The Uco Valley, Mendoza’s newest wine region, is an hour and a half drive south of Mendoza city. This is the up-and-coming area for wine growing in Mendoza, with most vineyards with less than a decade of planting. Tucked into the base of the Andes’ foothills, this is the highest elevation (significant) wine region in the world (up to 5,500 feet above sea level, with the majestic Andean peaks only a few kilometers away). In this mountainous climate, the day-night temperature differential can be as much as 28 degrees.
Most of the bodegas in this area are foreign-owned and emerged following the 2001 financial crisis of Argentina. Investors seized this opportunity, purchasing land and quickly moving towards planting. Salentein and Catena Zapata were two of the first visionaries for this region, each claiming to have been the visionary for this gambling venture. We visited three wineries on this day.
Winery #1: Salentein is a Dutch-owned, state-of-the-art winery that features stunning pieces of modern art throughout the property. The tour guide taught us how to differentiate Malbec grapes from Pinot Noir grapes while on the vine. (Pinot Noir grapes form cylindrical, looser clusters, while the Argentine Malbec forms much tighter, smaller clusters.) We loved the tasting room, with perfect lighting that illuminated the colors of the wines, wall-to-wall vintage bottles, and the long, stately conference table that made us feel like important diplomats. We could just picture the owners getting together with their wine maker (recently lured away from Catena Zapata) to taste and finalize their latest blend. What a job! Here’s what we tasted:
- Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2011: nice grapefruit smell; dry, acidic taste that would nice on a hot day
- Pinot Noir Reserve 2010: strawberry smell with hints of minerals; light but taste lingers with a touch of spice
- Numina Gran Corte 2009 (a blend): cherry and licorice smell; complicated, full-bodied wine
- Primus (Premier) Malbec 2007: floral and prune aroma; complex and fruity; 3rd favorite Malbec of the trip
Our favorites: Gran Corte and Primus Malbec
Winery #2: For the second winery, we visited a remote winery with beautiful views. Giminez Riili, a winery in existence since 1945, now run by 3 brothers who took over the family business. We loved meeting Frederico, one of the brothers, and listening to his passion for wine making. He also treated us to probably the best homemade empanadas we’ve ever eaten. Their production may be small at the moment, but it’s very high quality.
- Torrontés 2010: grapefruit notes; smoother and fruitier than Sauvignon Blanc at Salentein
- Perpetuum Premium Merlot 2008: musty oak smell with hints of dark fruit (prunes); fruity Merlot with present but not overpowering tannins
- Gran Reserve Malbec 2007: blackberry jam smell; fruity, medium-bodied
- Syrah 2010 (from the barrel because he was sold out)
Our Favorite: Gran Reserve Malbec (but we bought the Torrontes and Merlot; aka we liked all of them!)
Winery #3: Andeluna Cellars is owned by American H. Ward Lay, of the Frito-Lay family, who spends half of the year on his ranch in Patagonia. The winery is well-known for its lunch with pairings and an open kitchen, allowing you to see the chef hard at work. The decor is rustic and features brightly colored artwork from young Argentinean men with disabilities. This was our least favorite winery, as it felt more corporate (lacked character) and the wines and lunch were less than stellar.
- Torrontés 2011: lighter grapefruit smell and less complex than Torrontés from Gimenez Riili
- Reserve Chardonay 2009: light and buttery with medium flavor
- Reserve Malbec 2009: oaky smell; fruity, not that robust but medium-bodied
- Gran Reserve Pasionado 2005: a blend; not as full-bodied, bold, or delightful as Salentein’s Numina
Overall, the Uco Valley was our favorite region because of its scenic views and marvelous wines.