If you love wine and think of Mendoza as a destination location for a wine tour, you’ve come to the right place. We have you covered on the three primary wine regions of Mendoza. This post is all about Uco Valley.
You can see from the map where the Uco Valley is with regard to both Lujan de Cuyo and Maipu. The Uco Valley is the largest of the three regions and is getting larger all the time.
I love this photo that Madeline took of the location of a vineyard with the snow-capped Andes mountains in the background. The Uco Valley is also referred locally as the Valle de Uco. It is about an hour's drive south from the city of Mendoza and it is home to some of the region's most famous wines. If you’ve come to Mendoza, you probably enjoy a Malbec. Argentina's primary grape variety of Malbec is very popular in the Uco Valley. Cabernet Franc is much less widely planted, but some great results have been achieved here. For white wine, some of the Chardonnay and Torrontes come from Uco Valley vineyards. The relatively cool climate allows for a slower ripening period.
The Uco Valley is also known for fruits, nuts and garlic. Madeline took the shot above near Tupungato which is a town in the Uco Valley. Madeline and I were not sure what we were looking at, but our guide told us that the garlic harvest was just completed, and we could see the garlic drying in the sun.
I worked with the Mendoza Park Hyatt hotel on a tour of the Uco Valley. We had a private car and driver who could speak both Spanish and English. Patricio also could speak Portuguese and Italian and perhaps a few others. He was very helpful since when we arrived at a vineyard there would be guard requiring identification, then the vineyard staff needed to be notified of our arrival. It wasn’t always seamless, but Patricio always solved the problem.
HR85+W2 Tupungato, Mendoza, Mendoza Province, Argentina
Our first visit was to the vineyard of Jean Bousquet. The vast majority of vineyards we visited were gated and you needed a reservation to get in. After being identified, we had a brief tour of the facility which was very impressive.
Jean Bousquet came to Mendoza from France in the late 1990’s to look for land where the family could continue its tradition in winemaking. He was so impressed; he moved his winery to Mendoza. Mr. Bousquet purchased land in the Uco Valley in 1998. He was instrumental as a leader in organic winemaking. Domaine Bousquet uses organic viticulture without the use of added chemicals. Organic vines tend to produce fewer yields of grapes of higher concentration which in turn, have more flavor and natural expression of the terroir.
The winery produces both the Domaine Bousquet and Cameleon lines which are sold in 45 countries around the world.
Our first tasting was a blend of a Chardonnay and Torrontes. Argentina is known for the Torrontes grape, and this was a very nice blend.
The next was a Gaia Reserve red blend followed by a Grand Reserve Malbec. All of these wines were excellent. However, this was our first wine stop, and we had many more vineyards to travel to so we could taste more varietals.
After our tasting, we had a nice tour of the barrel room. They explained their process for their wines, how long the aging, what types of barrels are used, etc. We found that California Oak and French Oak are used frequently and depending on what they were used for previously and how they were created will make a lot of difference in the finished wine product.
RP89, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina
The next vineyard was La Azul which was just down the road a bit. This is a very small family winery. The original owner, Francisco Hinojosa, began making wine more than 60 years ago. He passed his vineyards down to his children in a blind draw from a hat. Each acreage was divided equally and tied with a colorful ribbon.
We met a very nice couple from Canada, and they were thinking of staying for lunch. The dining tables looked great, and our wine tour was over our normal USA lunch time, but Argentines don’t have lunch that early I suppose.
This particular winery was selected by one of Francisco’s daughters and it had a ribbon of Azul. She used lots of Azul coloring all over the vineyard originally with just about everything painted in an Azul color. Since that time, there is still color at the family vineyard, but they have toned it down a bit.
The La Azul Winery began production in 2003. It is a boutique vineyard and hardly competes with giants like Salentein on an equal footing. However, we found the vineyard quite charming and would have stayed for lunch, but we had a reservation for lunch at Salentein that our concierge had already secured.
I should mention that reservations for tastings and lunch should be done as far in advance as you can. These smaller vineyards fill up quite rapidly during harvest season which begins in late February and continues through the first part of April. We talked to other people in our tasting group, and they said that tasting reservations were scarce and a lunch with wine pairing seating was even harder to get. I’m glad we used our Park Hyatt Mendoza concierge to take care of everything.
At Azul we had a Sauvignon Blanc to start. Then we had Malbec which was quite light in tannins and had a nice fruit (cherry) finish. Our vineyard host said that the Malbec was like having a red wine with training wheels because it was not aged in oak barrels, so the finish was lighter. The last wine we had was the La Azul Reserva, with between twelve and fifteen months in French and American oak barrels. It had a much stronger tannin taste.
Our host then took us into the wine making facility where we sipped wine from the barrel. This was wine that was not “finished” yet, so it was interesting to taste a wine that was somewhere in between grape juice and wine. The taste was sweeter than normal aged wine and the finish was much lighter.
Ruta 89 s/n, M5563 Los Arboles de Villegas, Mendoza, Argentina
We met our tour guide outside in the vineyards and he began telling the story of the founding of the vineyard. It was started by a man from the Netherlands. Mijndert Pon is the son of a family of Dutch entrepreneurs. He goes by his nickname of MP. He was the general importer of Volkswagen cars to the Netherlands in 1947. He also helped design the VW bus which most children of the 1950’s and 1960’s would recognize instantly. A VW bus was the hippie vehicle of choice when you didn’t have a lot of money and you used the vehicle for sleeping as well as touring.
MP was done with cars after a while, and he purchased a unique estate called ‘San Pablo.’ The estate was located at the highest elevation in Mendoza, ranging from 4,600 to 5,600 feet and had the coldest climate in the province.
Today, MP’s younger brother Wijnand is in charge of the business. This is an impressive facility with the ability to make millions of liters of wine annually. We toured the winemaking process and stepped down into the cellar for our tasting.
The tasting included a Chardonnay, a Malbec and a sparkling Brut Rose which was made from the non-mature Pinot Noir grape. Our Chardonnay had a bit of an oak cask taste which Madeline was not fond of, but I enjoyed it. The Malbec was a little heavy in tannins which surprised both of us. We’ve come to enjoy Malbec’s that are much lighter. This one was aged in oak so that may have contributed to the heavier than normal tannins. Our favorite was the Brut Rose. It reminded us of Madeline’s favorite drink, a Kir Royale. The Kir Royale is champagne with a light dollop of Crème de Cassis. The Brut Rose tasted a bit like a Kir Royale, but the red color comes from the Pinot Noir grape and since it is non-mature, it is a bit sweeter – like the Crème de Cassis would be. We loved it and will look to purchase more in the USA. We purchased a bottle to drink later!
The tasting was below the main entry way. This is where they are making the wine in stainless steel tanks.
They have a very large barrel room where the wine stays until it is ready to be bottled. The picture above is only a small portion of the room. The underground area is massive, and they will entertain guests in this area. They even had a grand piano waiting to be played for guests.
Lunch was very good but not as intimate as in other vineyards. We had a table for 4 which was converted into a table for 2.
The menu was fixed price and we had two options for a starter and a main course. The food was very good, but it was rather warm in the large dining area. There was floor to ceiling glass windows allowing us to see the vineyards, but it made the room warm since there was very little air flow. It is a beautiful vineyard and very large dining area, but they could work on temperature control.