The Land of Sun and Good Wine

Vineyards: Achaval Ferrer,  Nieto Senetiner, Escorihuela Gascon, & CarinaE
Appellation:   Mendoza, Argentina

“I don’t know if wine is born within us or outside of us.
The truth is that its vocation of humanity
is defined in the mouth when one alludes to wine or sings to wine.
There it is.. in the vineyards
I’ve seen it so many times
its berry eyes staring at me
from the bottom of the must
that one day, after drinking it so much, I decided to sing it…”
~ Jaime Davalos ~

Jaime Davalos, the poet of wine, expressed his passion for wine through poetry and music; a passion which is witnessed, in his native Argentina, through the bond of friendship that a glass wine generates amongst people in a country where wine is considered to be the national drink.

During my last trip to Buenos Aires, I kidnapped my friend Juanpi from his awesome wife and 3 lovely daughters, and ventured off in his truck to explore the epicenter of Argentine wine: Mendoza, locally known as La Tierra del Sol & Buen Vino (The land of Sun and Good Wine). The purpose of our trip was to experiment the terroir of Mendoza to better understand the subtlety of its wines.

In a period of 12 hours and a distance of approximately 750 miles the landscaped changed from the humid and fertile lowlands of Buenos Aires to the dry and arid landscape of Mendoza, an environment key to the success of Mendoza wines. During the course of our trip we consumed large amounts of yerba mate, a type of tea, to stay alert and enjoyed the sounds of various genres ranging from the sounds of Pearl Jam to the folk based guitar sounds of Ismael Serrano.

Driving to Mendoza with  good company, music, and mates.

The plan upon arrival to Mendoza city included visits to multiple
wineries, but due to a 2 day constrained trip, we limited the schedule to 4 wineries and self-guided tours indulge our senses with the scenery of the Mendoza ecosystem.

The Plan

Starting in each morning with a coffee and multiple medialunas (argentine style croissants) at Plaza Independencia the two days spent in Medonza were as follows:
  • Day 1 (November 6, 2012): Achaval Ferrer, Nieto Senetiner, & tour to Uco Valley.
  • Day 2 (November 7, 2012): Tour around Lujan de Cuyo/Godoy Cruz, Escorihuela Gascon, & CarinaE.

Map (by JT)


Mendoza is Argentina's most important grape growing region, producing 70% of the country's wine. Unique to Mendoza are the centuries old acequias, exposed irrigation ditches, which run parallel to many of the tree lined streets. 

3 am arrival to Mendoza

Medoza’s architecture is a blend of different modern, colonial, and neoclassical architecture. The city was rebuilt after the 1861 earthquake incorporating modern construction techniques and urban plans to better tolerate and manage seismic activity in the region. Upon reconstruction, the center of Mendoza was dotted with large landscaped Plazas.

Mendoza City

The Mendoza region offers enviable terroir influenced by the nearby Andes Mountains which function as a shelter from the pacific rains and create a micro-climate and provide an interesting soil structure: poor alluvial soils, cool mountain nights, sunny days, low humidity, wide temperature amplitude, and irrigation from snowmelt off the Andes. The micro-climate factors of Mendoza are optimal for growing Malbec, the region's signature variety, with its dark color, rich black fruit, caress of oak, and smooth mouth feel quality.

The Mendoza wine growing region is located between 2,700 and 5,000 feet. The difference in elevation for each vineyard vineyards plays a role in the quality in the following manner:

  • Higher altitude leads to cooler weather which in turn allows grapes to retain higher acidity levels. [The air temperature decreases by an average of 6.5°C per km (3.6°F per 1,000 ft)]
  • Higher altitude leads to higher sunlight intensity which in turn causes grapes to have thicker skins. The thicker the skin the more tannins available.
  • Diurnal temperature amplitude: Plenty of sun during the day is necessary to ripen the grapes properly and get good fruit concentration; during the night, the colder the temperature, i.e. the higher the temperature amplitude, the more acidity retained in the grape.

Day 1:

Achaval Ferrer

Located in Lujan de Cuyo at an altitude between 700 meters and 1,100 meter above sea level, the winery is a decade old partnership between Santiago Achaval and Tuscan wine consultant Roberto Cipresso. A visit to the Achaval-Ferrer Bodega requires an appointment; however, the staff was sympathetic and allowed us to tour the facility without a previous appointment. 
Achavall Ferrer Landscape

Achaval-Ferrer is a boutique winery, focusing on limited production of quality red wine. The winery is a brick façade building framed by vineyards, alluvial soils, the dried out Mendoza river bed, and the Andes mountain range; a great setting to begin sampling a flight of Achaval Ferrer’s flagship wines and hear about the history of the winery and the specific terroir for its three separate single vineyards: Finca Bella Vista, Finca Altamira, and Finca Mirador.

