Navigating an Argentine wine list can sometimes be overwhelming. Picture the scene;
You are sitting in a lovely restaurant, you know you’ll be ordering steak. You open the wine list and turn to the reds. You are staring at the page and 20 Argentine Malbecs are staring back at you! To make matters worst, they are all from Mendoza. Time is ticking… which do you choose?
One of the best ways to maneuver the wine list is to focus on one of Mendoza’s subregions. There is no better place to start than the Uco Valley. The Uco Valley or Valle de Uco in Spanish, is fast becoming the most talked about Argentine region by wine critics worldwide. English wine writer (and Master of Wine) – Tim Atkin described the Uco Valley as “Argentina’s Napa Valley”.
High praise indeed, but what is all the fuss about?
Where is the Uco Valley?
Located 50 miles (80km) south west of the city of Mendoza it spans 45 miles (70 km) long by 25 miles (40 km) wide. The valley is isolated, rural and incredibly beautiful. Behind rows of organised vines lie the rugged snowcapped Andes. The valley is divided into three departments – Tupungato to the north, Tunuyan in the centre and San Carlos in the south.
I asked Santiago Reta, owner of Finca La Escarcha, a boutique winery based in Tupungato, why he chose the Uco valley for the location of his winery that he founded in 2004.
He explained that the high altitude, diversity of soil types, wide thermal amplitude (temperature difference between day and night) and way that the grapes slowly ripen on the vine, had led him to chose the Uco Valley and not the traditional wine-making areas of Maipú and Luján De Cuyo close to the City of Mendoza.
View of the Andes Mountains from Finca La Escarcha, La Arboleda, Uco Valley. Image Source: Santiago Reta
So why do these factors matter to us?
The Uco Valley boasts the highest vineyards in Mendoza ranging from 2950 ft (900m) to 4900 ft (1500m). At this altitude grapes develop thicker skins as a natural sunscreen from the powerful UV rays. This is why the red wines have such incredible colour; they are dark, ink-black and mysterious – all due to the pigmentation found in the thick skins.
Altitude also plays an important role for acidity level – long warm days ripen the grapes with summer temperatures easily reaching 90 ºF (32ºc), while the nights can drop to a very chilly 50 ºF (10ºc). This dramatic change in temperature allows the vines to rest, helping the grapes to retain acidity and in turn, the wines’ freshness.
Due to these cooler temperatures, wineries are starting to plant grapes that prefer colder climates, such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Viognier, and Syrah, giving customers an even greater choice of Argentine wines.
So next time you open a wine list, give the Uco Valley a go!