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Mendoza Wine Guide: Great Bottles from Argentina’s Top Region

There’s much more to this notable area than Malbec

Vicki Denig By March 31, 2022
Atuel Canyon in San Rafael, Mendoza, Argentina
Atuel Canyon in San Rafael, Mendoza, Argentina. Photo of Mendoza by Bruno Aguirre/iStock. Photo of red wine by Casimiro/iStock.

Although synonymous with fresh, fruit-driven bottles produced from the Malbec grape, Mendoza’s wine-producing scene goes far beyond monovarietal red wines. Located in western Argentina, this diverse, high-altitude wine region is home to some of South America’s most exciting and high-quality wines. 

Mendoza was once synonymous with bulk wine production. However, over the past few decades — and thanks to a handful of quality-focused producers — there are many classic, high-grade wines coming out of the region. From cool-climate Cabernet Franc to mineral-laden Chardonnay to signature smooth bottles of Malbec, there’s nothing that this world-class wine region can’t do. 

Quick Facts

  • Location: Western Argentina. 
  • Size: more than 355,000 acres planted.
  • Main grapes: Malbec, Torrontés.
  • Benchmark producers: Bodega Catena Zapata.

Where is Mendoza?

Mendoza is a wine-producing region located in western Argentina. The wine-growing area is centered around the city of Mendoza, the capital of the province. 

What kind of wine is made in Mendoza?

Mendoza is best known for its medium- to full-bodied red wines produced from the Malbec grape variety. 

What are the main grape varieties of Mendoza?

Over the past few decades, Mendoza has become synonymous with its Malbec production, but Cabernet Sauvignon and Bonarda are also two key red varieties. For white wine, Torrontés is Mendoza’s most important grape variety, with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc also playing significant roles. 

What are the subregions of Mendoza?

The five main subregions of Mendoza are Maipú, Luján de Cuyo, Uco Valley, San Rafael, and East Mendoza, otherwise referred to as San Martín. 

Who are the benchmark producers of Mendoza? 

Historically, Bodega Catena Zapata is the most iconic producer in Mendoza and has made pioneering advances in both viticulture and vinification over the past century. More recently, producers like Achaval-Férrer and Familia Zuccardi have also helped to establish Mendoza’s international renown. 

6 producers to buy now:

Bodega Catena Zapata (Luján de Cuyo)

Catena Zapata is arguably the most important winery in Mendoza. The estate was first established by Italian immigrant Nicola Catena back in 1902, and today, is spearheaded by the dynamic and forward-thinking Laura Catena, a medical doctor. The family has spent over a century analyzing the region’s different growing sites and micro-terroirs and has not only played a significant role in establishing the reputation of Argentine wine abroad, but through the research work done at their Catena Wine Institute, has made a major contribution to the understanding of viticulture at altitude. In addition to carrying on local tradition, the family incorporates sustainable efforts into all that they do, far and beyond farming techniques. Encouraging biodiversity, investing in research, and creating an abundance of local jobs for the people in their community is just the beginning.

bottle of Catena Zapata Malbec (NV)

Catena Zapata Malbec NV (~$16)

This extremely popular, budget-friendly, and easy-to-find Malbec is the quintessential wine for understanding what Mendoza is all about. Like all wines from Catena, their flagship Malbec is produced from estate-grown fruit. The wine is aged for 14 months in French barriques prior to release.

Note: For a higher-end expression of Catena Malbec, taste the estate’s Malbec Argentino 2019 bottling, which tells the epic story of the Malbec grape and Catena family on its label. 

bottle of Catena Zapata Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Catena Zapata Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 (~$49)

Catena’s Alta level of wines represents the family’s quest to create super-premium cuvées during the mid-1990s. Fruit for these wines are sourced from higher-altitude vineyards and undergo a more sorting process, leading to concentrated, complex, and textured wines. This rich-yet-restrained Cabernet Sauvignon depicts Mendoza’s high potential for cultivating the variety, especially when grown in higher-altitude, cooler-climate sites.

Canopus (Uco Valley)

Spearheaded by former journalist Gabriel Dvoskin, Canopus is one of the few organic wineries pursuing biodynamic certification in Mendoza. After living abroad in Asia and Europe for 15 years, Dvoskin discovered a passion for wine, which led him to work internships in Barolo, Burgundy, and Mosel. He returned to Argentina in 2007 in search of cool-climate vineyard sites from which he could produce restrained, site-specific wines; the answer was found in the Uco Valley. Today, Dvoskin produces high-quality wines, marked by high levels of acidity and distinct freshness, from a mosaic of soil types. He prefers to use neutral vessels — mostly concrete — in the cellar, to let the land speak through the juice.

