Getting Your Money's Worth
Mendoza, Argentia is great value for your money. Your dollar goes almost as far as the stunning vistas, and the European charm felt in the Italian-sprinkled Spanish spoken here, makes it more than worth the double-digit flight time.
If there’s any way for you to get an audience with the affable, ever-gracious Jose Zuccardi, do it. This civil engineer-turned-winemaker has kept pace with the ever-improving wines of Mendoza. His vineyard now boasts nearly 500 acres of organically farmed grapes across four different properties in the Uco and Maipu valleys, as well as two olive oil plantations headed up by one of Jose’s three sons.
Casa del Visitante is directly across the street from the Zuccardi winery and graced with the vibrant, creative cooking of executive chef Matias Aldasoro. Aldasoro takes local ingredients and traditional recipes and infuses them with a mind toward modern gastronomy. This plate is local goat cheese wrapped in slivers of pink watermelon, sprinkled with black olive dust, and swirled with thin streams of a citrus-tinged papaya reduction.
You can’t talk about Argentine wine without bringing up Catena Zapata, a 110-year old family-owned winery just south of Mendoza City. Run today by the Renaissance father-daughter team of Nicolas and Laura whose ancestors emigrated from Italy to Argentina around the turn of the nineteenth century. Nicolas' 10-year effort to identify differences in Malbec clones set the bar high for Argentine wine – and it shows in the wonderful balance of their wines, from their moderate-priced Catena line to the splurge-worthy Catena Alta bottlings.
Today, the winery has about 1,500 acres planted with that Malbec, along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, spanning from about 500 feet above sea level to nose-bleed vineyards nearly 6,000 feet up. Constructed of stone block walls, with travertine floors and furniture hand-hewn from the local La Pacho Rojo trees, you’ll find yourself agape at the circular center of the building with a staircase leading up and up to the glass-encased atrium-style peak where you can gaze at the vineyards from the sunny rooftop.
Right now, Renacer only produces five wines in their 1.2 million bottle-a-year operation because, as owner Pato Reich says, “We’re interested in quality, not quantity.” Taste for yourself at their Lujan du Cuyo tasting room, which is open to the public daily.
Located in Lujan de Cuyo, Alta Vista is about a half hour south of Mendoza City, where the chilly morning air in the foothills of mountains here can deceive you with how warm it can get later in the day --which is, of course, part of the secret to much of the good grape growing here.
This is the first winery I’ve ever been to that hands out pretty pillows and blankets and picnic baskets for grazing and snoozing on their lovely lavender and olive-tree dotted grounds. It’s definitely something I can get used to.
There’s definitely a European-minded feel to the stone walls and wrought-iron light fixtures here. In keeping with that Euro-centric nod, even their winemaker, Mattieu Gacon, hails from the old country of France’s Loire Valley. But Alta Vistas roots have been Old World since it was founded in 1997 by the former owners of Champagne’s Piper-Heidsieck, the d’Aulan family. Be sure to make an appointment to visit for a tour and tasting – and, of course, a picnic and nap on the grounds afterward.
Argentina’s lovely, ever-improving wine county is also the source of incredible bargains.