Mendoza, the increasingly famous Argentine wine country known for making damn good (perhaps the best) Malbecs in the world, is just a hop skip and a jump from Buenos Aires. We headed over for a weekend of wine tasting and sightseeing.
This dry, hot, harsh, high elevation, and sunny area of Argentina is the perfect recipe for coaxing Malbec grapes to their full potential. Sunshine and heat work to create a much more fruit-forward wine than that of French Malbecs. In addition, the proximity of the Andes tempers the heat, slowing the ripening process and allowing enough acidity to develop, producing a well-balanced wine in addition to the fruity characteristics. As such, people have been flocking to the region to taste the fruits of the Malbec kingdom.
On our first day, feeling adventurous, we took the public bus south from the main hub to Lujan de Cuyo, about 15 km outside Mendoza and populated by wineries. While the bus ride offers sights such as rundown cars and supermercados along the sides of the road, behind stone gates utter luxury greets you.
Lagarde winery is tucked away, an utterly suprising tranquil escape from the dust and unrelenting sunshine. We stopped in for a vineyard tour and tasting, where we met the lovely Julia, our tour guide and sommelier for the afternoon. Lagarde is one of only four vineyards in Mendoza maintaining DOC certification (Denominazione de origine controllata), an Italian label for quality assurance. To maintain this status, the vines must be greater than 80 years old, and watered only once every 20 days. This stresses the plant and cause them to dig their roots down deep, creating a heartier plant for years to come. In addition, nets cannot be used to protect the vines from the hail storms which frequent the region – the nets partly block the sunlight and therefore compromise the ripening process. So, Lagarde is taking a gamble every year with storms.
The tour was lovely and we got a peek into the organic vegetable garden onsite – with mammoth cabbage, tomatoes, corn, lettuce, and potatoes. We tasted a chardonnay, “Henry”, the wineries trademark blend which changes each and every year it´s made. Our 2012 version was 47% Malbec, 26% Petit Verdot, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cab Franc. After 24 months in oak barrels, the wine is rich, fruity, a little spicy, and delightful. We finished with a sparkling pinot, creamy, cold and zingy.
Our experience at this little vineyard was so lovely we returned two days later for lunch. There are two options, a six course tasting menu paired with wines, or a three course menu of the same nature. Not feeling quite up to six courses, we opted for three. The tables set for six courses certainly looked daunting.
Seated outside in a beautiful leafy garden with live music, we embarked on one of the most lovely lunches you can imagine. Starting off, unoaked Chardonnay with fresh vegetables from the garden, homemade bread, black olive reduction and eggplant puree.
Second, a mammoth filet of Argentine beef, cooked to utter perfection and paired with a carrot cumin puree and roasted potato. Alongside, the Henry blend.
We finished with a fresh berry sorbet, roasted peaches, marscarpone cream and butter crumble. Our lovely friend Julia gave us both the dessert wine options, a sparkling pinot rose and a late harvest Henry, which was described as liquid honey. Heaven in a glass.
In Mendoza and at Lagarde, wine “tastings” are hardly the sample sizes I´ve come to know in other wine regions – you are getting hefty amounts of delicious wine. Clear evidence below, after having already drunk half.
The food was incredible, all thoughtfully prepared onsite with local ingredients and vegetables grown 100 meters away. The wines are top-notch as are the staff – this place is highly recommended to anyone passing through Mendoza. You can find Lagarde here.