technology is applied to further develop the winery's traditional brands -Carcassonne, Pont-L-Evecluc, Pinar del Río - historically low-priced, but much improved through the deletion of flaws.
The visitors wander along the intriguing vaults lined with centenary casks, and are amazed by á huge oak barrel with singular woodcarving, the work of an Alsatian artisan, featuring a sumptuous Bacchus surrounded by lush Bacchae who are not really virgins, but mischievous striplings.
Cuquimbitu lies at a stone's throw from Mendoza. Besides Trapiche, La Rural, the retreat of the Rutini family, is also located in this area: A perfect blend of the old and historic, depicting a revamped Wine Museum and a colonial courtyard with the state-of-the-art technology of stainless steel vats. The connoisseur is Mariano hi Paola, oenophile and enthusiastic producer of modern wines. We ambled along the shadycellars where yet unnamed wines mature in new oak barrels, of American and French origin. Mariano would pick out a specific cask, upen it and pour a dose uf sturdy wine into our goblets. With a subtle move of his wrist the intense aromas of the juvenile wine invaded the air.
Submerged in this universe of shades, one feels somewhat removed from the outside world.
Bodegas Santa Ana is located in Villanueva, six kilometres from Mendoza, on the comer of Godoy Cruz and Roca streets, lined with trees and irrigation ditches. It boasts its own railroad connecting the vineyard with the main house. Everything in Santa Ana comes in large sizes: the eucalyptus trees in the courtyard, the wine vats, the old casks, the gardenias growing aside the long verandah, even the company's charming president, Eduardo Garat. The bamboo roofs, which keep the interiors cool, contrast with the magnitude of the turn-ofthe-millennium casks. Visitors are offered a tasting of the Cepa Privadas varietals and the Villeneuve house champagne, at the end of the tour, served by the bar-counter and on small oak tables in the tastingroom. The Mendoza desert is blessed with a combination of plentiful water (melting snows of the Andes nurture the vines), a dry climate and year-round sunshine.
The southern route leads to Drummond, territory of Bodegas Lagarde. The bamboo roofs and adobe walls, typical of the region, depict the centenary winery. The property has undergone major improvements, a new nave has been built and is lined with modern barrels where the wines mature, while extra-brut champagne rests on bottleracks. Lagarde did away with the decrepit casks and is fully dedicated to the consummation of its famed and praised fine wines. Its renowned Malbec varietal comes from the neighbouring 40 hectares of precious Malbec grapevines planted in 1906. Vineyards grow aside old olive trees in this finca. Wine and olives compound, in a way, a biblical imperative. The awarded Lagarde wines are only sold upon special request since they are produced in limited lots. Two thousand bottles of the mythical 42 Semillón, a white wine that time has mellowed into liquor, still subsist.
We were welcomed with broad smiles and warm hospitality at Domaine St. Diego. This estate lies in Lunlunta, Maipú, in the valley shaped by the bed of the Mendoza River. This was the last stage of our periplus before heading towards southern Mendoza. It is the smallest, the pearl in the string of cellars that make up the Mendoza wine route. A wine fanatic French friend had passed on this tip. He had been scouting the province in search of petíts vins -family wines that can only be purchased on site - and his good nose led him straight to Angel Mendoza's estate. He was elated with the discovery and felt fully at home. He loaded his car with all the red wine he could fit in his trunk, bade farewell, and left towards Buenos Aires, thrilled with his coveted treasure that can only he purchased on-site at the winery, or upon delivery. Their wines are undoubtedly outstanding. We sampled a '9G Cabernet and a '93 Malbec. Lunlunta is a privileged region for Malbec, and the vines that grow in Domaine St. Diego are century-old. The finca spreads out along rolling hills lined with brief vineyards, unfailing olive groves and fruit trees. You are truly impressed upon setting foot in the winery: there are six small stainless steel vats with a capacity of 550 litres, a handful medium-sized oak barrels in the basement and a fully-equipped sampling area. These are earnest wines, a sheer pleasure to savour, all the work of Angel Mendoza, none other than Ti-apiche's head oenolugist, who dedicated seven years to the formation of his own winery. He entertains himself producing his own wines with grapes from his own vineyards. All his family supports him, and is enthused with the annual output of 20 thousand bottles, which virtually slip through their fingers.
