By Bethany Guard
After making the most of Thursday afternoon, we all got up bright and early to visit the Viñalba vineyards in Gualtallary, a high altitude micro-region in the Uco Valley, fast becoming one of the most fashionable areas of Mendoza to grow grapes since both Viñalba and Catena have blazed a trail there. The vineyards are stunningly beautiful as they are situated in the foothills of the Andes, in an area where you can see the snow-capped peaks of some of the highest mountains in the whole range. This photo from my phone hardly does the scenery justice, but might just be enough of a teaser to get you all thinking of arranging your own trip. The picking you can see going on is not the actual vintage – this is a vineyard of Cabernet Franc at about 1300 metres altitude which won’t ripen for another 3 weeks or so. Instead this is a ‘green harvest’, with the pickers removing bunches of grapes from the vines, leaving just one on each shoot. This concentrates the vine’s energy into ripening fewer bunches, meaning they all reach full ripeness with an amazing concentration of flavour. We were allowed to have a go ourselves – and were put to shame with the regular vineyard workers able to clear a whole row in the time it took us to finish of just one vine.
Another highlight of the vineyard was a young Touriga Nacional vineyard – the highest in the world at 1630 metres above sea level. And I’ve got this far talking about vineyards in Medoza without even mentioning the Malbec – don’t worry there was plenty of that too! We visited a plot where the aspect makes the grapes ripen a week or two earlier and tasted the grapes – a week away from ripening and they tasted irresistibly sweet and delicious. Here’s one, about 3 seconds before I ate it.
Our kind hosts didn’t want us to feel like we were working too hard, so after a morning in the vineyards it was time for another enormous lunch. We were welcomed to the Cabaña at the top of the vineyards with a glass of Viñalba Torrontes – deliciously refreshing on this hot and sunny day, a fab alternative to Sauvignon Blanc. Followed by appetisers including beef-filled empanadas, and tiny chorizo burgers topped with cheese. For mains of course it had to be an asado, this time pork, lamb and goat cooked al asador, and paired with an array of Viñalba reds. Interestingly, they serve all the reds slightly chilled – a trick I’ll be continuing in the UK. Lunch lasted all afternoon (in the short time we were in Argentina, there wasn’t a single meal which lasted less than 3 hours), after which, the younger members of the Viñalba members took us out on the town, amazing us all with their friendliness. They put us to shame with their fantastic English, and they made valiant (but ultimately unsuccessful) attempts not to laugh at my terrible attempts to speak Spanish!
Saturday, the final trip of the day, started with a tasting of the full Viñalba range at the winery. The standout wine for me was the Gran Reserva Malbec, actually made from the fruit of vines grown just outside the winery in Luján de Cuyo, some of which are over 100 years old. Powerful but polished with juicy black fruit character, this was my favourite wine of the trip.