The Good Life

Truth in Wine: Uncovering the Real Deal in Mendoza

April 16, 2014, by: Montesquieu

On the occasion of our release of the highly-anticipated 2010 vintage of our client-favorite Don Zofanor Meritage, it’s worth exploring together what makes wine so special.

Certainly wine is nothing less than what’s in the glass — and by that measure, the thoroughly delicious 2010 Meritage is very special indeed. But truly great wine is about more than just taste. It’s about terroir. It’s about tradition. And most of all, it’s about people.

It’s hard to forget this after a visit with Don Zofanor’s  veteran winemaker Federico Benegas-Lynch, whose great-grandfather essentially founded modern winemaking in Mendoza in the 19th century.  Spend a few moments with Federico, and you’ll see immediately that he’s the real deal. Spend an entire evening with him walking the vines and talking late into the night, as we did, and you’ll find yourself refreshed, challenged, and inspired.

Below is our account of that magical day in Mendoza and what it taught us. If you can’t find your way to Argentina just now, we recommend you find your way to a cache of the 2010 Meritage before it’s gone and taste for yourself the passion of Federico.

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Intimate Asado Dinner with Federico Benegas-Lynch & Don Zofanor

History. Tradition. Family. You’ve probably noticed that these words get thrown around a lot in the wine industry. These days, everyone seems to be claiming that they’re family-owned and family-run, that they are tapping into a tradition as old as the sun, that they use historical winemaking methods.

It’s easy to tune out this sort of rhetoric as marketing-based background noise. And as merchants who are barraged by wineries who want us to introduce them to our clients, we at Montesquieu Winery know how critical it is to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. To determine whether there’s real history and tradition in play, and whether it matters to the quality of the wine, we have to do more than just scratch the surface. We have to dig deeper, to pull back the veil to see whether these buzz words reflect something real and unique, or whether they’re merely a marketer’s fancy.

The best way to do that, of course, is to visit the property in person. Go to the vineyards, inspect the winery, taste the wine in its place of origin. Are the vines really old and gnarled? Are they tended naturally and by hand with no trace of chemicals or machine work? Do the grapes taste fresh and vibrant off the vine? What kinds of barrels do they use, and how do they use them? Is the facility clean and pristine? Is the winery a tourist showpiece or a place with real history?

And most of all – who’s there to greet you? Is it a salesperson or hospitality manager? Or is it the owner, the winemaker, someone who pours his or her heart and soul into the winery’s work? What stories do they tell? Are they personal stories, family stories, tales full of history and tradition? And can you feel their passion for the vines as they talk?

Our Gracious Host Federico with Fonda

Do this enough, and you’ll get pretty good at sniffing out empty rhetoric – and you’ll know the real thing when you see it.

Let us give you an example. A small group of Montesquieu wine brokers were in Argentina along with our buying team visiting with our favorite producers and investigating new opportunities. (For more about our trip, including our harvest experience at Michel Rolland’s winery, look here and here.) One Tuesday afternoon, on our way from the Uco Valley to Mendoza proper, we stopped at a winery (which shall remain nameless) that wanted to do a project with us. When they reached out to us initially, they had said all the right things, but we were there to find out for ourselves.

Good thing, too.  We were hosted by their director of sales (the owner was nowhere to be found).  The tour was nice, and our guide was informative. But there was a problem, the kind of thing you only learn if you’re there in person. It was the middle of harvest, and as we walked by the grape receiving area, we saw stacks of bins full of grapes sitting in the scorching sun while the workers took a lunch break.  We would never let this happen to our grapes at such a critical moment when they are most vulnerable. When harvesting in Napa, we work through until the grapes are entirely in, or we store them in a cold locker to preserve freshness.  The skins of a grape give it most of its tannin and acid – indeed most of its character – and letting these brittle berries bake in the sun, off-the-vine, is the worst thing for them.  It can cause the skin to crack and shrivel, violating the integrity of the wine and robbing it of vitality.

As our tour continued, the more we looked the more we noticed how huge the operation was, how they were pumping out large quantities of wine without the care and attention we expect, how their techniques were oriented more toward volume and style and the market rather than expressing terroir.  We tasted through their wines, and there was nothing wrong with them per se. But in a word, the operation was commercial, not artistic, and we could tell that many of the decisions in the vineyard and cellar were driven by sales and financials, not by an abiding passion for the life of the vine.

We had another appointment later that day in Mendoza, and the difference could not have been more stark. Federico Benegas-Lynch, of Don Zofanor fame, is the owner and genius behind this estate begun by his great-grandfather. Along with his right-hand-man Andres, Federico spent all evening with us, walking us through his vineyards, tasting the grapes off the vine, showing us his ancient stone cellar and impeccable winery facility, talking of his passion for Mendoza, telling us stories from his family history, and sharing a long traditional Argentine meal with us.

