When travellers dream of touring a wine region, their imaginations fill with golden sunsets, majestic mountains, well defined vineyards and many, many, many great wines. When travellers have these fantasies, they are dreaming about Agrelo: a small corner of Mendoza just 30km south of the capital where in addition to fantasies, you’ll find many delicious realities.
Firstly the wine. Agrelo is known in Argentina as a classic terroir for Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. Few reds have the sumptuously soft tannins that Agrelo brings to these varieties. Among the aromas that winemakers have noted is something reminiscent to orange peel.
Secondly, great wines are made from large vineyards and wineries, and that’s why Agrelo is the perfect destination for visitors: on a plain covered by an eye catching view between the snow-capped Cordon del Plata and the guayquerías – known here as the small hills of the region – there are fifty or so wineries which welcome tourists. From the large ones like Chandon, Catena Zapata or Septima, to the small and family run ones like Melipal, Viña Cobos or Walter Bressia Wines, to name a few.
But it’s not all wineries. There are also restaurants and wonderful walks through the vineyards to complete the golden sunset fantasy, where beams of afternoon sun light up the leaves and make any particle floating in the air, sparkle like gold.
What to do and where to go?
The wineries of Agrelo are well prepared to receive visitors. And among the better ones, you’ll find a handful that offer good restaurants in addition to wine and package tours. Each with its own gastronomic specialty, they all offer lunch, facing the mountains: Melipal, for its bistro style; Domino del Plata, for the boldness of its dishes; Ruca Malen, for its excellent service, and Bodega Septima, for its fabulous terrace, perfect for sunsets. While Decero, Piatelli and Ojo de Vino, for the quality of their food and distinguished architecture.
Of course food is always a good plan, but not the only one. So, it is worth having a look at other programs such as blend-art in Domino del Plata or Ruca Malen. After visiting the facilities and tasting the wine direct from the tanks and barrels with the winemakers, each tourist can make a blend and bottle their own wine.
If however the plan is to get on and visit some wineries with the simple desire to try great wines, Tapiz, Dolium, Sottano, Chakana and Walter Bressia Wines are good stops. Not to mention the pyramid of Catena Zapata and Viña Cobos from American winemaker Paul Hobbs, considered among the most prestigious wines in the country.
For lovers of bubbles, Agrelo offers a different type of visit: the largest sparkling wine producer in South America, Bodega Chandon. Here in the Argentine subsidiary of the French giant, the tour invites you to discover the secrets of the bubbles and the different methods of its preparation, along with a restaurant where the menu offers only sparkling wine. A great idea and a unique one in this land of red.
As all these wineries are relatively close to each other, touring the wine routes by bike is an excellent idea. Those with pedalling power can check the programs on offer by Hon Travel under wine bike tours. However, some sound advice would be not to do these bike tours during high summer as it can get very hot.
The wines of Agrelo
Agrelo has a cool climate and excellent sun exposure, thanks to its altitude, between 900- 1000 metres above sea level. It is dry, with cold winters and very hot summers. But if that doesn’t distinguish it from the other regions, the real secret of Agrelo is invisible to the eye: deep, sandy clay-loam soils that allow the roots of the vines to explore the terrain and keep their tips wet. For this, the wines are well balanced with soft, sumptuous tannins. Because they are never under real stress. With each variety having its own particular balance.
The Malbec in general is voluminous, with intense flavours, a juicy palate with a firm finish and a deep fruity expression, with fresh black plums and violets. A handbook definition that has lead many to call Agrelo the “cradle of Argentine Malbec.” Some emblematic ones include Norton LOTE Agrelo, Monteagrelo from the winemaker Walter Bressia, Melipal Nazarenas Vineyard or Alta Vista Serenade Vineyard, large, mighty reds that have adapted to thousands of palates.
The Cabernet Sauvignon, meanwhile, is the one that feels most at ease. The wines are broad and enveloping, yet lively, with aromas reminiscent of cassis, blackberries, juniper berries and spices. Pulenta Estate, Decero Remolinos Vineyard, Angelica Zapata Alta or Septima Gran Reserva are notable examples. A selection of wines in which the aromatic depth of the terroir mixes with intense flavours, good body and a docile texture.
So if the plan is to visit wineries, eat well and taste some great wines, look no further than Agrelo. And once back at home, with a good bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec from the area, you can reminisce about the trip. Or with a drink in the living room, fantasising about a trip to wine country.
In any case, the invitation has been sent. Agrelo awaits.
Photo: Finca Decero