Achaval Ferrer Malbec

  • 2011 Malbec Mendoza: Visually the wine displayed brilliancy and a deep purple color. On the nose the wine was beautifully open, youthful, intense, and fruit driven. The wine displayed perfumed notes of violet and the typicity of plum present in Malbecs. On the palate the wine presented medium plus acidity, medium tannins, and medium plus body. The palate followed the nose: primary flavors of black berries (currant, plum, and some raspberry) followed by a juicy, racy and hot finish. [ABV: 14.5% • ± $24 USD]
  • 2010 Finca Mirador: Malbec grown at 2,400 feet elevation. Visually the wine displayed a deep purple color with a reddish hue. On the nose the wine presents a complex and powerful intensity of fruit and wood components with minor earthy notes; the wood notes resulting from 16 month aging in 100% new French oak. On the palate the wine displayed a balanced structure of medium plus acidity, medium plus tannins, and medium plus body. The wine was 3 dimensional, blending the components of fruit (dried cherries and currant), earth (dusty quality which reminded me of the feel of the dried clay soil of the vineyard), and wood (cedar & pepper). The Finca Mirador had a long and warm finish, accompanied by enjoyable round and velvety tannins along with a lingering currant/plum sensation. Due to its complex structural qualities and its lingering qualities the 2010 Finca Mirador has the potential to improve with aging. [ABV: 14 % • ± $109 USD] 
  • 2010 Finca Altamira: Malbec grown at 3,400 feet elevation. Visually the wine displayed the characteristics of a young wine: a dark and deep purple color. On the glass one could see minor sediment deposits. The deposits are a combination of tannins and pigments that precipitate. Many wineries address the issue of deposits by fining or filtering the wine before bottling; however, as indicated our tour sommelier, Achavall-Ferrer does not do one filter since they feel the process may strip the wine of delicate nuances. Typically the issue of sediment deposits are solved by decanting the wine for some period before drinking. On the nose the wine is intensely perfumed with assorted aromas of black fruits and nuances of earth and wood. On the palate the wine had medium plus acidity, high tannins, and medium high alcohol. The wine had a meaty quality accompanied by flavours of graphite, cassis, plum, pepper, and a long and velvety finish which coated the mouth completely. All in all the flavour profile and the structural integrity of the wine provided a food friendly wine with long aging potential. [ABV: 13.5 % • ± $105 USD]

After tasting the flight of wines, we proceeded to walk around the vineyards and learn more about the soil characteristics of the vineyard, poor alluvial soils, followed by a tour inside the wine making facility where we sampled an aging Finca Mirador directly from the barrel. 

Finca Mirador Barrel

Although the Achaval Ferrer is a modern winery, built around 2006, the inside of the winery tells the story of an older winery. One does not find a place using the “latest” fermentation technology of modern stainless steel vats but rather fermentation technology used since Roman times: epoxy-lined concrete fermentation vessels.
Achaval Ferrer Winery

Nieto Senetiner

Located in Lujan de Cuyo the winery was founded by Italian immigrants in 1888 at an altitude of 3,000 ft. Bodega Nieto Senetiner is a beautiful Spanish colonial style adobe structure set in the view of the snow-capped Andes mountains. The winery is surrounded by outdoor tables, gardens, and vineyards.

Our tour to Nieto Senetiner began by becoming acquainted with the wine making and storage facilities. Underground and above ground concrete fermentation vats made up most of the facility followed by a dark and temperature/humidity controlled room where oak barrels aged specific wines.

