Mendoza is Argentina's largest wine region with the most wineries. Let's explore Mendoza wine including the major grapes of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon.
If you've had Argentinian wine, then chances are you tasted something from Mendoza. In terms of importance, it's on the top of the list because it's the biggest wine region in the entire country!
- Mendoza is home to 75% of the vineyards in Argentina.
- Malbec is 26% of Mendoza production
- Malbec from Mendoza accounts for: 19.52% of the total cultivated surface in Argentina.
- 63% of all wine made in Mendoza is Red Wine
- There is more Malbec planted in Mendoza than anywhere else in the world.
Mendoza Wine Region
Mendoza is a large province (nearly the size of Illinois) located in central-western Argentina. The massive Andes Mountains create a dramatic skyline in the west and also play an important role in Mendoza's wines.
The Andes act as a rain shadow, stopping wet Pacific Ocean weather from the Argentine highlands. It makes Argentina one of the sunniest and driest wine-growing regions with less than 9 inches of rain per year. (As dry as the Gobi Desert!)
Fortunately, ample snowmelt from the Andes irrigates the vineyards, making it possible to produce wine.
All of this means that Mendoza winemakers work with a blank slate. It’s very flat, dry, sunny, and an almost pest-free environment to grow wine grapes, allowing viticulturists to have near-complete control over ripening. Also, because the region is so level, it's possible to use mechanization and mechanical harvesters.
So, what are the best Mendoza wines to try?
Mendoza Wines To Explore
Mendoza is an ideal location for red wine production. The major grapes here include Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Bonarda (also known as Charbono in Napa Valley). Expect these wines to deliver bold and lush flavors because of the area's hot climate.
A Clue to Finding High-Quality Mendoza Wines
One factor which affects wine quality is altitude. Grapes produce higher levels of color and flavor because of increased UV exposure at higher elevations.
Also, temperatures drop at higher elevations. These cooler temperatures help grapes maintain their acidity, which gives Mendoza Malbec more fresh red cherry flavors (versus dark blueberry notes) and age-worthiness.
It also gives winemakers a chance to produce cooler climate wine grapes. For example, don't be surprised when you see varieties like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir growing in the high elevation Tupungato sub-region of Valle de Uco!
Vineyard elevations in Mendoza range from about 1400 feet to over 6500 feet (over a mile up!).
Sub-Regions of Mendoza To Explore
Generally speaking, the more westerly wine regions have higher elevations and you can expect these wines to have a more elegant fresh fruited style. Whereas, the lower easterly zones in Mendoza (with many of the oldest vineyards too) produce soft, lush styles of Malbec and other red wines. Check out this Mendoza wine map for a closer look at the region.
Lets explore the major regions of Mendoza to know.
The province’s most historic wine region is just south of Mendoza city. Here, you’ll find historic Bodegas Lopez as well as the well-known Bodegas Toso and Trapiche wineries. For the most part, Malbec wines from Maipú offer red fruit (red currant, pomegranate, boysenberry, red plum, and cherry) flavors with a touch of sweet cedar and tobacco.
An area called Barrancas, which is slightly warmer than the surrounding Maipú. It's noted for producing wines with darker fruit flavors and softer acidity, which is true of its Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and meaty Syrah.
Another spot within Maipú called Lunlunta has alluvial (clay-rocky) soils which makes for great tasting, black-fruited red wines with refined pencil-lead tannins.
Luján de Cuyo
Luján de Cuyo contains many ultra-modern wineries and some of the region’s most glamorous boutique hotels. It is home to the game-changing producer Bodegas Catena Zapata as well as dozens of other exceptional wineries, including Achaval Ferrer, Bodegas Norton, Viña Cobos, Durigutti, and much more.
You may pay a premium for high-end wines from Luján de Cuyo, but these wineries make value-driven second-label wines too. Malbec from Luján de Cuyo tends to offer black fruits (blackberry, boysenberry, plum sauce, and black cherry) with Asian spice notes and a dusty or graphite-like finish.
Within the Luján de Cuyo region, wines often have labels for the nearest town. As you taste these wines, you’ll start to notice how certain areas within the area feel subtly different. Of the sub-regions, Agrelo (elegance + power), Vistalba (minerality), Las Compuertas (elegance), and Perdriel (tannin) offer some of the most distinguishable differences.
Valle de Uco (Uco Valley)
With some of the highest elevation vineyards of all of Mendoza, the Uco Valley (or Valle de Uco) is known for producing wines with elegance and excellent aging potential. This region has attracted producers from all over the world, including Clos de la Siete (a Michel Rolland brand), O. Fournier, Domaine Bousquet, Bodega Lurton, and Altos Los Hormigas (by Tuscan, Alberto Antonini).
Wines from Valle de Uco have a range of flavors from deep layered black fruit (black plum, raspberry, blackberry, and blueberry) with savory notes of red pepper flakes and a dusty, cocoa powder-like finish. Of course, there is a variation depending on where within Uco you look.
Within the 50km (30 mile) Valle de Uco region you'll find several smaller wine regions with slightly different wine styles:
Tupungato is well-known among collectors because of an unofficial growing area called Gualtallary with calcareous soils. You'll find fresher styles of Malbec, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Franc because vineyards are as high as 5,250 feet (1600 meters).
Tunuyán contains the Vista Flores appellation. The area has sandy soils which produce elegant and aromatic styles of Malbec with minty notes. You'll also find some Cabernet Franc and even Pinot Noir here.
Within San Carlos - Mendoza is the notable Paraje Altamira appellation. This area has alluvial soils with more loamy-clay which creates a lush, chocolately palate. The region also sits a bit lower at around 3770 feet (1150 m) which softens the acidity. Expect to find lush, rich styles of Malbec and Cabernet Franc.
Drive 150 miles south from the city of Mendoza, and you’ll find San Rafael, a region with a limited number of wineries, some of which were started by Italian immigrants in the early 1900s. Bodegas Bianchi is one such winery that offers a range of high-quality Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec wines that offer red roasted berry flavors and a savory herbal finish.
San Rafael is a great place to hunt for value.
East Mendoza (San Martín)
East Mendoza has many older vineyards, planted with some of Mendoza’s more esoteric varieties including Criolla Grande, Rivadavia, San Martín, Pedro Giménez, Moscatel Rosada, Bonarda, and Tempranillo (along with plenty of Malbec. There are several compelling white wine blends from this area.
One sub-region worth investigating in East Mendoza is Guaymallén.