Our Vineyard Wine Tasting Tours in Mendoza – Maipu

August 11, 2023

Paul Kay

Have you planned your next destination vacation? If you are looking at our Mendoza posts, this one will help you discover Maipu.

Madeline and I traveled to Mendoza during the harvest season. We wanted to see the different areas within Mendoza including the Uco Valley, Lujan de Cuyo and Maipu. We stayed at the Mendoza Park Hyatt hotel and worked with the concierge to arrange tours. The hotel provided a private car and driver who could speak both Spanish and English. Patricio also could speak Portuguese and Italian and perhaps a few others. 

A normal wine tour day included visits to three vineyards for tastings and concluded our day with lunch at the final vineyard. Maipu is Mendoza’s oldest wine region, and the region stretches from the town of Maipu, a southern suburb of Mendoza, to the other side of the Mendoza river about ten miles south. They have grown Malbec here since 1861. As compared with the other two wine regions, Maipu is by far the smallest region.

Like much of Mendoza, Maipu's landscape is dominated by flat vineyards with high altitudes – in this case around 2600 feet above sea level. This altitude sees intense sunlight during the day followed by cold nights that are cooled by alpine winds from the Andes Mountains. The temperature difference between day and night can approach 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The cool nighttime temperature slows ripening and extends the growing season.

Maipu's location in the Andes means that it has low annual rainfall. The nearby Mendoza River provides a plentiful source of Andean meltwater for irrigation.

Our first stop was at Familia Zuccardi.

Familia Zuccardi

Ruta Prov 33 km 7,5, M5531, Mendoza, Argentina

This was an interesting family history lesson. The Zuccardi family has been living in Mendoza since the late 19th century. During the 1950’s, Don Alberto Zuccardi started his own irrigation company, which specialized in irrigation techniques for the grape and soft fruit industries in the region of Mendoza. In 1963, as a way of demonstrating the effectiveness of his prefabricated concrete and of his irrigation systems, Don Alberto purchased the site of what is now the family’s Maipu vineyard, forty minutes from the center of Mendoza city. 

So, Don Alberto got interested in winemaking because he had a ready-made solution for an existing problem in winemaking. He developed an irrigation system using concrete pipes and then created a 40-acre vineyard to demonstrate the system to growers. This vineyard at Maipu now amounts to 420 acres of vines. 

In 1973 he purchased a second vineyard site in the desert area of Santa Rosa, Argentina. The farm extends to 3500 acres of dry scrubland, of which 1,000 acres are now under vine. Since 1985 the company has been managed in its entirety by Don Alberto’s son, José Alberto. 

The Zuccardi company is now the largest family-owned winery in Argentina. The soil at Maipu is predominantly clay and the vineyard grows Malbec, Cabernet, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Torrontes, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Tasting Room at Familia Zuccardi Vineyard Maipu Mendoza Argentina

We had a very nice tasting with our guide. She explained the family history and said we would have a tasting followed by a tour of the production area. She had three bottles waiting for us.

Wine selection in Tasting Room at Familia Zuccardi Vineyard Maipu Mendoza Argentina

Our first selection was a Fuzion Alta Torrontes and Pinot Grigio blend. It was very crisp. Madeline, my Pinot Grigio lover, pronounced it good. The second was Tension La Ribera Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc blend. We thought it was a bit too heavy on the Cabernet Franc side but that’s just our opinion. The next was Santa Julia Magna Malbec. This was a bit heavier in tannins from what we were used to, and it was also probably because they aged it in oak. We had a Zuccardi Alluvional which was very nice followed by a Mal Almado Malbec which was produced in a Port style. They can’t call it port since it’s not from Portugal! Wine makers are now much more conscious of names. For example, a Pinot Grigio must come from Italy and a very similar grape (if not identical) grown in France is a Pinot Gris. You’ll also notice that most sparkling wines that used to be called Champagne are now simply called Sparkling Wine.

Wine production of red grapes at Familia Zuccardi Vineyard Maipu Mendoza Argentina

We then went on a nice tour of wine production since they were still in harvest season mode. We watched grapes being unloaded from trucks in crates. Madeline and I watched the grapes go into a destemming process which removed the stems and leaves and anything other than the grapes. The above picture is of me fascinated with the destemming process. The vineyard is organic so all of the refuse from the grapes that does not go into wine goes into compost and is spread throughout the vineyard. It is a model for recycling in the wine industry.

Familia Zuccardi with Paul standing in front of a wine vat in Maipu Valley Mendoza Argentina

We saw the concrete tanks and the stainless-steel tanks throughout the enterprise along with the oak barrels for some of the varietals. We even had a chance to sample the grape before it went into processing. The grape was smaller than we would have thought (altitude, temperature and soil conditions) but it was very sweet.

Winemakers differ on the use of concrete tanks which were the old style of making wine. The Greeks and the Italians used earthenware quite a bit to store wine after they produced it. Concrete apparently came next, and it is porous, so it offers an earth taste to the wine. Some winemakers in Mendoza put epoxy on their concrete so very little of that earthy taste comes through. Who knew that winemaking was so complicated? We really enjoyed this tour. It was the first time we had a nice tour of the entire winemaking process.


Videla Aranda 3001, Maipu, Mendoza, Argentina

Madeline and Paul at CarinaE vineyard Maipu Mendoza Argentina

This is a boutique vineyard similar to La Azul. It is family owned and production quantity is low, but production quality is high. Two French retirees, Brigitte and Philippe Subra had always wanted to own their own winery. The name CarinaE comes from astronomy and is Latin for “from Carina”. 

