Lujan de Cuyo is to Malbec what the Napa Valley is to Cabernet Sauvignon, that is, its cradle in the New World. One of the three main winemaking areas in Argentina’s Mendoza Province (the others are Maipu and the Valle de Uco) Lujan is also one of the oldest, with 100-year-old vines producing exceptional grapes in well-established wineries.
The Señorita and I are visiting some of the top vineyards in the region on a tour organised by Argentina4u, which includes visits to three vineyards with tours and tastings at each. We’re picked up at 8.45 in a private car and given a small bag of mixed nuts as a welcome snack – just a little something to soak up all the wine says Fernando, our driver.
Less than an hour later, we're sat around a dining table at Achaval Ferrer, one of the most prestigious winemakers in Mendoza, swirling one of the winery's red blends, Quimera 2011, around branded glasses. It looks like it’s going to be a fun day.
Achaval Ferrer’s grapes are grown in three exclusive Malbec vineyards, called fincas, all situated at different altitudes – Mirador, Altamira and Bella Vista, which is 100 years old – and a fourth, Finca Diamante, that grows Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes.
The brand's three single-vineyard Malbecs each express an entirely different character that reflects the different altitudes and ‘terroir’ in which the grapes are grow. These limited production wines go for upwards of $100 a bottle in wine shops around Mendoza and much more on the wine lists of restaurants around the world.
In the fermentation room, which is filled with stainless steel containers and three 225-litre French Oak barrels, we sample two of the single vineyard wines straight from the barrel, before returning to the tasting room to sample the third, Finca Mirador, which has completed its aging process in the bottle.
Each of the three is made in exactly the same way and aged for exactly the same amount of time, yet each has a distinct flavour, showcasing the affect that terroir and altitude can have on the final product. By the end of the first tour, we've sampled four different reds and a glass of Achaval Ferrer’s delicious dessert wine. It’s not even 11.00.
The next stop on the itinerary is Bodega Casarena, five minutes down the road. The itinerary is arranged so that the experience at each vineyard is a little different from the next, so you don't spend the entire day seeing the same thing in different places.
At Casarena, we get a much more in-depth tour of the facilities and explanation of the winemaking process courtesy of guide Rodrigo, who hands us each a glass of young refreshing rose as we walk out to look at the vines.
We follow the journey of the grape from the vine to the bottle and sample some of the season’s early-harvest grapes right from the maturation tanks. At this early stage, it’s bright pink in colour and very sweet – basically grape juice.
In the tasting room at the end of the tour, we sample a fantastic Cabernet Franc – tipped to be the next big thing in Argentine single-varietal wines – and a mesmerising red blend comprising 70% Malbec, 20% Cabernet Saubignon, 7% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot, as well as a wonderful Chardonnay for the benefit of the Señorita, whose wide grin seems to indicate her approval.
What with all the tasting and a multitude of questions about the winemaking process, we are quite late for the third tour. Fortunately Fernando, who has been quietly overseeing all the arrangements throughout the day, has already called ahead to advise them that we are running late.
As well as getting us from A to B and making reservations, Fernando has proved to be a fountain of knowledge when it comes to the region, and answers an endless tirade of questions as we travel between vineyards – an unexpected perk of visiting Lujan on an organised tour.
At Dominio del Plata, the third and final winery of the day, we make a quick tour of the industrial scale facilities before sitting down to a five-course lunch with wine pairings at Osadia de Crear restaurant, which showed off some of the best wines the winery had to offer in a wonderful country house setting.
The ample lunch and profound amount of wine consumed throughout the morning makes the 45 minute drive back to Mendoza a somnolent affair, and we arrive back in the city sated and much wiser in the ways of Malbec, a grape that seems set to take over the world.
This is a sponsored post. We travelled with Argentine4u.com on full-day Lujan de Cuyo Wine Tour, which lasts around eight hours and costs US $239. The tours depart on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings at 8.30am. Visit the company website here: www.argentina4u.com.