But it didn’t take all night to realize what we were experiencing. After moments with him, we knew: this is the real deal.


Maybe it was when he took us to his cherished 110-year old Cabernet Franc vines (yes, you read that right: 110 years old!), and the juicy, rich, fresh, ready-to-pick grapes tasted unlike any other Cab Franc grapes we’d had.

Or maybe it was observing how he frequently stood in the vineyards in silence, breathing in the dusk air, gazing over the vines to the Andes Mountains in the background. In those moments, it was if he was alone out there, in his own world, just Federico and his beloved terroir. His passion was palpable, and contagious.

Or maybe it was when he showed us the winery records book begun by his grandfather, in which the first handwritten entry was dated 1918 – and then told us about how his great-grandfather settled in Mendoza in 1883 when it was only a cattle center and hand-carried cuttings from Bordeaux, helping to launch the Mendoza wine industry.


You can’t fake this stuff. And the quality of wine that results from true tradition, history, and artistic passion is unmistakable. We experienced that over the course of our dinner together, as he poured some of his best cuvées for us – wines with distinctive personalities that were elegant, full of character and life, each more fascinating than the one before. The meal – a traditional Argentine asado with various cuts of fresh meat roasting on a massive fire just behind our 40-foot long wooden table – went late into the night. We talked, laughed, and cried (literally!) while reflecting on our shared love for great wine and the human stories behind it.

So this is what we seek for all of our Montesquieu wines. Authenticity. Personality. Passion. And yes – real history, tradition and family. The kind that Federico and his wines have in spades.

We’re thrilled to be able to bring back to our clients the fruit of our relationship with Federico by way of the 2010 Don Zofanor Meritage. This stirring blend of classic Bordeaux varietals Malbec, Cabernet, Cab Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot is inspired by Federico’s great-grandfather, who aspired to follow the example of the world’s most famous growing region in building the Mendoza wine industry. It’s an homage to this vision and to the tradition and values he has passed down through the generations, culminating in Federico’s passionate work.

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What’s Cooking With Montesquieu Wines: Three Simple and Delicious Spring Recipes With Wines

April 21, 2012, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi

Chinese Chicken Salad with Spicy Ginger Dressing by Giao Trac

Spring is in full swing—the perfect time to share some simple and delicious recipes, paired with some of our favorite Montesquieu wines. We hope you enjoy these spring-inspired delights, enjoy!

Chinese Chicken Salad with Spicy Ginger Dressing
Recipe adapted from original by Giao Trac of  Kiss My Spatula

Serves 2

You may also substitute the chicken with grilled tofu, shrimp or any protein of your liking.

Chinese Chicken Salad

Ingredients
1 boneless chicken breast, skin removed
1 medium-sized Napa (or Savoy) cabbage, thinly sliced
2 carrots, shredded
1 small tomato, thinly sliced
1 mango, thinly sliced
4 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
2 tbsp. roasted sesame seeds
handful of fresh mint, chopped
handful of cilantro, chopped
handful of roasted peanuts

Spicy Ginger Dressing

Ingredients
2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger
1 tablespoon Sriracha chili sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/8 teaspoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Preparation
To poach chicken, place the breast in a small saucepan and add water, about 1 inch above the chicken. Cover and bring to a boil. Once boiled, immediately lower heat to a very slow simmer and partly cover for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the chicken to cook in hot water for another 15 minutes. Once cooled, shred chicken and set aside.

If you prefer grilling or barbecue, use boneless and skinless chicken thighs instead, lightly brushed with vegetable oil.

In a large bowl, whisk together all the ingredients for the spicy ginger dressing.

Add the cabbage, chicken, carrots, tomato, mint and cilantro to the large bowl and toss gently. Top with mango slices and roasted peanuts. Garnish with scallions and roasted sesame seeds, and serve immediately.

Pair with our 2009 Symmetria, a California blend of Viognier, Roussane and Marsanne or our 2009 Hammel Chardonnay from the Willamette Valley.

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The Montesquieu Winemaking Experience

March 28, 2012, by: Stephen George

Our barrel room

Montesquieu Winery has long been committed not only to sourcing and crafting for our clients some of the finest wines in the world, but also to offering our clients a unique experience of the good life. In all that we do, we seek to champion the value of direct relationships and the joy of personal experience. After all, what else is great wine about?

It is with this in mind that we designed The Montesquieu Winemaking Experience. For the first time, we are offering our clients the opportunity to experience what it means to be a winemaker in Napa Valley. A limited number of clients will have an opportunity to purchase an entire barrel of our best 2010 wine (approximately 25 cases) to call their own – to name, brand, label and even blend in person in Napa with their broker under the guidance of our winemaker Hélène Mingot. View Full Post

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Finding Federico: Montesquieu Winery in Search of the Real Deal

August 10, 2011, by: Stephen George

Intimate Asado Dinner with Federico Benegas-Lynch & Don Zofanor

History. Tradition. Family. You’ve probably noticed that these words get thrown around a lot in the wine industry. These days, everyone seems to be claiming that they’re family-owned and family-run, that they are tapping into a tradition as old as the sun, that they use historical vineyard techniques or winemaking methods or what have you.