Constellation Carina Southern Sky Maipu Mendoza Argentina

I had to research the name because I’d never heard of it, and I am not an astronomer. The Carina constellation is located in the southern sky and the Latin name means the keel of the ship. Carina contains the second brightest star in the night sky, Canopus, along with several other notable bright stars, among them Eta Carinae, surrounded by the famous Carina Nebula. So, I don’t know if he is referencing Eta Carinae or the Carina constellation, but I now understand what he was thinking.

The constellation is one of the most stunning constellations of the southern sky that appears during the harvest time summer nights. CarinaE’s iconic must-try blend is the Prestige, which also has one of the best values for Malbec wines in Argentina.

We met Brigitte when we arrived. She was speaking in broken English and mainly Spanish but when I offered to speak French, she warmed up immediately. It appeared that the whole family was immersed in harvest activities, so we let her attend to business, and we spent time enjoying our tasting. She was very approachable, and we found that transcended to all of the staff. This was a family vineyard, and we were greeted with a warm welcome.

We started the tasting with a Viognier followed by a Malbec Rosado Joven. We then had a straight Joven Malbec followed by a Joven Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Cuvee Philippe and Cuvee Brigitte at CarinaE vineyard Maipu Mendoza Argentina

We had a Cuvee Brigitte and Cuvee Philippe both of which are blended red wines. We enjoyed the Cuvee Brigitte a bit more, sorry Philippe, and purchased a bottle.

Olive oil from CarinaE vineyard Maipu Mendoza Argentina

She also let us taste the homemade olive oil that is grown on the property. This olive oil is not for export, but it was for sale, so we bought a bottle. It was called Aceiete de Oliva Arauco Virgen Extra.

Casa El Enemigo

Videla Aranda 7008, M5519 Maipu, Mendoza, Argentina

Alejandro Vigil and Paul at El Enemigo Maipu Mendoza Argentina

The story of Catena Zapata is covered later in this post. For now, suffice it to say that Zapata is a world class winemaker. In 2009 - Alejandro Vigil and Adrianna Catena walked back from the Argentine Embassy in London where Nicolas Catena Zapata had just received the Decanter Man of the Year Award among a group of dear friends from around the world.  

Adrianna was a historian who recently completed her Ph.D. in History at Oxford University.  Alejandro was a soil engineer and had been the chief winemaker at Catena Zapata since 2002. The two romantics were married to others but they both appeared to be married to wine.

On that walk, Alejandro and Adrianna decided to make a wine together, a wine that would represent their deep respect for history and tradition, and their complete irreverence towards the status quo. I mistakenly thought that Alejandro had to leave Catena Zapata since he was starting his own winery. I found out later that this was not true. Still, he and Adrianna started their winemaking journey together in 2009.

Adrianna Catena El Enemigo Maipu Mendoza Argentina

Adrianna is a passionate chef and a champion of organic food and farming who believes in shopping daily for the freshest local ingredients and growing as much as she can at home. Needless to say, she is the executive chef at their vineyard restaurant. It appeared that the vineyard did a very good restaurant business since they had plenty of tables all over the property and they all seemed full. I’m glad we had reservations.

Alejandro Vigil at Casa Vigil in El Enemigo Maipu Mendoza Argentina

Alejandro is still the master vintner and holds the highest rating ever given to a pure Cabernet Franc wine by Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate, awarded to El Gran Enemigo Cabernet Franc from Gualtallary, Mendoza. Their wines vary but at our lunch they featured Chardonnay, Malbec, Syrah Viognier and Cabernet Franc.

We thought we were going to have a tasting and lunch but apparently only lunch was considered. I’m glad we only had lunch because the amount of wine at lunch was considerable and a tasting on top of it made no sense.

Malbec and Chardonnay at El Enemigo Maipu Mendoza Argentina

We started with a Chardonnay followed by a Malbec. Then we were introduced to 3 types of Cabernet Franc, each a bit more aged and expensive. We actually liked the first and bought 2 bottles. We also had a sip of a Bonarda.

Beef and salad at El Enemigo Maipu Mendoza Argentina

Lunch was quite the affair, and the quality of the food was amazing. We had a great server who was very knowledgeable about wines. Both Madeline and I were surprised that we both liked the Cabernet Franc.

Cabernet Franc and Bonarda at El Enemigo Maipu Mendoza Argentina

I knew the winery was famous for it, but we tried the entry level Cabernet Franc along with 2 other more superior brands and found the least expensive brand was the best tasting to both of our palettes.

We had a 3-course lunch that was amazing both in quality and quantity. I recognized that Alejandro was moving about, and he stopped by our table to refill our wine glasses. In conversation, I think he was somewhat impressed that I knew the story of him and Zapata along with Adrianna. We talked about his Cabernet Franc, and I said that we didn’t even like the grape until we had his version. He was very happy to hear that from two people he never knew before.

Alejandro is quite famous, and they were doing interviews with him outside from time to time. We caught up with him a bit later when we were touring his vineyard and he told us to go down to his private cellar which was a treat.

Madeline and Paul with vine canopy at El Enemigo Maipu Mendoza Argentina

We got a photo of him and promised we would keep in touch. The photo is at the top of this post. The above photo is of Madeline and I under the vine canopy at this beautiful vineyard and restaurant.

Painting of concrete wine tank we bought at El Enimigo Maipu Mendoza Argentina

We purchased a painting from the restaurant. It is a watercolor of one of the concrete wine tanks on the property. Madeline put a Catena Zapata wine cork in front of it since Alejandro is also the master vintner for them. 

Hopefully you are energized enough to think of Mendoza as your destination vacation for a wine tasting adventure. Check out our other posts of the region including Lujan de Cuyo and Uco Valley.

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