There are 1,200 bodegas in Mendoza…including Tempus Alba and Achaval Ferrer

For the busy readers of this blog who just want the purity of essence, here are the highlights in brief: (1) when touring Mendoza bodegas you need a driver and reservations; (2) the bodegas we visited in Lujan de Cuyo and Maipu made excellent wine, and (3) Valle de Uco is the must-see region. The photo is one view from Achaval Ferrer in Lujan de Cuyo.
One of the highlights of any trip to Mendoza is touring the bodegas (wineries, schmendrick). This is not Napa, or Sonoma or Paso, or Bordeaux, or Piemonte, or Languedoc. It is most like Languedoc in that the bodegas are spread out few and far between. And everywhere there are vineyards. It is Argentina and has quite possibly the world’s finest growing conditions for producing great wines.
We visited the following bodegas: Tempus Alba, Achaval Ferrer, Carlos Pulenta (Vistalba), Salentein, and Andeluna. We were set to taste at La Azul but we dawdled so long at Andeluna (meal o’ trip) that we blew that one. I crawled through an opening hole in the entry wall and went on the grounds to take a couple photos of the very humble bodega.
La Azul bodega Uco 2.jpgAlthough I am working with a small sample of only five bodegas I believe they are somewhat representative of the region and the wine scene. Because there are 1,200 bodegas in Mendoza I am willing to bet no more than 100 produce more than 100,000 cases annually. The smallest of the five bodegas we visited produces about 12,000 cases (Achaval Ferrer) which leaves a lot of boutique wineries waiting to be discovered…in Mendoza province and elsewhere.
The purportedly 1,200 bodegas in Mendoza produce 70% to 80% (depending on your source) of Argentina’s wine production. I purchased incomplete regional maps showing the locations of bodegas that paid to be included. Unfortunately, there is not a comprehensive bodega map available online or on the street. If there was one it would be well worth a reasonable price to the turista. [ed. I paid $10 online for a map of Recoleta Cemetery which made all the difference.] If bodegas were listed at no charge then turistas could be confident most if not all bodegas were represented. The map for Valle de Uco, for example, does not include the legendary (at least in my mind) bodega La Azul. Perhaps their meager (precious?) 500 case production does not support the cost for inclusion.
While Mendoza is the nation’s dominant wine growing region there are other areas. Most notable are Cafayate north of Salta and the Rio Negro region in Patagonia. The map below gives a quick idea of Argentina’s wine regions.map_Argentina.gif posada in the Andean valley of Calchaqui. Nothing but high-altitude vines and wines, and peaceful (blissful?) days. Add a mountain bike and I am in heaven (and probably passed out from the elevation). Take a look at this March 2007 video shot at Colom√©. I will not be happy until I am there!
OK. I am officially obsessed with Bodega Colom√©. Here is the same guy tasting the award winning Torrontes and Malbec on the grounds of Colom√© as he puts it as high as Europe’s famous ski resorts.
[ed. Colom√© alert. Hi Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa (ask for Patty Quick) carries the Colom√© Malbec and Torrontes. As my high school English teacher used to remind us “a word to the wise is sufficient”. The Malbec is wonderful. You want the Torrontes.]
That is a lot of writing about a winery we did not visit. How about two we did?
Tempus Alba is located in the Maipu region of Mendoza about 10 kilometers outside the city. There are a couple things to make clear about bodega touring in Mendoza. Word is you need a reservation. I can verify this as every one of the wineries we pulled up to had a gate and a guard who checked his reservation list. You need a driver. It is not that the driving is so difficult. It is a matter of reading the signs, or lack thereof. We had the same guy for two days and he and his late model Chrysler van were much appreciated.
Tempus has three vineyards; one each in Valle de Uco, Lujan de Cuyo and Maipu. Their Maipu vineyard is at the lowest elevation (2,600 feet). Malbec from Maipu shows a distinct hint of citrus, i.e., orange peel, in the nose and mouth. We noticed it first in Buenos Aires at Tomo 1. Our Tempus Alba hostess confirmed it for us as we sampled a flight of seven wines on the outdoor patio [ed. prices in US$$].
2005 Tempus Alba Tempranillo $15: Notable acid backbone. Good fruit. Not my grape. 13.9% We did note that Tempranillo is a popular varietal.
tempus rosado.jpg2007 Tempus Alba Malbec Ros√© $10: Nothing wrong with this wine except that IMHO Malbec does not an attractive ros√© make. Now Syrah…that does an attractive ros√© make. Channeling Yoda. 14%
Thumbnail image for tempus syrah.jpg2005 Tempus Alba Syrah: White pepper nose. Sweet flavor. Not like the Syrahs I know from France or California. Not bad either. 13.9%. THis was one of a few Argentine Syrahs I liked.
tempus malbec 05.jpg2005 Tempus Alba Malbec $13: Ripe, moderately tannic. Citric nose and flavor. Naranja. Bacon, cured ham. Like this one. 14.1%.
tempus plano 03.jpg2003 Tempus Alba Pleno $22: The big finish big ticket wine. Also a medal winner. 60% Malbec and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. Ripe figs on the nose. Fig Newtons in the flavor. Too sweet for me. Overripe. I concluded the Malbec/Cab blend is my least favorite. 14.1%
