Malbec – The Journey of a Grape and a Visit to Mendoza

Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

“Mountain ranges surrounding grapes
in a valley.
Hanging from vines with the suspenseful promise
to become delectable wine
that inspires the senses, speaks to the heart and quiets the mind
.”

Heather Markel, May 2019.

 

One of the places I was most excited to visit in Argentina is Mendoza. (Spoiler alert – I liked Patagonia more than Mendoza.) The city is nice because it feels laid back, nobody rushes. There are great restaurants and excellent transportation. If shopping is your thing, they have a big mall just outside the center of town. But, let’s be honest, I went for the wine!

Enjoying a lunch with a wine tasting in Mendoza.

March 2019

I’ve loved drinking malbec for years which is the main reason I was so excited to go to Mendoza. I thought I was just going to drink malbec, but got an unexpected education about it as well. I had no idea where the grape got its name, in fact it never even crossed my mind to ask! Apparently the grape is from France. However, when winemakers tried to make wine with it there, it tasted badly – “mal bec” – in other words, bad taste!!!  Immigrants brought it to Mendoza after the first world war and it grew well and the rest is history.

“From the origin of the malbec grape to the growing conditions, it’s an amazing wine story.”

The first thing I had to get used to is the “bodegas.” Coming from New York, when everyone wanted to recommend their favorite bodega to me, I thought I was going to shop in a lot of 24-hour immigrant-run markets. Turns out that “bodega” means vineyard, thankfully! The other thing to adjust to is that there are several regions within Mendoza, each with it’s distinct reputation and vineyards. 

The region of Mendoza is surrounded by three mountain ranges – the Plata mountains, the Frontal range and the Portillo range. That makes for some amazing photos and you can imagine how happy the grapes are to gaze at such a beautiful view each day. It also makes for interesting growing conditions. They only have 200 mm of rain per year, so they have ot take water from the Andes. They depend on a good winter to get the water, but haven’t had one in seven years. They’ve created a network of canals to get as much water as they can to the vineyards. I found it fascinating that they have the opposite problem of Southern France where flooding can ruin an entire crop of grapes. In Mendoza it almost never rains – they have about 300 days of sun per year, and the sun and wind completely influence the flavor of the grape.

Grapes with a view.

Photograph by Heather Markel, Copyright April 2019

The Valle de Uco is known for the best malbec. It’s about 1,300 meters high. They have a micro climate which brings out the quality of the grapes. What’s fascinating is there’s a new tendency to bled the same grape from different regions, for example a malbec grape from the Valle de Uco and another malbec grape from the Cuyo region. This would be called a “malbec malbec.”
Another new tendency in the region is tourism in the bodega – so some have expanded from being just a place to taste wine to spas, hotels, and experiences where you can stay for several days. I was inspired to visit a vineyard created by the first woman wine-maker. Judging by her lovely car, she’s doing pretty well for herself!
You can take the tram in the center of Mendoza to another wine region and visit some of the older bodegas. Trapiche is one of the best, and Bodega Lopez is one of the oldest. You can even rent a bike and leisurely ride and visit. I have to admit, I don’t think I’d be able to stay on a bike after a couple tastings – one happy thing to note, the pour of wine in a typical Mendoza tasting is not like in America. You get about 1/3 a glass of each wine, so plan to be tipsy very quickly! All-in-all, Mendoza is worth visiting for several days to take in the different vineyards. I recommend trying the hop-on-hop-off bus, the tram, and a private tour to fully take them on!

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