Where to go in Argentina? That was the question. Ahh! Mendoza! Of course, we should spend a few weeks in Mendoza, one of the nine great wine capitals of the world.
Where better to taste wine than at the wineries themselves? Our agenda for the day with Ampora Wine Tours included visits to 4 wineries, tasting 20 wines.
During each winery tour there was a barrel tasting of wine during the fermentation process. At the end of each tour we entered the tasting room where 3 to 5 different wines were poured.
Tasting wine followed three steps, “see, smell, sip”:
- visual: looking for colors and hues, and note that the older the wine, the more faded the color;
- smell: swirling the glass to pick up scents which might be sweeter (indicating the wine was aged in an American oak barrel) or smoky (indicating the wine was aged in a French oak barrel); and
- taste: engaging all taste buds including the tongue, soft palate, and cheek.
Our visit was the beginning of Spring in Argentina and the first buds had just appeared on the vines.
We visited wineries in Lujan de Cuyo, famous for its Malbec wines. The region is dry and hot in the summer with water channels flowing down from the Andes Mountains, an essential source for irrigation.
The day-long trip included stops at three very different wineries. The first, Bodega Benegas Lynch, built in 1901, appeared the most traditional.
Concrete tanks of 9,000 liter capacity at Bodega Benegas Lynch held the wine in the first fermentation process.
The 2nd winery we visited, Bodega Terrazas de Los Andes, was in every way larger. It ferments wine in stainless steel vats, some as large as 100,000 liters (11 times the size of Benegas’ concrete tanks). Their production is 3 million bottles a year.
The 3rd winery, Bodega Cruzat, produces sparkling wines requiring very tall stainless steel vats in the shape of silos. Yeast and sugar (bags conveniently placed nearby) are essential in the fermentation process.
The first two wineries we visited use French oak barrels, which can be reused several times, for their 2nd fermentation. The number of people skilled at making wine barrels has dropped over the years and the price for each barrel is quite high. One guide estimated that the cost of the barrels adds up to $3 US to the price of a bottle of wine.
What happens to the barrels when they can no longer be used by the wineries? They’re sold for a fraction of their original cost to make furniture and planters. We saw one the following week used for a walkway to a house in Mendoza.
The fourth vineyard we went to, Bodega Vistalba, served us a gourmet lunch that stretched through the afternoon. At the end of the meal, one more glass was poured and we sat back and enjoyed each other’s company and the beautiful setting of a classic vineyard in Mendoza, Argentina.