I lived in Mendoza during 2009 and 2010 with a return visit from April to May 2011. Earlier this month, I spent 10 days in Mendoza and the five biggest changes for wineries in Mendoza that I noticed were the following:
1. Winemaker Projects
Most of the winemakers at large- to medium-sized wineries now also have their own separate projects, not affiliated with their winery. Primarily, they are sourcing their grapes from Valle de Uco and Lujan de Cuyo. I tried several of these wines though I don’t think we will see them outside of Argentina for a few years as their total production is very small around 2,500 bottles.
Since 2002, new wineries have been established from previous grape growers who sold all of their grapes to large wineries. The new wineries have built garage size wineries on their property or rent tanks and barrels from other wineries to create their own wines. Many of these small wineries now produce some of the most exciting and highly acclaimed wines. In the next 5-10 years, we could see similar results from the winemaker projects.
2. Convection Toast vs. Medium Toast
I had a friend visiting from the United States and we went to three of the area’s most prominent wineries. I’ve been in hundreds of barrel rooms in Mendoza and it was at the first winery I noticed many of the barrels said CT meaning convection toast. Yes, there were still oak barrels with MT for medium toast, plus a mix of French and American oak.
Convection toast barrels are toasted in an airtight convection oven as the ventilation system expels superheated purified air into a fusion chamber and then mixed with purified air at room temperature. The circulation of hot air produces a softer, slower toasting that allows the winemaker to customize the
barrel’s intensity and concentration of aromas in the wine.
Medium toast barrels impart spicy, woodsy and vanilla tones to the wine. Medium plus toast imparts baking spices, roasted and toasted elements.
Winemakers I met with shared they preferred the convection toast barrels as there were more consistent qualities throughout all of the wine in the barrel compared to medium toast barrels in which sections of the barrel had stronger elements than other sections.
3. New Varietals
Many wineries produce wine from Malbec and Torrontes the signature grapes of Argentina. The new trends in varietals in Mendoza differ by region.
There are huge variations between these wines, based on the winery and vintages. I would recommend trying these varietals from these regions by the glass or privately (not at a special dinner) as you may find some you’d like to use them in a sangria mix.
4. Tourists & Pesos
My travels were during off-season for tourists, though many in the tourism industry in Mendoza shared the numbers were low this past summer season. Hotel, airline and restaurant prices have increased significantly in the last few years due to an inflation rate of 10-25% depending on the source.
While I was there the official exchange rate for pesos to dollars was 5.14 to 1. On the black market (known as blue) the rate was ranged from 8.10 (up to 8.44 in some areas) to 1. You can read more about in The Wall Street Journal.
5. Use Your Laptop
If you are planning to visit or conduct research on wineries in Argentina make sure to bring your laptop. Unfortunately, many winery websites still use Flash and not user friendly for the iPad. Plus, brush up on your Spanish as many of the winery websites offer English versions of their website, though with very little information compared to the Spanish sections.