 

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bottle of Canopus Pintom Pinot Noir 2019

Canopus Pintom Pinot Noir 2019 (~$40)

Produced from organically-farmed fruit, this Pinot Noir comes from southeast-facing vines planted in 2010. The wine is vinified in a combination of concrete and 225-liter French oak barrels and is bottled without fining or filtration. Partial whole-cluster fermentation is implemented to add texture and retain freshness.

bottle of Canopus Malbec de Sed 2020

Canopus Malbec de Sed 2020 (~$18)

Forget the overripe and over extracted Malbecs of yesteryear. This fresh and fruit-driven wine comes from two vineyard sites farmed by Dvoskin’s local friend, Javier Martini. The wine is vinified in concrete after a week-long maceration and is bottled without fining, filtration, and only 49 parts per million total of sulfur. Malbec skeptics, this one’s for you.

El Enemigo (Maipu)

El Enemigo is the brainchild of Alejandro Vigil, the chief winemaker at Bodega Catena Zapata and head of the soil division at Argentina’s Wine Institute, and historian Adrianna Catena. A bona fide soil expert, Vigil, alongside Catena, produces El Enemigo wines in the foothills of Maipu, Mendoza, specifically within Piedemonte al Sur. Here, high-altitude vineyards create acid-laden fruit, which is the backbone of the estate’s thirst-quenching, incredibly structured wines. The name El Enemigo pays homage to the internal battle we all fight within ourselves, which Vigil deems to be the original enemy. In addition to making wine, Vigil also keeps a cow on-site, which he uses for milk to donate to local school children.

 

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bottle of El Enemigo Cabernet Franc 2017

El Enemigo Cabernet Franc 2017 (~$22)

Cabernet Franc has played a major role in both Catena and Vigil’s lives. Catena grew up drinking Bordeaux blends with her father; Vigil served Angelica Zapata Cabernet Franc at his wedding. Both adore the peppery, fruit-driven flavors found within the wine, coupled with the fine-grained tannins that their cool-climate fruit brings.

bottle of El Enemigo Chardonnay 2019

El Enemigo Chardonnay 2019 (~$21)

Fans of Sherry and Jura wines, listen up. This flor-aged Chardonnay is one of the most unique wines coming out of Mendoza today. Honeyed, salty, and incredibly fresh, this varietal Chardonnay ages for nine months under a veil of flor yeast in large barrels, 35% new, prior to release. The fruit grows in rocky, calcareous soils in vineyards cultivated at over 4,700 feet in the Uco Valley.

Zuccardi-Polígonos (Uco Valley)

The Zuccardi family founded their eponymous bodega in Mendoza back in 1963, and over the past six decades, has made waves as one of the most forward-thinking estates in Argentina. Polígonos is the family’s line of wines that pay special homage to the people of Mendoza. Polígonos wines are produced from site-specific varieties cultivated in vineyard sites named after historical figures in the region. Vines are cultivated at soaring altitudes of up to 3,600 feet above sea level and are produced in a restrained, acid-focused style.

bottle of Zuccardi Poligonos Paraje Altamira Malbec 2018

Zuccardi Polígonos Malbec 2018 (~$25)

Winemaker Sebastián Zuccardi vinifies this Malbec with native yeasts and no oak, to let the fruit’s unique high-altitude site speak for itself. Expect flavors of fresh berries, plums, wet stones, and herbs to lead to a lasting finish. Decant prior to enjoying.

bottle of Poligonos San Pablo Cabernet Franc 2018

Zuccardi Polígonos San Pablo Cabernet Franc 2018 (~$32)

This concrete-vinified Cabernet Franc shows just how high toned and fruit driven wines from the Uco Valley can be. The wine’s bright acidity and approachable tannins round out the juice’s herbaceous, peppery character, which leads to a long and sleek finish.

Zorzal (Uco Valley)

Zorzal is a relatively new boutique winery located in Mendoza’s Uco Valley. The estate was founded by brothers Gerardo, Matias, and Juan Pablo Michelini back in 2007; it is the highest-altitude winery in all of Mendoza. Their 173 acres of organic vines are cultivated at soaring altitudes of up to 4,500 feet above sea level and are dedicated to Malbec, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, and a smattering of other varieties. All grapes are hand-harvested and a low-intervention mentality is used in the cellar. The resulting wines are fresh, fierce, and unbelievably easy to drink — as well as budget-friendly.

 

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bottle of Zorzal Eggo Blanc de Cal Sauvignon Blanc 2019

Zorzal Eggo Blanc de Cal Sauvignon Blanc 2019 (~$25)

While Sauvignon Blanc is not the signature white variety of Mendoza, this bottle from Zorzal is an absolute must. The fruit comes from the Kondor Vineyard, which was planted in 2007 at 3,200 feet above sea level. The wine is vinified with native yeasts in concrete eggs and ages on its lees prior to release. Only 250 cases of this refreshing, acid-laden wine were produced.

bottle of Zorzal Eggo Franco Cabernet Franc 2017

Zorzal Eggo Franco Cabernet Franc 2017 (~$30)

Fruit for this varietal Cabernet Franc is sourced from the Tupungato Winelands in the heart of Gualtallary, Mendoza. The wine is vinified with partial stem inclusion in cement eggs, with 50% of juice seeing three to four months of skin contact prior to aging. The wine shows multifaceted flavors of pepper, iron, red berries, and spice. Loire Valley fans, give this one a go.