(March 5-8, 2009) - The Argentines, or should I say the Mendocians, have a passion for their social-culture and their business of wine – each of which is intertwined at every level - that is as intense as any I have seen. Since the first day we arrived in Mendoza we were shown the history of the region and the importance of remembering those who came first; those whose hard work and sacrifices laid the foundation for what we (wine consumers around the world) benefit from and enjoy today. This, coupled with a sincere connection to the land and the value it brings to the business of wine and all agriculture, means that this is a place where people continue to give thanks for what they have and do not just take for granted the ability of modern technology to give them and edge.
The attitude towards the concept of terroir (at least as given by Dona Paula winemaker Stephano Gandolini) is in stark contrast to what we were shown in Chile. In Chile the Cono Sur team was quite determined to show us how they have been pushing the limits of grape-growing and their ability to elevate the diversity of end product. This is done by plating vineyards in more areas where the soils and the climate are different and where there will be a different expression in the wines. Many of the Cono Sur wines were single region if not almost single vineyard wines.
By contrast in Argentina the attitude about terroir has more to do with altitude than with actual soil variation. This is a very modern approach to this concept as the traditional idea of terroir puts a lot of emphasis on soil diversity. I do not know for sure but it seems that mush of the soil types surrounding Mendoza, at least within the defined political appellations, seem to be fairly consistent: clay mixed with a lot of gravel and stones that have been washed down from the Andes. Their key to diversification comes with temperature, which in turn is greatly affected by altitude. You can be in Mendoza city at about 2200’ in elevation and in about forty minutes be in Lujan de Cuyo at an elevation of 3500’. The result is much cooler temperatures during the day, but especially at night.
The affect of temperature as a means to enhance diversity was the focus of Dona Paula’s efforts. Planting in a variety of regions to be able to blend wines from multiple elevations was the current line of winemaking, and we were shown the expression of this with a side by side tasting of the 2005 and 2006 Dona Paula Malbec Seleccion de Bodega.
The 2005 was done in the style of using select blocks of the estates oldest vines (40+ years) and creating a wine that was intense yet elegant and showing a unique flavor profile of not only primary fruit, but secondary flavors unique to the Luyan de Cuyo area and the Dona Paula winemaking process (50 day maceration, 20 months aging in 150% new French oak). The 2006 was a whole different story. The idea here is a “maximum expression” of Malbec and Mendoza. A multi-regional (three) blend of Dona Paula’s best fruit. This wine was intensely colored with a huge profile of fruit and flavor. The mouth-feel is supple and rich. This wine spent 24 months in 200% new French oak, which was hard to really fine it was so well integrated.
The biggest difference between these two wines (aside from age) is style. Both wines showed off the intensity that the over-all Mendoza climate can produce with older vines. What it really comes down to though is preference: a “traditional” expression of terroir through a wine that reflects the unique flavors only achievable from a very select vineyard source, or a modern look at terroir through the maximum expression of the grape and the region it is grown.
What ever side of the fence you fall on, you can count on the wines of Dona Paula to bring you some of the highest quality wines from Mondoza. And, if you are even thinking about traveling to this region, then I have to say it is a must. The city, the people, the land are well worth the time of travel. –BCM