2004 Tempus Alba Cabernet Sauvignon: Rich flavors. Heavyweight cab. Not a cab guy. 14%
Next stop Achaval Ferrer, the bodega most frequently associated with excellence and achievement in Argentine winemaking, is only 10 years old. It is a partnership of six men, four Argentine investors from business and two Italians from winemaking backgrounds. While Tempus Alba refers to themselves as a big boutique (350,000 cases) Achaval Ferrer is truly a boutique bodega in spirit, intention and production.
We barrel and bottle tasted at this very impressive bodega where the commitment to excellence is authentic. Like Tempus Alba the bodega is set up for gravity flow, equipment is modern and the facility appears spanking clean. I did snap the photo below of a worker stomping down what looks like stems. Like Tempus Alba grapes originate from vineyards throughout Mendoza’s finest regions, ranging in altitude from 2,000 to 3,500 feet. Achaval Ferrer is imported to Southern California by TGIC Importers and is available at local vendor Woodland Hills Wine Company.
Achaval Ferrer produces five wines; three vineyard designated (fincas), a premium blend and the normal Malbec. Interestingly, Achaval Ferrer has ceased posting tasting notes on its website! So you better get them here! Here is what we tasted from barrel…
2007 Achaval Ferrer Cabernet Sauvignon: Spicy nose. PeeWee detects tapioca (vanilla from oak?). 12 months in barrel.
2007 Achaval Ferrer Merlot: Camphor in the nose, herbal aromas. Promising.
2007 Achaval Ferrer Cabernet Franc: Balsamic nose, minty. Interesting. Good thing they blend these.
And from bottle…
AF quimira 05.gif2007 Quimera $40: This their premium blend of 40% Malbec, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Franc. Now we know where the grapes go. Yeasty, doughy on the nose.Tannic. Dry finish. Will take years. I will buy the blend that reverses the Cab Sauv and Cab France proportions.
The flagship wines are the single vineyard Malbecs; Finca Altamira, Finca Mirador and Finca Bella Vista. These are all outstanding wines, but one stands head and shoulders over the others. We tasted samples from the most recently released vintages.
ACHAVAL_FERRER_B_200.jpg2005 Achaval Ferrer Finca Mirador Malbec $75: From a 2400 foot vineyard in the Medrano region of Mendoza. 12 months in barrel. Pronounced citrus flavors. 577 cases produced. 13%.
2005 Achaval Ferrer Finca Altamira Malbec $75: The Valle de Uco vineyard at 3,600 feet. Tea on the nose. Acidic. Warm finish. Chewy, caramel. You would think it was higher alcohol but only 13%. 670 cases.
AF bella vista.jpg2004 Achaval Ferrer Finca Bella Vista $100: Ladies and gentlemen we have a champion. And it will cost you. Could even be worth it although there are at least a couple competitors from Argentina in this price range. Candy flavors, Life savers. Refined. Elegant. Powdery vanilla scents and flavors. Exotic. 3,200 foot vineyard. 13.9% The 2005 and 2006 vintages of Bella Vista were lost to hail. The 2007 will be the next release. Look for it.
2006 Achaval Ferrer Malbec Mendoza $18: Fruity, soft tannins. Not a keeper nor is it intended to be. Achaval Ferrer produces 8,000 cases of Malbec Mendoza from vineyards at 2,500 feet in Lujan du Cuyo and Maipu. In this price range I think there are better Malbecs. 13.5%
An example of a better wine in the U20 group is the 2005 Filus Reserve Malbec. This $12 wine from Hi Time Wine Cellars has everything I learned to enjoy in Argentine Malbec wines; Maipu fruit (Lulunta Valley, must be near Medrona [ed. in fact it is]), no Cabernet in the blend (in fact it is 100% Malbec), and low alcohol. Has the mocha and citrus like an exotic dark chocolate bar from Venezuela and the tannins to go a few years. Turns out Filus produces the La Boca label that can be found in TJs. [ed. Tell them you met the guy in Mendoza who designed the label]. Congrats to Patty Q for picking this one out of the pack. Heads up: Filus bottles single vineyards. Checkumout Patty! Something tells me there are plenty more bodegas like this one in Mendoza’s pool of 1,200.
That was one half day touring. Next up Salentein and Andeluna in the spectacular Valle de Uco.

2 Comments

  1. Wavatar
    king says:

    sounds like this isn’t as pop-in-friendly a region as one would think?
    i have tried many Argie wines, and while I’ve enjoyed them, I’ve rarely gone back for more. Good quality/price ratio, etc.

  2. Wavatar
    Bacchus says:

    Pop-in is available in some places as I read a blog where a guy rode a rented bike around Lujon and popped in to some bodegas…which is a good ride given the distances between. But not to the ones you and I want to visit like AF and TA. And especially not to Uco which is 100 km south and uphill. I think this is a matter of not yet having evolved a wine touring culture. I can easily see the day when popping in ala’ Napa is the norm. After all, there are hundreds of bodegas that are completely off the map…literally. Next post will present Uco. As for the wines..I also plan to post on the wines that impressed me most (i.e., Colome’) as well as on how these wines seem to not be available at least locally (like La Azul). In other words, we are not getting the good stuff…yet. Try the Filus if you can find it.

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