Nieto Senetiner Winery
Once in the tasting room the sommelier presented us with 3 different wines:

Wines Tasted at Nieto Senetiner

  • 2011 Torrontes Nieto Senetiner: Torrontes, as explained by our sommelier, is known as “La Mentirosa” (The Liar) since one is always deceived. The nose is an undeniable sweet floral note; however, the palate provides a different experience. Visually the wine is light yellow with supple green tints. The wine provides sweet aromas of tropical fruit, spring flowers, stone fruit such as apricots and peaches, and a light citrus quality. On the palate, one finds the deceit, the wine is dry, crisp, and tart displaying moderate notes of grapefruit and a lemon like acidity; a great slightly chilled wine for a hot day. [ABV: 12.5% • ± $15 USD]
  • 2010 Bonarda Don Nicanor: Bonarda is Argentina’s second most planted grape. It is known as Charbono in California. For most of its history, Bonarda was used as a blending grape, today being used as a single varietal in multiple styles. Visually the Don Nicanor was of intense purple with a red hue, the wine is lighter in color as compared to a Malbec. The nose of the wine offers aromas of cherry and red currant. On the palate the wine offers medium acidity, moderate tannins, and medium plus alcohol. The Don Nicanor is a food friendly wine probably best paired with dishes that are tomato and mushroom based stews or sauces. [ABV: 14.2% • ± $22 USD] 
  • 2011 Malbec Nieto Senetiner: Visually the wine is intense purple color with a ruby hue. On the nose the Malbec has the typicity of plum along with ample concentration of blackberries and supple notes of mocha. The palate follows the nose providing ample black and red fruit and a dusty cacao texture as a result of the 12 months of French oak aging. Structurally the Nieto Senetiner provides medium acidity, medium plus round tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium plus flavor length. The Malbec is a food friendly wine to be included in meals containing tomatoes sauces pasta dishes, meats, or aged cheeses. [ABV: 13.5% • ± $15USD]

Nieto Senetiner Vineyard

Uco Valley

After spending around 5 hours at 2 wineries our palates and bodies were fatigued and it was decided to enjoy the last hours of sun by driving southwest along route 40 to Uco Valley; a privileged area for vineyard development which is becoming very important to wine production in Mendoza with interest from top producers such as Rothschild and Rolland. Along route 40 we detoured to visit 2 of the three departments in the Uco Valley: Tupungato & Tunuyan- a meal waited for us back in Mendoza and hunger kept us away from the visiting department of San Carlos.- 

Uco Valley Landscape

Uco Valley is a rural area located at an altitude of 2,700-3,000 ft, presenting the peculiarity of having the highest vineyards in the world. The landscapes awaken the sensations: the access routes are lined with poplar, pepper, olive, and quince trees and in the background the image is extended horizontally by the impressive backdrop of the snowcapped Andes. The region is mostly populated by fields of tomatoes, onions, garlic, and other vegetables and the landscape is dotted by adobe single family homes or by contemporary architectural landmarks such as the Salentein, Septima, & O. Fournier wineries which adapt and fuse the colors and textures typical of the dessert with modern construction materials.
Day 2:

Lujan de Cuyo/Godoy Cruz

Upon enjoying our morning dosage of coffe and medialunas, 4 for me and I would be willing to bet at least one dozen for Juanpi, we left Plaza Independencia and drove south bound 30 minutes to explore the region of Lujan de Cuyo. Located at an altitude of around 3,280 feet, Lujan de Cuyo is the first Controlled Denomination of Origin (C.D.O.) established in Argentina. The soils are mainly poor alluvial soils: sandy or stony surfaces on clay substrata. The city is one of the most important wine-growing regions of the country. 

Lujan de Cuyo

Lujan de Cuyo has the feel of a rural-urban fringe, a landscape interface where urban and rural uses mix and clash. The scenery of Lujan de Cuyo is comprised of paved and unpaved roads connecting local families, businesses, vintners, and fruit growers. Poplar windbreaks and sycamore-lined streets hide many aging and unkempt structures and also serve as a frame to highlight some of the stylish colonial architecture of trophy homes and chacras (small farms). Majestic mountains serve as a backdrop image to give this region a picturesque landscape. The streets are quiet and in the morning the main scene are kids walking around unpaved sidewalks heading to school wearing white smocks, the typical school uniform of public schools in Argentina, as if they were doctors headed to work at the hospital. 
Godoy Cruz
Escorihuela Gascon

The Escorihuela Gascon winery is the oldest winery working in Mendoza and one of the most popular brands in Argentina. The winery was founded in 1884 and purchased by Nicolas Catena, from Bodega Catena Zapata, in 1993. Located in the heart of Godoy Cruz, the winery was built in a peri-urban space, aiming to have accessibility and closeness to consumption and distribution centers; today, urbanization in Godoy Cruz has absorbed the areas surrounding the winery, making it part of the urban landscape. The winery is an industrial city: a facility fortified by brick façade walls where all the wine making activities take place after the raw material has been delivered from neighboring vineyards. Architecturally the winery is a large simple volume, occupying one block, on which the aesthetic interest relies on the brick façade, beautified by uses of moldings and cornices. Upon accessing the fortified structure, one finds an atrium, a small open central court, from which warehouses, offices, tasting rooms, a cycle polo and bocce field, and the Restaurant 1884 are accessed. After exploring the winery we proceeded into the tasting room to sample wines under the label “Pequeñas Producciones” (small productions).
Bodega Escorihuela Gascon

