Discovering the Land of Sun and Wine: Montesquieu Winery Explores Mendoza
April 8, 2011, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi
Argentina was destined for wine greatness—with terrain that the world’s best wine growers and wine makers have fallen in love with, accentuated by the vibrant cultural mix of Spanish, Italian and Amerindian influences. Wine lovers have responded to this region and its star Malbec with fervor, which has spurred even more investments in the area with an expansion of varietals along with it. It is not surprising that Argentina is now the 6th largest producer of wine in the world, and the largest producer in South America.
The heart of Argentina’s wine country is Mendoza, known by locals as “la tierra del sol y del vino” or “the land of sun and wine” where the country’s most famous wines are produced. Mendoza is both the name of the province and its capital city which is the case for all of the provinces in the country. The name Mendoza is a Spanish surname of Basque origin meaning cold mountain, an appropriate name as Mendoza sprawls along the eastern foothills of the dramatic Andes Mountains which are snow-capped all year long.
The terroir of the region has the irresistible allure of a siren’s song—featuring low humidity, ample sun, low-fertitlity soils, and cool mountain nights. Mendoza accounts for nearly two-thirds of the country’s entire wine production, and is the world’s only major wine region above three thousand feet of elevation. Mendoza lies in the shadow of Mount Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Andes as well as the Americas, and this force acts as a barrier from the Pacific rain which creates an intense and ideal microclimate.
One of the most impressive historical features of the area is the advanced system of irrigation channels which was developed and built by the indigenous Huarpes. Utilizing the snow-melt fed Mendoza River, this simple flood-irrigation technique has been used for centuries in Mendoza. Both furrow and drip-irrigation have become more common for various reasons, including restriction of water due to less snowfall, new vineyard districts, and desire to improve efficiency.
The well-drained alluvial soils were formed millions of years ago by rivers and glaciers and are layered with sand, rocks, pebbles, lime and clay. This combination of less-fertile soil, intense sun, and cool nights results in naturally low yields of ripe and concentrated fruit which gives wine makers nature’s best to craft intense and age worthy wines with a sensual and magical range of personalities with distinct sense of place.
Mendoza City was founded by the Spaniards in 1561. Each sub-region within Mendoza has its own climate, soil and history, lending unique signatures to their respective wines. There are twelve sub-regions with the most prominent being Agrelo, Luján de Cuyo, Maipú and the Uco Valley. These areas have attracted top wine makers and growers from all over the world, and feature mostly the highest quality and oldest vines in the country.
Agrelo is a small sub-region 20 miles south of Mendoza City, based around a township of the same name which borders Luján de Cuyo. The average altitude of Agrelo vineyards is 3300 feet above sea level with alluvial soil types. The varietals suited to the region include Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Pinot Gris and Torrontes are also produced, and are gaining in popularity and recognition for individual style.
Luján de Cuyo
Southwest of Mendoza City with vineyards all along the glacial Mendoza River. The purity and low salinity of this river are huge benefits to wine growing here. The area is known particularly for Malbec, but also Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Torrontes, among others including Merlot, Syrah, Sangiovese, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc.
Situated southeast of Mendoza City and along what is called the Upper Mendoza River, just east of Luján de Cuyo. The vineyards are between 2000 and 3500 ft elevation and are irrigated by small canals fed by the glacial snow melt of the Mendoza River. Malbec, Chardonnay and Tempranillo are suited for the climate and are very well known here.
The Uco Valley
Although part of the Mendoza region, the area is quite distinct spanning 45 miles long from Tupungato in the north to San Carlos in the south, and 15 miles wide following the Tunuyan River that flows north-south, from its origin high in the Andes. The varietals that shine here are Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Torrontes.
We at Montesquieu Winery have had Argentina on our radar for years, carrying wines from from Mendoza, but also other up and coming regions such as Patagonia and San Juan. Our relationships continue to broaden, bringing unique and exciting opportunities our way for expanding our exclusive international portfolio of Montesquieu Wines.
We will keep you posted with developments in the beautiful and historical Mendoza, as well as other regions that are up and coming such as Salta and San Rafael. In addition, we will share some of the flavors and textures of Argentine cooking, with its vibrant blend of Italian, Spanish and Amerindian influences—centered around the national obsession with premium beef and grilled meats. Stay tuned!