Clemens: Malbec and Mendoza
If you drink Argentine wine – which doesn’t, given its high quality and excellent QPR (value for money) – you’ve probably seen Mendoza on the label.
Mendoza is Argentina’s largest wine region – 75% of the country’s vineyards. It has the most wineries – over 1,200. It is a world-class producer of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Mendoza is a large province of 57,462 square miles, almost the size of Illinois. Located in central-western Argentina, the impressive snow-capped mountains of the Andes create a picturesque backdrop for its vineyards. They also play a crucial role in winemaking.
The Andes create a rain shadow, preventing wet weather from the Pacific Ocean from reaching Argentina. Instead, the moisture falls as snow on the mountains. This makes Mendoza one of the sunniest and driest wine regions on the planet with less than nine inches of precipitation per year. About the same as the Gobi Desert.
As a result, Mendoza is a virtual blank slate for growing vines. It is flat, sunny and nearly pest free. The flatness means that grape growers can easily operate mechanical grape pickers – something grape growers in other regions, where the vineyards are on the mountainside, can only drool over. With the labor shortage in the wine industry, this becomes even more important.
Then there are the snow-capped mountains. Snowmelt rivers supply the arid plains with the water necessary for life. For the vines.
Altitude is another gift from God. The vineyards of Mendoza are between 1,500 and 7,000 feet above sea level. This means greater exposure to sun and UV during the day and a sharp drop in temperature at night. A magic formula in winemaking. Daytime heat and UV promote ripening. The cold at night breeds acidity. Great wines are a balance between maturity and acidity.
Mendoza produces more Malbec than any other place in the world. It also produces cabernet sauvignon, syrah and bonarda. These grapes engender the lush, bold flavors that wine drinkers covet.
Mendoza is divided into five sub-regions: Maipu, Lujan de Cuyo, Uco Valley, San Rafael and San Martin. There are nuanced differences in the wines produced in each, but each is capable of producing exceptional wines.
This is clearly far too big a subject for a short column, but if you like red wine, you certainly like wines made in Mendoza. If you don’t like Mendoza wines, try a few to taste what you’re missing.
When is a door not a door? When it’s ajar. Wine time.
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