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Visiting Mendoza, Argentina
Part 5: Terrazas de los Andes

Terrazas was the next appointment. Some disclosure is needed here, because they were the company responsible for funding this trip, and we were staying in the very pleasant guest house at the winery. However, they generously agreed to allow us to visit other producers of our choosing on the trip, which made accepting the invitation a lot easier.

We began the day by meeting with general manager Carlos Riquelme (below), who shares his name with a famous footballer. The vineyard we visited was in Las Compuertas; also near here is another important vineyard area for Terrazas, Vistalba. 

At Las Compuertas, Terrazas have a sizeable 60 hectares of old-vine Malbec. Itís a region where housing is encroaching on vineyard land, so this is one of the biggest blocks. Because of housing pressure, vineyards here are worth US$100 K per hectare, which is expensive for Mendoza.

Vines were planted here in 1930, and the vineyard was bought by Chandon in 1980. Initially, Chandonís policy was to change Malbec to Pinot Noir, because this is what they needed for their sparkling wine. But in the 1990s they began to shift their focus towards still wines and are now grafting 15 year old Pinot back to Malbec. Fortunately, much of the old vine Malbec survived this transition.

Altitude here is 1070 m, with lower average temperatures than usual for Mendoza. The thermal amplitude is significant: 15 įC difference between day and night means that ripening happens slowly and the aroma, colour and flavour are very good.

Mendoza is around 200 miles from Santiago (Chile), with the Andes in the way. The Andes act as a fantastic barrier blocking the pacific influence which is so important for the Chilean wine regions. Here, the vineyards are 800 miles from the Atlantic on the other side, so Mendoza is one of the few significant vineyard areas in the world where there is very limited maritime influence.

Here, altitude is all important, and Terrazasí policy is to try to plant the right variety at the right elevation. They go up to 1500 m for sparkling base wines, 1200 m is just right for Chardonnay, 1100 m is perfect for Malbec (e.g. here and Vistalba), and then 980 m suits Cabernet Sauvignon.

The soil also matters: itís a mix between sand and clay here, so the soil retains enough moisture from periodic irrigation for the shoots to grow without becoming excessively vigorous. Irrigation here, as with most other Mendoza vineyards, is by flood through a system of channels. In the past, the vines might have been watered whenever water was available, resulting in high yields (20 tons/hectare) and low quality. Now it is just once or twice a year. 

The Malbec vine stock used here came from France around 1850, prior to phylloxera. No clones are used; all the plants are a bit different, and this mix of characteristics is thought to add complexity to the wines. The modern French clones are more productive with bigger berries and lower quality compared with the old vine material.

New vines here are produced by the old technique of layering, where a shoot is buried and in turn forms a new root system. This can only work where the vines are ungrafted, as they are here. Disease pressure is low, with no insect pests. Consequently, just copper sulphate and sulphur are used to combat fungal diseases. Glyphosate (herbicide) is used in the rows just under the vines, and every five years or so the nutrient levels in the vines are monitored and fertilizer is applied if needed. The vine roots go down 2 metres, so usually very little is required.

The vineyards here give more of a red fruit quality to Malbec; in Valle díUco you get more floral, violet aromatics. The fruit from this vineyard usually goes to Afincado (yield for this will be 5000 kg/hectare) or the Reserva.

According to Manuel Louzada (below), who heads up Terrazas, pruning is the key to quality in Mendoza. To achieve the right balance, they leave one fruit cluster per shoot for Afincado, 1.5 for Reserva and 2 clusters per shoot for the entry level wines. Vineyard labour is still cheap here. 

After the vineyard visit, we toured the main Terrazas winery. Itís one of the three Mendoza wineries Terrazas own, and is currently in the process of renovation. 7000 tons of fruit are processed each vintage here. The vineyards are run so that they get about double the Afincado/Cheval des Andes quality grapes, 40% more of Reserva quality and 20% more of the varietal level wines. This allows for selection in the winery to achieve the required quality.

The winery was originally built in 1898 by Sorteiro Arizu, who owned around 4000 hectares of vines here. This was one of the big winemaking families at the time. At the end of the 1920s a new winery was built by new owners Domecq: a tall building to accommodate the Ďgiraffeí distillation columns for making brandy (below).

The modern history of the winery begins in the 1950s, with Robert van de VogŁe, the then president of MoŽt who began to see that the production of Champagne wouldnít be enough for the whole world. He embarked on a global search for places to make sparkling wine. From 1955Ė9 he sent his most recognized Champagne winemaker to several countries, including Argentina, Brazil and Chile. It was Argentina that caught his eye, and he decided to form the first MoŽt subsidiary in Argentina.

The trials were conducted in this winery because of the links that existed between Domecq and MoŽt. The winery stayed in the Domecq family until the 1970s when Domecq first rented it to MoŽt-Hennessy and then sold it to them in the 1980s, when it was used as a cellar.

MoŽt-Hennessy began their still wine program in 1991 and started to do trials, making the first Terrazas wines in 1997. They began to rebuild this winery in 1998.

Reverse osmosis machine in the winery 

Terrazas Reserva Chardonnay 2007 Tupungato, Mendoza
Rich, ripe, toasty nose with smooth fruit. Quite tropical, but also has a smooth freshness, finishing with some citrussy notes. A nice mix of tropical fruit and freshness. 88/100

Terrazas Reserva Torrontes 2007
Torrontes is a terpenic grape (terpenes are a class of flavour compound also found in Muscat and Gewurztraminer). There are two sides to terpenes: they can lose elegance and show tinned peach character, or they can go more floral with orange blossom and rose petal notes. This is aromatic, fresh and floral with orange blossom and some tangerine notes. Soft textured palate with nice freshness and bright fruit. 88/100

Terrazas Reserva Malbec 2006
Very attractive sweet cherryish nose with some meaty, ripe black fruits. The palate is fresh with nice sweetness, as well as nice grippy tannins. Sweet fruit combines well with good acid and grip: a stylish fruit-driven wine. 89/100

Terrazas Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
Dense, sweet, structured wine with bold fruit and good tannins. Thereís nice mid-palate richness here. I like the dense, ripe, structured blackcurrant and berry fruit, with some spiciness in the background. 89/100

Afincado Malbec 2005
Sweet, dense, ripe and meaty on the nose, which is lush but still well defined. The palate is dense and concentrated with lovely smooth tannins. Ripe, concentrated, meaty and more-ish. Fruit-dominated with a lovely round mouthfeel, as well as some elegance. 93/100

Afincado Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Dense and pure with smooth fruit and firm tannins. Lovely blackcurrant fruit with real purity and great intensity. Thereís good structure and density, and this should age well. 93/100

Wines tasted 03/08  
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