Saturday, 27 June 2015

Mendoza


Mendoza is arguably the most popular wine producing region in Argentina and quite possibly the whole of South America. Following a 24-hour bus journey from Cafayate we arrived excited for what the city could offer us. As with many Argentine cities, Mendoza has a relaxed atmosphere as the people meander their way down the leafy avenues lined with cosmopolitan restaurants; with memories from Bolivia simplicity still in our minds, this was like stepping directly into Europe. 
Following an evening drinking the free red wine at the hostel, we set off the next day for a half day tour around the satellite town of MaipĂș which would include visits to an olive oil factory and two bodegas. 
Because grapes are so easily grown here, it figures that olives would also enjoy the micro-climate and it is a lesser known booming industry in this region. The oil is made using an archaic crushing wheel moving in a rotating motion to create a paste which is then hand-spread over large discs pressed on top of each other to squeeze the oil out. There were two different types of 'plain' oil, one with all the skin and pulp in giving a cloudy appearance, and a clearer one with everything removed. My favourite was the more opaque of the two; as most parts of the olive are still in the jar, so is most of the flavour giving it a tasty simplicity. 
The next two tours were an amalgamation of small versus large scale production, information on the processes and tastings. The smaller family run bodega interesting harvests the grapes at night - (Spanish version). As the summer temperatures can soar to a sticky 40+ degrees, harvesting during the day would encourage overly fast ripening of the grapes - something the bodega wants to control in order to maximise flavour. This is possible at night once the temperature has dropped and the pickers have a longer vineyard-to-distillery time period.
As in Cafayate, we were told all about the different barrels and the affect the oak has on the flavour. Whereas most vineyards cultivate the same type of grape, they each have their own influence on the outcome with the chosen barrels, the control of the distillation period, how the grape is actually grown - it is a much more complex process that I had ever thought!
During the tasting, we were taught how to properly evaluate the characteristics of each wine. A swirl of the glass is crucial to release the different scents which can give you an idea of the flavour (although not always as for example the Cafayate Torrentes has a floral smell but is dry on the palette). By swirling, you can also see the 'tears' which are basically the drops of wine falling down the inside of the glass. If the 'tears' are thin and fast, the wine is a young wine kept only in a concrete pool whereas if the 'tears' fall slower and are thicker, that indicates a reserve or grand reserve which has been aged in barrels.
It was really interesting to learn just how much goes into producing wine and how seriously it is taken. What I enjoyed the most though was the Argentinian approach to it all - serious dedication to the wine which is a huge part of their culture, but without letting the fun get lost amongst the vineyards.