Those who are familiar with Mendoza will have been to many of the regions that appear on bottle labels. Luján de Cuyo and Maipú, together often referred to as the ‘First Zone’, are now well known. This is where most of the first wine exported from Mendoza to the world came from. Old vines, famous Bodegas, tradition and of course, the home of Malbec. The area produces rich, ripe, warmer styles but with marked differences between the sub–regions: Vistalba, Las Compuertas, Agrelo, Barrancas and Lunlunta, to just name a few.
Then come the cooler climbs of the Uco Valley to the south, which offers more taut, lively wines. ‘New’ regions such as Paraje Altamira, Gualtallary, Los Chacayes, Vista Flores, Pampa El Cepillo, and La Carrera have recently begun to receive far greater attention and praise.
But it’s easy to miss the real industrial powerhouse of the wine regions of Mendoza. The East.
Home to many big producers, and a few small boutique wine projects that have grown up in the region, Eastern Mendoza is keen to demonstrate its potential to a younger market. Statistically, this forgotten region in Mendoza is the largest in terms of hectares planted, and much of the wine produced is aimed at the thirsty domestic and local markets.
The East consists of 5 main departments, with a few more on the outskirts. By far the largest of these is San Martin, with 28,423 planted hectares (2018 INV statistics), 18.6% of the entire surface area of vineyards in Mendoza. To put this into context, that is nearly twice the size of Luján de Cuyo, and yet it is entirely unknown to wine drinkers abroad.
Next in size is Rivadavia, an area that I have spent a lot of time in, since it’s a short drive from the vineyard I managed in Lunlunta, Maipù, (which lies to the west of Rivadavia), a lovely oasis of lush and green vineyards. With 15,542 hectares under vine, it is almost as big as Luján de Cuyo.
Travelling further east, and, like all of these regions, following the path of the Tunuyán River which originates in the south of the Uco Valley, is Junin. With 11,477 hectares, it too is a major producer of wines for the local market. As we travel further east, we come to Santa Rosa, itself an oasis in an increasingly dry region of Mendoza. Again, the river is key, supplying the water for 9,386 hectares of vines. Lastly comes La Paz, which is at the most easterly point in Mendoza and only contains 274 hectares of vines at the lowest altitude of all Mendoza.
The surprising thing about these regions is the proliferation of grape varieties that are indigenous to Argentina.
Bonarda, also known as Corbeau in its native France, is the dominant red variety with over 8,200 planted hectares. It needs a long growing season and enjoys warm conditions, so is perfectly suited to this region. The productive vine is Argentina’s third most produced grape by volume, and over the years has become a signature variety for the country. The east of Mendoza is chock full of old vine Bonarda, and offers huge potential for the international markets.
Other red grape varieties that like a little heat grow here too. Syrah, Tempranillo, Ancellota (an Italian varietal) and Aspirant Bouschet, a varietal with a vivid colour that is often added to wines that need an aesthetic kick. Even the juice is red, making it a sought after grape.
The dominant white variety is Pedro Giménez, not to be confused with Spain’s Pedro Ximénez. The origin of the grape is still unknown, but it is probably one of the Criolla varietals that are indigenous to this part of the world. This delicious grape is often used as a base for sparkling wines, as well as white wines for the local market.
However it is the pink varieties that dominate in this part of Mendoza. Cereza, Criolla Grande and Muscatel are the most widely planted, but in recent years they have seen the number of hectares reduced. Many young winemakers are reviving the former two grapes with an eye on the international market. Cereza and Criolla are light skinned but extremely aromatic. They make for perfect summer drinking, especially when chilled. Winemakers such as the Durigutti brothers, Alejandro Vigil in the gloriously named Enemigo Wines, Lucas Niven, Matías Morcos and Sebastián Garabaglia are pioneering experiments with each in the region. The UK is now receiving its first imports of Pedro Giménez, and especially Criolla Chica, while Criolla Grande and Cereza are appearing in independent wine shops and restaurants. Expect more to follow. Effectively, this is Eastern Mendoza’s delightful heritage in a bottle.
Viva the East ! #GoEast!!