the grandeur of Valle de Uco

Once I began reading about the Uco valley (Internet trip planning) I knew I had to visit. [ed. one of many spectacular views in the valley, this from Bodega Salentien] It just sounded too incredible: the region where the big money was taking up roost; bodegas spread even more few and far between than Maipu or Lujan du Cuyo, highest altitude vineyards in Mendoza province, and proximity to the second largest peak, Tupungato at over19,000 feet, in the Andes. Knowing there would be a major peak that I could actually see with the naked eye while touring vineyards was important because it meant I could easily torpedo any move to take a day-long bus ride (10 hours) to Aconcagua, the tallest Andean peak that can only be seen after a long bus ride up the mountain and which is a popular tourist activity when at a loss for what to do next in Mendoza. When my team was at a loss for what to do next in Mendoza we asked Posada de Rosas hostess Ellen and she suggested we have lunch in the Parque San Martin where tourists seldom ventured. As usual she was perfectly correct.
Before we review the day in Valle de Uco, I want to finish the second half of the previous day in Maipu and Lujan de Cuyo. After touring Bodegas Tempus Alba and Achaval Ferrer we were driven to the Carlos Pulenta compound in Lujan de Cuyo where we were set to have lunch at the Mendoza’s finest restaurant La Bourgogne followed by a bodega tour. One can be easily fooled by a first look at the Pulenta facility. It presents as a familiar Latino rectangular compound centered around an open courtyard. There is a posada with a few rooms above the entrance and the restaurant is at the other end of the central pathway. the bodega? All underground. And it is huge.
The bodega tour was efficient. We saw the fermentation tanks and long open storage rooms. Unlike any other winery I have seen, the bottles are stored for aging individually in piles along the walls. This requires multiple opportunities to break them form the excessive handling, from the bottling line, to the storage area, back to the bottling line for labeling, and then into the shipping cases. The most interesting part of the tour was the tasting room (pictured here). I was not interested in tasting any Pulenta wines but I was very interested in examining the wall of Lujan dirt that comprised the room’s longest wall.
The lunch is worth mentioning. The food was very good but the service, as noted by tasting team member PeeWee, was “indifferent”. We ordered the 2004 Vistalba Corte B from the wine list ($31 US) which was anything but indifferent. Vistalba is one of many Pulenta’s lines. Corte is the Argentine word for a blend. corte-b-vistalba-2003.jpgThere is also a Corte A and C. Corte B blends 57% Malbec, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 13% Bonnarda. Blueberry flavors. Feel was luscious. Liked it mucho [ed. even with all the cab?] Made a note to buy it in LA. Price is $25. Corte A blends Malbec and Cab in more equal amounts, but the Corte C is the one I have to try. It is 85% Malbec and 15% Merlot which, in my view, is the better blend.
and now…at long last…the Valle de Uco…
Riding to the valley is kind of like driving from LA up the backside of the California Sierras to Mammoth Mountain, except the ride is much shorter. We head south form Mendoza on Highway 42 which is like Route 66 in that it traverses the country at its longest points, north to south. Rustic, low scrub chapparal, two lane blacktop. You know you are in the boonies when the Difunte Correa and Gauchito Gil shrines start showing up alongside the road. Here is another website about Difunte Correa, the “unofficial” national saint who, along with Gil, is not recognized as divine by the Catholic Church. We crested a long hill and there was the valley with its spectacular mountains that command your eyes to continually stare…until we hit the first bodega
Salentein tour group 2.jpgSalentein is the Pulenta compound in spades. It is a posada, an art gallery and a bodega in three separate buildings each occupying its own acre in a triangle arrangement. The photo above shows the walk form the gallery to the winery. I wanted to stay here but could not arrange it. The bodega, like Pulenta, is underground, however, you could fit about six Pulenta facilities into this one. If you have ever visited the Medici Tombs you have an idea of the scale and spectacle. I had to ask the guide who was buried here. The place is stupefyingly stupendous.
The place is almost overwhelming with its multiple underground levels. Art is not just in the gallery but everywhere…inside and outside This piece is adjacent to the elevator door between hose storage and the “temple” storage room. Eventually – and we were in no rush – we arrived at the tasting room. Here is what they poured us.
2006 Salentein Chardonnay $17: High acid on the nose. Tastes like chardonnay with higher acid than I expect. No tropical flavors. 6 months oak. 14%
2003 Salentein Merlot$15: Black olive on the nose. Smoky. Not impressive. 14.5%
Salentine pinot.jpg2004 Salentein Pinot Noir $17: Smoke on the nose. Meaty fruit like a thick fleshy plum. Some barnyard, lightweight. Too much alcohol. Surprising the fruit is so nice. 15.5%
Salentein’s premium line is Primus, not tasted. I have found that Salentein wines are not easy to locate, at least in LA. This is a shame because they are very good value and decent wines. They offer a wide range of varietals, as well.
Bodega Andeluna is the creation of Ward Lay, of Frito-Lay. That is correct. The same man who brought the world cheet-ohs owns a world class winery in Valle de Uco. We had a fabulous experience here. This was our lunch stop and, unlike the other “premium” dining spot, this was the top stop for the entire trip.
We never did the bodega tour because lunching with Chef Pablo cooking and serving us was too much to hurry through. Because we took the premium tasting meal we did taste some really nice wines…and ate some truly special food…and had some excellent chatting with Chef Pablo. Here are the wines…Michel Rolland gets consulting credit. San Francisco Wine Exchange imports.Andlna_05_chard_R_bottle.gif
2005 Andeluna Chardonnay: Baking soda, and oak on the nose. Good acid. Taste the wood. Generic. 13.4%
2005 Andeluna Chardonnay Reserve: Faint hint of sulfur and minerals on the nose, green olives. Nice mineral flavors. Oak is way in the back. Lemon cream. Meringue. This is a chard I can drink! Grown at 4,000 feet with 12 months in French oak. 13.1%. Bravo!
2005 Andeluna Merlot: Rosy nose, floral. Asparagus emerges. Olives after several minutes. Fruit forward with tannic reserve. Flabby, too sweet (ripe) and fruity. Michel Rolland all over this wine. 14%
Andlna_06_malbec_WS_bottle.gif2006 Andeluna Malbec $8: Buttered popcorn. White pepper. Younger, spicy. Lean middleweight. Excellent. Rich. Chef Pablo loves this wine. At this U10 price it is a total bargain. 14.2%.
2004 Andeluna Malbec Limited Reserve: Spicy and light citric nose. Lighter weight than expected. Balanced nicely. Tannic. 18 months in new oak. Complex and structured in a purposeful way. Cognac flavors which means high alcohol. Some caramel on finish. 14.7%
Andlna_Pass_03.gif2003 Andeluna Pasianado: Blend of 20% Malbec, 35% Merlot, 35% Cab Sauv and 10% Cab Franc. Smells great. Caramel on the nose. But it is jammy, some red currants, bologna, prosciutto. Has some weight, smooth going down. 14.7%
The Missus says it tastes a lot like a wine Jim Moore, or Bob Mueller, a couple of those under-the-radar Napa winemakers covered by tBoW, who have just been making great wines for a slew of folks over numerous decades. Jim’s label is l’Uvaggio di Giacomoand he used to make a wine named Parador. Bob is the winemaker at McKenzie-Mueller, profiled on this blog several times.
Now if we can just figure out where to buy some!!

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