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January 13, 2013 / JustinKays Porter

Wine Tasting in Lujan de Cuyo

As previously mentioned, Mendoza is wine country. And how can you visit wine country without going wine tasting? You can't. You just can't. So, we had originally planned to take a bus from Mendoza out to Maipu, rent bikes, and tour the wineries, chocolate factories, and olive oil farms in the area. Then we realized it was supposed to be about 110 degrees… not really suitable for bike wine tasting.

In a last minute frenzy, we found a wine tour company (where tours are conducted in English!) and booked ourselves a tour. The tour would take us to Lujan de Cuyo, a valley approximately half an hour south of Mendoza, and would offer English tours and tastings at each of four wineries and a gourmet, paired five course lunch at winery #4. Sounded absolutely perfect, and it turned out to be a wonderful day.

We got picked up from the apartment and got to know the other six tour goers on the way to the first winery, Alta Vista. One of the special things about wine tasting in Lujan de Cuyo is the backdrop: from all of the wineries, you can see the snow-capped peaks of the Andes above the clouds. Couple that with the lush green vineyards, and you can't really go wrong.

Our tour guide at Alta Vista told us about the soil types and irrigation practices at the winery (and I was probably the only one interested), before taking us into the wine making facility and cellar. Alta Vista is one of the oldest wineries in the region, built in 1889 and producing wine ever since. A common practice in Mendoza that was completely new to us Californians is aging wine in large cement vats instead of stainless steel tanks. The practice dates back to the earliest wine makers in the area: due to the crazy temperature fluctuations in Mendoza, the only way to regulate the temperature of the wine while it aged was to store it in 5,000 to 15,000 liter concrete vats with walls approximately two feet thick. This practice is still used today, but the concrete vats now have temperature regulation built into them. The tasting room at Alta Vista is actually a 300,000-liter concrete vat that has been converted. How cool is that?! Very, very cool!

Concrete wine tanks

Door to the 300,000 liter wine tank / converted tasting room. Built in 1912. So cooool!

Inside the cellar. They stain the middle panel of each barrel so you can't see the drips from the winemakers' tastings. Yes, I asked.

The tasting at Alta Vista was wonderful. We were invited to taste in the professional tasting room, with lots of sun and glasses and good wine. We had our first introductions to the local specialties Torrontes (a dry white wine with a deceptively sweet nose), Bonarda (a very soft, mellow red, kind of similar to a Pinot Noir), and Malbec (a powerhouse red with lots of subtle spicy notes). All in all, it was a great start to the day and we left feeling our first few glasses!

Inside the fancy shmancy tasting room

First wines before 10 am. Great start to the day

Our fearless tour group. We drank, we ate, we survived!

Stop #2 was Pulenta Estates, with more gorgeous views, concrete vats, and a lesson in Mendoza weather. Apparently, Mendoza has common hail storms in the summer months, just prior to harvest. To prevent damage from the hail storms, most wineries cover the vines with what looks like bird netting. We were told that during a hail storm, any vines without these net coverings would be completely ruined. And here we thought they were to prevent birds from eating the berries! There are actually so few birds in the desert-like Mendoza that this has never been an issue.

Chardonnay grapes

Beautiful little table made from a wine barrel

The tasting at Pulenta was just that: tasty! A very light Sauvignon Blanc while we toured the vineyards, and yummy Merlot, Malbec / Cab Sauv blend, and Cab Franc while we enjoyed the tasting room. The Cab Franc was the most interesting wine here: it smelled just like bell peppers, but tasted nothing like them! We also got better acquainted with our new friend Oksana from London, who told us about her favorite places in Buenos Aires that we must visit.

Pretty vines, pretty sky, pretty Andes

Malbec. Yes please

Caelum was next, a much smaller boutique winery specializing in whites, desert wines, and pistachios. My favorite from here was definitely the pistachios! I guess my palette isn't refined enough for desert wines, but they did make a very nice, light, and crisp rose that I surprisingly enjoyed. Here, we got to know Malen a little better, a nice woman from the states who has been working in Buenos Aires for almost two years. She gave us the insider scoop on Buenos Aires.

Notice the focus on the pistachios here...

Our last stop was Ruca Malen, where we had an amazing lunch and wine pairing adventure. We were treated to all local foods paired with Ruca Malen wines for a superb and highly entertaining meal; the second best we've had on this trip (La Salamadra still holds that title). Through lively conversation and lots of drinking, we enjoyed fresh bread, goat cheese tarts, beet salad, carrots three ways, sausage, ojo de bife, and lots of other goodies that are slipping my mind. After a few hours of shenanigans at Ruca Malen, we headed back into Mendoza with plans to meet up with Malen and Oksana later in our trip.

So many glasses!

Extensive lunch menu

We made it home with plans to take a siesta and revive ourselves for dinner and a night on the town, but we never made it back out! Great day, great wine, highly recommended if (when) you come to Mendoza. Now we have four bottles of wine that we need to figure out how to get home!



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  1. Leo Aldoroty / Dec 19 2014 2:20 am

    what was the name of the tour company for the Lujan de Cuyo. Thanks

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