I was up early on Day 4 to get to the bus terminal and take a bus to Tunuyan, my starting point for my Valle de Uco adventure, the most southern of the Mendoza wine regions. There are tours that run there, but they don’t quite reach where I wanted to go, and a customised tour or personal driver for the day from Mendoza was going to be expensive for just one person.
The 9am express bus arrived in Tunuyan at 10.15, and there was a tourist office right there at the bus terminal. Jorgelina at Viamonte had helped me find a number for a remis, or local taxi, in Tunuyan and, with my mobile and the help of the girl in the tourist office (I had her call so that it was a local asking the price and not a gringa!), we were able to get a driver who estimated my round trip to be about AR$300, a third of what I’d been quoted to leave from Mendoza.
My first stop was DiamAndes, one of the Clos de los Siete wineries that I had heard a lot about. It is a project of French winemaker and consultant, Michel Rolland, another important figure in the history of Mendoza’s winemaking. He chose the land for its particular terroir and encouraged a group of French winemakers to take part. Not all of the wineries are established and open to visitors, but of the ones that are, I had been recommended to visit DiamAndes, a play on the words Diamond and the Andes.
The winery has been constructed with every wine making detail in mind. Years of collaborative experience in making wines has created a place that optimises wine making efficiency whilst retaining the integrity of the process, and presenting it all in a visually amazing winery. Making the most of gravity, trucks deliver grapes by way of a large sweeping ramp to the top level, the de-stemming process takes place, and grapes are dropped into their stainless steel vats on the next level down. The barrel room is again a level lower to allow easy filling for the oak maturation process. The rest of the facilities are just as modern and impressive and I had to remind myself that I was actually there to taste the wine.
I had the luxury of a personal tour once again, but I was told the afternoon tours were full. We moved into a beautiful tasting room with a picture perfect view of the vines and the Andes, and I was first served a 100% Viognier with flowers on the nose and a minerality in the mouth. The next wine was a 2010 DiamAndina Malbec (marketed as “Perlita” outside Argentina), 100% grapes from the Valley de Uco and with only 50% barrel fermentation. This was strawberry jam on the nose and lovely in the mouth with an ability to keep for another 8 years in the bottle. The third and final wine was the 2008 DiamAndes Gran Reserva blend of 75% Malbec and 25% Cabernet, aged in oak for 2 years and another year in bottle before release. Beautiful! It’s been voted No. 14 in the Top 100 of Argentinian wines for 2012 by wine magazine El Conocedor.
With the tasting over, I was really considering buying one of these wines, probably the less expensive DiamAndina, when my guide told me that the AR$80 price of the tour was currently refundable on the purchase of a bottle of the DiamAndes Gran Reserva, usually AR$165. An offer I couldn’t refuse and snapped up immediately. Now, this wine has cellaring potential of 25 years, but somehow I doubt it is ever going to make it back to my Australian wine rack. Luckily, it’s still great drinking right now and I’ll just have to find an occasion to crack it open. Aah!
My driver was waiting patiently for me outside, ready to take me to my next stop, O. Fournier, where I was booked for a tour and lunch. Since I was now back closer to a bus terminal, and I was going to be a couple of hours over lunch, I decided to let my driver go here rather than wait in the heat. The winery is another amazing feat of architecture, often compared to a spaceship that’s landed among the vines. I can’t comment since I’ve never seen one, but obviously lots of people have because so many say it.
I was running a little behind schedule, so decided to have lunch first, tour later. I was seated in the restaurant with, once again, an incredible view of the vines and the Andes. Believe me, it doesn’t get boring. Lunch was a six-course menu with four glasses of wine (that doesn’t get boring either, just fattening!), and the ability to select which level of wine you wanted to drink, starting at a very reasonable AR$210 and working up from there.
The meal started with a bread basket of homemade bread resembling mini ciabattas, and my first wine was served, a crisp 2012 Urban Uco Chardonnay, full of honeysuckle and slightly buttery on the nose. The first of two appetisers followed, a yummy zucchini ravioli filled with pumpkin. Next wine was the 2011 Urban Uco Malbec, bringing flavours of dark chocolate and cherry with a slight anise finish, accompanying the next appetiser of sweet potato with aioli and eggplant “ashes”. Not as nice as the first zucchini dish, but still good.
For the next wine, we moved on from the entry level Urban Uco range to a 2008 Beta Crux red blend, predominantly Tempranillo with 60%, 30% Malbec and 10% Merlot. I’m fond of tempranillo, and found this really enjoyable with light notes of peppers and berries. It was going to have to be good to accompany the entrée of sweet breads, and it did its job!
There was a choice of mains, one being steak of course and, being a little steaked-out, I chose the oxtail sorrentinos (like large ravioli) with orange butter. Yum! The wine was a step up again to the Alpha Crux range with a 2005 red blend, again predominantly Temoranillo at 60%, 30% Malbec, and this time 10% Cabernet. This was a high alcohol, big wine, with 20 months on oak, and was full of chocolate and spice and a hint of smoke. I liked it a lot, particularly with the rich food.
Next up was a small “pre-postre” of lemon sorbet, followed by the main dessert of fruit salad with a honey and rum “tulip” and a most delicious passionfruit icecream. This dessert was “wow”, and a fresh and clean end to a big and beautiful meal.
After lunch, the restaurant called for a taxi and I was given a tour around the winery, admiring the unique design features and the art collection which gets rotated, except for one beautiful piece that is on permanent exhibition, a girl standing by a lake, seemingly painted but, on closer observation, is made of plasticine!
By the time I’d finished, my new driver was patiently waiting and took me back to the bus terminal in nearby San Carlos. As we pulled up, a bus was leaving and, in my excitement, I ran to catch it. It was a “comun” bus rather than an express but still, I thought, how much longer can it take? I was prepared to kick back and relax for the trip home. Well, unfortunately, it can take A LOT longer, and it took about three and a half hours to get back to Mendoza, as opposed to the hour and 15 minutes it had taken to arrive. By the time I arrived in Mendoza, I was frustrated and sick of being in the bus, and couldn’t wait to get back to my hotel. Still, you live and learn, and I’d had a great day out, making my own way around the lovely Uco Valley.
It was nice to know that I had a late checkout the next day, time to sleep in, have a swim and breakfast, before getting my 2pm bus through the Andes to Santiago.