Luján de Cuyo is the oldest wine region of Mendoza. Located 25 minutes south of Mendoza City off of Ruta 40 (the main highway that crosses all of Argentina), this region has an old-town feel with adobe houses surrounded by beautiful flower gardens (and often private vineyards). Giant poplar trees line the roads and provide a respite from the strong sun, and the majestic Andes mountains provide a beautiful backdrop. With the help of our taxi driver/tour guide/wine expert, we spent two days in Luján de Cuyo, sipped excellent wine from a diverse array of bodegas, met fellow wine lovers, and enjoyed one of the best lunches (complete with perfect wine pairings) we have ever had in our lives. Some words of wisdom: Always eat a big breakfast before a day of wine tasting!
- Norton is the oldest winery in the area. Norton was founded by an Englighman (Mr. Edmund Norton), who came to Mendoza in 1895 to work on the railroad and fell in love with an Argentinian woman. As a wedding gift, his father-in-law gave him land, and Mr. Norton planted vines imported from France. We had always noticed their wines in the grocery store, so we decided to check out the winery. This was one of our least favorite wineries, though we enjoyed tasting the wine through the different stages of production.
- Finca Decero. We were unable to make a reservation with this bodega ahead of time; however, our taxi driver/tour guide/wine expert came to the rescue. Noticing that his friend was driving the taxi in front of us, he convinced his friend to tell the guard at Finca Decero that we were part of the same group. Finca Decero specializes in single vineyard wines, meaning that all the grapes come from one specific plot of land, thereby producing a wine that better represents the terroir (land and microclimate) of the winery’s land. This is in contrast to Trapiche, a large winery, that buys grapes from over a hundred different wine producers from different wine regions. Finca Decero was the first place we tasted a wine made from 100% Petit Verdot, a grape often used in blends that imparts an ink-like color and bold taste.
- Ruca Malen = Heaven for our taste buds. Chef Lucas Bustos serves delicious meals interpreted from recipes he says he obtained from “little old country ladies” who were famous for their cooking.
Second Course: Countryside chorizo on slices of grape skin toast, sprinkled with Criolla sauce and quinoa. The fresh fruit of the Yanquén Malbec-Cabernet Savignon 2010 contrasted nicely with the fattiness of the chorizo. The acidity of the wine helps to clean the palate.
Third Course: Beetroot confit with honey and cinnamon, burned goat cheese, and a spicy arugula oil. This course brings out the complexity of the Ruca Malen Syrah 2008. The goat cheese highlights the lactic notes of the wine, and the arugula infusion brings out the herbal freshness of the Syrah.
Fourth Course: Grilled beef tenderloin medallion with baked potatoes (boiled, fried, then baked), baked onions, olives, raisins, and Arauco olive oil scented with lavender from the garden. This course was paired with two wines: Ruca Malen Malbec 2010 and Kinien Malbec 2008. The first wine, with its softer tannins and fresh fruit, paired nicely with the meat, while the second wine highlighted the olives and raisins in the dish.
- Carmelo Patti is a charismatic, old-school Italian winemaker. His small winery was anything but fancy, and he does very little advertising or exporting of his small supply (50,000 bottles/year). Still, his 2007 Malbec won best Malbec of the year in Argentina (we snatched up a bottle), and people flock to his winery for the chance to try excellent wine directly from the passionate winemaker himself.