The Pequeñas Producciones wines use grapes from high elevation vineyards, the must experiences an extended maceration process to extract more color and tannins, and after fermentation the wines are aged for 12 months in new American and French oak and then 2 years in bottle prior to being release. Even though the wines were around 6 years old, the color was still deep and “youthful.” The following are the wines tasted: 

Pequeñas Producciones

  • 2007 Pequeñas Producciones Malbec: Violaceous in color and very tearful. On the nose it exhibits notes of black fruits with nuances of graphite. The palate follows the nose: typicity of plum, some fig and mint, and a subtle complexity added by ripe velvety tannins, graphite and light vanilla notes. Developing flavors of tobacco and nutmeg emerged after breathing the wine for a bit. Structurally the wine offers medium body, medium acidity, and medium tannins. The wine has high concentration of fruit and a long finish, a delicious Malbec displaying the more concentrated and powerful Argentine Malbec. [ABV 14.2% ] 
  • 2007 Pequeñas Producciones Sauvignon: Intense ruby red in color. On the nose it exhibits elegant and powerful notes of ripe red fruit mixed with light notes of fresh ground coffee, vanilla and bitter chocolate. On the palate the wine is fruit driven accompanied by developing flavors: fruit notes of cherry, currant, and plum accompanied by a slight herbaceous note of green pepper and oak notes of vanilla, chocolate and coffee. The wine offers velvety ripe tannins, good acidity, and a warm finish. The flavors of dark chocolate and fruit compote linger in the mouth for a while. Structurally the wine has medium body, medium acidity, and medium tannins.
  • 2006 Pequeñas Producciones Syrah: Elegant dark ruby color with sediments at the bottom of the glass (Sediment comes about when naturally occurring tannins in a wine polymerize ~cling together~, making them larger and therefore more visible. This is a positive indication that the acids and flavors of a wine have started to develop. To reduce the sediments on glass decant the wine or pour slowly). On the nose the wine exhibits blackberries, cassis, toasty aromas, and developing nuances of spices: black pepper, thyme, and cloves. On the palate the wine is balanced with medium body, medium acidity, and medium tannins. The wine was had an delicious flavor profile: cherries, black berries, developing notes of leather and wet leaves, and oak notes of caramel. The wine displayed velvety and chewy tannins and had a long savory finish. [ABV 13.8%] 

Windows @ 1884 Restaurant

Once our tasting concluded we headed to the adjacent structure to enjoy a meal at 1884, a restaurant run by chef Francis Mallmann. The restaurant is a beautiful decorated space, but the detail that got my attention were the large wrought iron windows, which reminded of architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh designer or one of my favorite buildings, the Glasgow School of Art. The windows at 1884 provide a view to an outdoor terrace and gardens -where on the weekend’s dishes, bbq, and bread are cooked over an open fire or clay oven; unfortunately it was Wednesday-.

Our lunch b
egun with a delicious Zucchni salad : thinly sliced zucchini accompanied by mint, thinly lightly shredded parmesan cheese, toasted almonds, lightly grated lemon skin, lemon juice, and olive oil. The salad was followed by a delicious grilled steak, evenly seasoned by chimichurri sauce, and accompanied by golden rustic potatoes lightly seasoned with olive oil, tomatoes, onions, and parsley. The main course was accompanied by a glass of Escorihuela Gascon 2011 Malbec, a medium body, medium tannin, and medium acidity wine which paired deliciously with the meal. The enzymes of the red meat softened the youthful tannins in the wine and the saltiness from the steak and the rustic potatoes brought the abundance and concentration of fruit in the Malbec. The ‘cherry on the cake’ was the dessert: a raspberry sorbet served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream which provided rhythm and continuation to the lingering flavors of red fruit left by the wine.

1884 Meal


Our visit to CarinaE occurred during the last hours of the afternoon. The winery was already closed to the public; however, Brigitte, one of the owners, welcomed us for one last tasting. The CarinaE bodega is located in a rural area of Maipu along a road lined by sycamores, olive trees, and vineyards. As explained by Brigitte, the viticulture and viniculture is supervised by Michel Rolland’s team in Mendoza.

