A pinot taste-off at The Vines of Mendoza
They always say, be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. Last week I tried a rather anemic pinot noir from Mendoza, Argentina. I wondered if this was the best that Mendoza could do and vowed to try and find a Mendozan pinot noir with a bit more structure, body and flavour.
Well, I succeeded, perhaps a little too successfully. I found myself at the bar of the tasting room of The Vines of Mendoza in the city centre with Emily Camblin, the VoM Director of Marketing and my drinking companion for the afternoon. We were there to have a bit of a taste off. I had come to Emily with my “problem” and challenged her to find me a pinot that was no wilting flower.
I had come to the right place as The Vines of Mendoza is the only tasting room in all of South America. What also sets it apart from a run of the mill winery tasting room is that they source their wines from all over Argentina. So, besides the ubiquitous malbec, there’s syrah and cabernet franc as well as pinot noir and malbec and plenty of boutique wineries represented amongst the bottles behind the counter. They even serve up wines from Brazil. Emily offered me a taste but I’ve had them in London and let’s just say, I’m not a fan.
The idea behind Vines is to not only showcase the best that Argentina has to offer but also to do their bit for wine education. They offer wine by the glass and also by the flight with little mini-tutored tastings given by the very friendly, knowledgeable bi-lingual staff. The staff were extremely enthusiastic about their wines and couldn’t wait to tell me all about them. I felt right at home and probably would have spent the entire afternoon there talking through their flights but first, there were other, more important matters at hand – the pinots.
“I’m sure you’ll find these pinots are not what you’re used to. They definitely have structure to them and body.” I asked Emily to choose the 3 best examples of Mendozan pinot noir they had on hand. After a bit of consultation with Julia who was minding the bar, they brought out the 2009 Las Perdices from Lujan de Cuyo, the 2009 Pulenta from Valle de Uco and the 2007 Tabanera also from the Valle de Uco. I’ve learned quite a bit about the terroir of each individual valley here in Mendoza. Lujan de Cuyo is the hottest part of Mendoza, plenty of strong sunshine and the hot summer days of Lujan are bound to produce robust wines. While Valle de Uco is at a higher elevation, there is less diurnal fluctuation so the grapes don’t get the chance to cool down as much in the evening hours. Thus, leading again to rather hearty wines.
Emily was right. These were no shrinking violets and my palate was definitely not prepared for them! I have been drinking quite a bit of malbec but was not prepared for these pinots. Perhaps it was because these pinots are uniquely Mendozan but they forced my taste buds into retreat. What does that mean? It means they were full of pepper and spice, woody characteristics and loads and loads of smoke and toast. Some of them were like drinking forest fires! A smoky haze that there was no way I as going to find my way out of. The tannins were also rather aggressive and the fruit was waging a losing battle to be recognized. Many people want big and brawny wines and the Los Perdices and Tabernera definitely fit the bill. The Pulenta I found to be more forgiving. It even had some ripe red fruit flavours peeking through while finishing off with some rather headycoffee notes. It was smoother then the other two, not as abrasive. I found that I could drink this wine without wishing for food, any food. Well, I asked for pinots with more structure and I definitely got them at The Vines of Mendoza.
The Vines of Mendoza offers wine flights as I stated earlier and they also conduct meet the winemaker events once a week, where local winemakers bring in and talk about their wines as well as taste them with the guests. They also have informal food and wine matchings at the wine bar in the Hyatt across the street. There are many other cool things going on from VoM, including blending your own wine at their in house lab as well as buying your very own boutique wineyard. VoM runs a scheme where you can buy a few acres of vines and produce your very own wine. The advantage being that they take care of the vines while you’re away and you can just swoop in after harvest if you so desire and make your own wine. They have clients that range from corporations to pensioners who just want to give leave a bit of a legacy to their children.
All in all, The Vines of Mendoza are leading the way in not only wine education in Mendoza but also wine enjoyment. I quite enjoyed my afternoon there and after the great pinot taste off, tried various other boutique wines that were available. I will have to write about those another time as I’m getting sleepy.
For more information about all The Wines of Mendoza and everything they offer, check out their website.