Due south to San Rafael
We arrived at Los Alamos on a rainy night, the country retreat of the Aldao family, where we would stay during the following days, undoubtedly the best accommodations in the San Rafael area. The finca and the house are truly magnificent, breathing history and charm in every corner. Numerous side-programs are available in the region and are more attractive when worked out from Los Alamos. Next morning, while we were having breakfast, Camilo Aldao was generous with ideas but severe with our goals: "You won't have enough time to do half the things there are to cío in San Rafael: Horseback riding, touring the estate, sighting the buffaloes and fishing will occupy several days' time, after which you can go white-water rafting on the Atuel, venture with the rappel, etc., but first, we will start with a winc-tour", to which I submissively acquiesced.
The good thing about the San Rafael wineries is that they are confined to small area, all lying practically within sight. Camilo had arranged appointments with all of them. We set out towards the first on our list: Jean Rivier. Perhaps you have never heard about it, but it has existed, at least for the last 22 years. It's been a family operation since the very beginning. Two of the six brothers work in the winery: Carlos makes the wines and Marcelo sells them. They produce between 400 and 600 thousand litres per year. Their wines are better known ahroad than in the Capital, where they can only be purchased through wine clubs. We tasted all the varieties, just like children in a toy shop, we wanted to sample this barrel and the next, and the next, and the next one as well: hours of wine and inspired conversation, a perfect communion. The Cabernet-Fer (Fer is a rare variety which the Riviers specialize in) is destined for export, with an austere but fresh bouquet, quite European in style, quite a revelation to me. They are clean, sturdy wines, with a clear profile: unpretentious and well accomplished. It is a pity they haven't forged an image for themselves yet.
Jorge Simonassi Lyon sells some 20 thousand cases of his wine per year which will soon reach the market with his full name: Jorge Simonassi. With this label he markets a white, a Chenin and Tokay assemblage, a red stock that combines Barbera, Cabernet and Malbec, plus a Malbec varietal. Jorge contrived his haven in the bucolic countryside, and from his small cellar surrounded by prim and proper vineyards, the production of quality wines is taking off. We tasted ten samples of savoury wines; among my favourite: the '98 Barbera, a prime pulpy varietal; a very concentrated rich'98 Malbec; a MalbecCabernet-Bonarda coupage just out of the barrels, the best. These wines will soon be available to the public. The Malbecs are especially notable, they combine the refined freshness of the San Rafael red wines with a good acidity level, and are pleasant to the palate.
Lavaque adopted the streamlined stainless steel vats two years ago. Some 280 casks of American (30%) and French (70%) oak have replaced the old ones. The fibreglass vats and obsolete casks have gradually given way to the modern concept. The whole winery has been designed in such a way that it can be visited all throughout the wine-process. The majolica tiles lining the walls, the inner balconies, the bamboo roofs and the rush-plaited windows fully convey a cellar atmosphere. The vineyards stretch out as a backdrop to the winery, enclosing a house to host VIP guests. I sampled a '98 Cabernet from the yet unnamed wines which have matured a year in a barrel and will age two more in a bottle before they are uncorked, and a'98 Merlot of long maceration.
As an exception, there is no stainless steel in sight at Suter. There are vats, casks, medium-sized barrels and a splendid wine cellar. The underground trail meanders along a vaulted labyrinth and at the end of the winding lane it opens onto a round room, an intriguing tasting space. All around, the cells store a collection of glorious house wines stacked behind bars. There are passages laden with champagne bottles. Fifty thousand bottles of extra brut and demi-sec are elaborated yearly following the traditional champenois method, starting from red Merlot grapes which embody a blanc de noir. Visitors may purchase the export wines at the winery only in cases (of 6 or 12 bottles) and those for local consumption by the unit. Whether you buy wine or not, no one leaves the winery without a mini-size souvenir bottle in appreciation for the visit. Anti-hail covers fully wrapping rows of vines are a common sight in the San Rafael vineyards. Hail is this region's karma: just about vintage time, the sky turns black and discharges the implacable stone damage. So much for the harvest, the wine, and a sought reward for a full year's efforts.
The Bianchi family is well known in San Rafael. Word has spread about the inauguration of their grand Napa Valley style winery (see LUGARES 40) and buses loaded with curious tourists come for the celebrated tour. Young guides provide an accurate and detailed briefing of the operation where stainless steel plays a major role, as they inspect the cool champagne vaults lying underground all along the winery's facilities. After the tour, follows a video and a tasting, especially of the fine champagne, an overall worthwhile experience. Bodegas Valentín Bianchi e Hijos continues adding pedigree brands to its lifetime classics. The dernier cri is Don Enzo, sold at $70 the bottle, and its contriver, the very don Enzo, is beside himself with pride. Hurray to don Enzo.