It’s easy to tune out this sort of rhetoric as marketing-based background noise. And as merchants who are barraged by wineries who want us to introduce them to our clients, we at Montesquieu Wines know how critical it is to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. To truly determine whether there’s real history and tradition in play, and whether it matters to the quality of the wine, we have to do more than just scratch the surface. We have to dig deeper, to pull back the veil to see whether these buzz words reflect something real and unique, or whether they’re merely a marketer’s fancy. View Full Post

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Decanting Basics, by Montesquieu Winery: Part 1 — Why and When to Decant?

July 12, 2011, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi

With so many decanters and accessories to choose from, for some the idea of decanting may be intimidating or seem pretentious. We at Montesquieu Winery would like to share the basics of decanting because it is actually a very simple and extremely valuable tool that can bring out the best in your wines!

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Montesquieu Winery Reflects On Independence Day and The Spirit of Wine: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

July 2, 2011, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi

Happy Birthday America! Independence Day is upon us, the Fourth of July- the day in 1776 that the wording of the Declaration of Independence was approved by Congress.

The eloquent second sentence of the Declaration shines and endures, one of the most celebrated and revered of American history:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Ahh, the pursuit of happiness. One of the many great things about our country is that we provide people the freedom to choose their path to happiness. No matter the challenges we face and the many issues that warrant change or improvement, the fact remains how very fortunate we are! View Full Post

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What’s Cooking with Montesquieu Wine: Sensational Summer Recipes with Pairings

June 15, 2011, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi

Whether you have an almost endless summer climate or the full swing of four seasons, summer is here! With Father’s Day approaching and the 4th of July shortly after, it seems the perfect time to share some of our favorite recipes and wines that we particularly enjoy this time of year.

We love hearing from our community of wine lovers, which of course includes our Montesquieu Wine Brokers who are well-versed in all things food and wine.  A natural occupational passion is the discovery of meals that work particularly well with our diverse selection of Montesquieu wines.  Join us as we kick off summer in search of the perfect pairing….. View Full Post

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Travel Insights: Montesquieu Winery on the Splendors of Venice ”Queen of the Adriatic”

June 11, 2011, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi

Sunset-Europe-Gondola-Italy-List_of_World_Heritage_Sites_in_Europe-Venice-World_Heritage_Site-image

Grand Canal at Sunset

It’s no secret Montesquieu Winery is fond of exploring wine regions off the beaten track, inspired by the thrill of adventure and discovery as we seek new and exciting sources for our international portfolio of Montesquieu Wines.

That being said, we also relish the wealth of experiences one finds traveling to classic destinations such as Paris, Rome, New York, London, Barcelona and the like. Even though these cities are not wine regions, and not off the beaten track, the opportunities to be immersed in fine food and wine are great with an abundance of world-class dining and top-notch wine lists, plus in many cases wonderful wine regions nearby!  Add the museums, shops, and cultural treasures galore, and you have all the ingredients that most consider essential to the art of living well. View Full Post

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What’s Cooking with Montesquieu Wines: 4 Classic Spring Recipes with Pairings

May 6, 2011, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi

Alexandra Holt's Roasted Cod With Vegetables

Roasted Cod With Vegetables

We at Montesquieu Winery are very passionate about finding and making the very best wines possible—wines we are inspired by and know our clients will love. It is natural that when we discover particularly delicious pairings that we would want to share them with you!

With the recent spring holidays and warmer weather now upon us, several delightful dishes jump to the forefront that are especially fabulous this time of year. The recipes are straightforward, yet elegant, and include recommendations for pairings from our eclectic portfolio of international Montesquieu Wines.

What could be more enjoyable than sharing a lovely meal and wines with friends and family? Not much in our book! As you all juggle busy lives, we hope that you find these recipes to be a helpful part of your food and wine repertoire. View Full Post

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Living La Vida Argentina: Montesquieu, Mariflor and More

April 16, 2011, by: Stephen George

Chateau Fontenil Fronsac

Michel Rolland’s home in Fronsac

This is a story about Argentina.  But like so much in the wine world, this story starts in France, one year ago.

During last year’s Montesquieu Winery trip to Bordeaux to taste the 2009 vintage en primeur, Michel Rolland invited us to his house to spend the evening.  He lives in a beautiful old farmhouse on a hill overlooking the Fronsac appellation, just outside of Libourne on Bordeaux’s Right Bank.  Not surprisingly, he makes a wine there too – a terrific Merlot/Cab Franc blend sourced from the vines surrounding his home. View Full Post

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