CarinaE originates from a structure which had been abandoned for about 3 decades and which was purchased by a French Couple, Brigitte and Philippe Subra, in 2003 to create a boutique style winery. The path giving entrance to CarinaE reflects the poor alluvial soils of the area. Architecturally, the winery is influenced by a colonial Spanish adobe style, surrounded by a landscape of vineyards, olive trees, and the Andes Mountains as a backdrop. As explained by Brigitte, more than a business the goal for CarinaE was to express their passion for wine as an artistic form; even the name CarniaE, a constellation in the southern sky, comes from the passion for astronomy from Philippe, which is also reflected in some wines labeled after constellations. 
CarinaE Winery

CarinaE has a large and interesting portfolio of wines to sample; although we limited our tasting to a few wines including the following:

CarinaE Malbec Rose

  • 2009 CarinaE Malbec Rosé: The CarinaE Rose is a saignee of Malbec. The saignee (French for "bleed") method involves making rosé as a by-product of red wine fermentation, where a portion of the pink juice from the grape must is removed at an early stage, and then fermented separately to produce rosé. Visually the wine is a light grapefruit rose in color. On the nose the wine displays soft aromas of strawberries. The palate provides a medium acidity, notes of rose petals and undertones of strawberry, and a crisp finish. The wine is a good company for a hot summer day or to accompany green salads, crudité, or fresh fruit. [ABV 13.6% • ± $11]
  • 2010 CarinaE Malbec: Visually the wine displayed an intense violet-red color, typical of a young wine, and medium viscosity, and indicator of high alcohol content. On the nose the wine displayed the typicity of plum and clove. On the palate the wine followed the nose providing a fruit driven experience of plum and red fruits such as cherry with very lights oak note. The wine has lingering fruit finished followed by a touch of spice and heat, indicative of the alcohol content of the wine. Structurally the wine offer medium acidity, light tannins, and medium plus alcohol. The wine is an enjoyable introduction to people not familiar with the Malbec varietal since its displays the typicity of a young fruit driven Argentine Malbec very well. [ABV 14.9% • ± $11]
  • 2009 CarinaE Malbec Finca Deneza: The glass displayed a deep purple wine with good brilliancy and high viscosity. I assumed the viscosity corresponded to the alcohol content in the wine; however, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the viscosity was mostly a result of the great density of fruit extract. On the nose the wine offered primary aromas of cherry and ripe plums intertwined with a bouquet of graphite and cacao. On the palate the wine offered a mouth filling experience of rich dark berries and plum which were balanced by a soft and round velvety finish along with flavors of vanilla and chocolate powder. The wine had an exceptional concentration which reminded me of glycerin, the compound which gives ice cream its creamy texture. Structurally the wine was balanced with a harmony of medium acidity, medium tannins, and medium body (alcohol content). [ABV 14.0% • ± $39]
  • 2011 CarinaE Passito: Passito refers to an Italian wine making technique in which the grapes are pick from the vineyard and then dehydrated under the sun until they turn to raisins, resulting in a much higher sugar ratio in the grapes. The passito produced at CarinaE uses Muscat grapes which have a characteristic trait of sweet, musky, floral flavor. Visually wine displayed a golden orange color similar to that of new copper. The glass also exposed the viscosity of the wine, since I knew this was a sweet wine, it inferred to high sugar content in the wine. On the nose the wine offered a wide spectrum of aromas: golden yellow notes of dried peaches, apricots and honeysuckle combined with undertones of floral notes, grapefruit, and orange. I was expecting the Passito to be an explosively sweet wine on the palate; however, the wine had a pleasant viscosity offering the golden yellow notes and citric undertones which provided some balance to the finish. [ABV 15.5% • ± $30].

Return to Buenos Aires

“Love for wine is an acquired bug: contagious, incurable and terribly damaging to checking account. “ (Santiago Achavall in the book Vino Argetino by Laura Catena). Indeed I returned to Buenos Aires with less money in my account but with several bottles of wines that reflect a the memory of a place, people met, their stories, the memories shared with my friend, and the inherent memory each bottle will have once its opened and shared with other friends.

Juanpi and new barrel


  1. What a great trip! Friends, fun, food, wine. You make the reader totally jealous. Great photos, too, the food and landscape come alive. Now I want a new oak barrel!:-)

    1. Hi JayCeeze, Thank you as always for your comments and for your compliments. It was a great trip. Lots of wine and food, and to top it off an old-new barrel for only $10 USD.


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