Musing on Mendoza, Malbec and age at Matervini winery
Musing on Mendoza, Malbec and age at Matervini winery

You hear inspiring stories all the time about young people in their late teens, twenties and thirties going travelling the world, starting up businesses and having amazing adventures. In fact, once upon a time I was one of them. But now I’ve just turned 50. Half a century old. And I’m thinking “what next?”

I’m not ready to slide into a comfortable middle age where I dream about what I’ll do when I retire. Maybe I never will be. In fact, let’s be honest, like a lot of people who have spent their lives having adventures and not paying attention to pensions, I might not even be able to afford to retire.

So this, my 50th year, is a bit of an Odyssey, a pause to experience the here and now and then take a deep breath and move forward with some new adventures.

Vines and AndesMy trip to Mendoza in April was a key moment in this period of exploration. A chance to have fun and experience a new wine region with an expert – wine journalist Amanda Barnes, who knows Mendoza like the back of her hand. The opportunity to try to get a handle on Malbec wine.  And the chance to drink great wines with some cool and interesting people, like winemaker Alex Morozov, who brought a fantastic sparkling wine all the way from Benjamin Bridge – the winery where he works in Nova Scotia, Canada – and sommelier Dana Fernandez who, by means of a Tannat from Bouza in Uruguay, taught me not to jump to conclusions when blind tasting.

Also, as I’m in the market for inspiring stories about people – particularly mature ones – doing cool and exciting things, I had the added bonus of hearing renowned Argentine winemaker Santiago Achával explain how, aged 50, after he and his partners sold the famed Achával-Ferrer winery, he wondered “what next?” He decided he still had the energy and enthusiasm to start something new. And so he founded a brand new winery: Matervini. If he could do that, perhaps I too could start something new?

It was short, action-packed and included enough Malbec wine to sink a battleship. It was an awesome visit and my heartfelt thanks go to Amanda Barnes for her hospitality and organization and taking time out of her very busy schedule. Thanks also to Emiliano Valazquez for being a complete knight in shining armour.

Wine journalist Amanda Barnes
Wine journalist Amanda Barnes

Check out Amanda’s amazing wine odyssey: Around the World in 80 Harvests.

Posts to come:

The lowdown on the Mendoza wine region

The rich fruitiness of Malbec wine

Details of my visits to the Matervini, Mendel, Salentein and ReNacer wineries.

How Cabernet Sauvignon wine is made

Have you ever wondered how a bunch of freshly harvested grapes like this…..

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes

Bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon wine




gets made into a bottle of wine like this?






Well this is how the Mendel winery in Mendoza makes their Cabernet Sauvignon wine.

Moving the grapes on arrival



The grapes arrive at the winery in these plastic bins loaded on a truck.

These Cabernet Sauvignon grapes had just come in from the Perdriel area of Mendoza.

The bins of grapes are removed by forklift and weighed.


The grapes go into the destemmer



The bins of grapes are next taken for processing. Here you can see the man pouring the clusters of grapes into a destemmer.

These are whole bunches of grapes still attached to their stems. If all the stems go into the winemaking tank with the grapes, the wine may well have a bitter flavour, so normally wineries prefer to remove most or all of the stems before processing the grapes.  That’s what this machine does.


The individual grapes come out onto this vibrating table. These young women are sorting them and removing any under-ripe or bad grapes and anything else that might be in amongst the grapes, like leaves.

Women sort the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes

The grapes then pass on onto a conveyor, which moves them up into a stainless steel tank. A lot of wineries these days like to use stainless steel tanks because it is easy to keep them clean and free from harmful bacteria, stop oxygen getting in and also to control the temperature.

At Mendel, they add yeasts to the tank full of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, set the temperature to 25°C-27°C and close the lid, so fermentation can start.

Cabernet Sauvignon wine in the tankThis tank shows Cabernet Sauvignon a few days into the fermentation process.  During the fermentation, grape skins and flesh float to the top of the tank and form a mass there, known as the “cap”, which you can see clearly here.

It’s important to break up this cap and stir the solids into the liquid again for several reasons. One key one is that it is the skins that give the wine its colour and most of its tannins and, by stirring them up, you make a richer, more colourful wine. So the winery staff do punch-downs twice a day, pushing through the cap and stirring it all up.

After the fermentation finishes, the wine and skins are left in the tank for 3-5 weeks to macerate. During this time, the final colour and tannins are imparted and the tannins have time to mellow a little.

The Cabernet Sauvignon wine is then transferred (“racked”) into brand new oak barrels for 12 months.  Oak-ageing is a magical process which changes the wine. If the barrel is new, as in this case, the oak lends spicy flavours and aromas to the wine (think cinnamon and vanilla, even cedar or sandalwood and toast). Also during barrel-ageing, tiny amounts of oxygen enter the wine through the wood and they subtly change it, making it more mellow and rounded and reducing any astringency.

Barrel roomIn the photo, Luis Perocco, Vineyard Manager and Winemaker at Mendel, is showing us one of the rooms in which barrels of wine are maturing.

Not all types of wine grapes suit oak-ageing but the classic Bordeaux varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot) are amongst those that do.

After the barrel ageing, the winemaker tastes the different batches of Cabernet Sauvignon wine and makes a blend. Then the wine is bottled and the bottles stored in a cool, dry place to mature in bottle for 6-9 months before being released for sale.

Tasting note

We tasted the 2015 vintage of Mendel Cabernet Sauvignon wine, which had recently been released.

It had all the classic blackcurrant and black fruit aromas and flavours you expect from a Cabernet Sauvignon grown in a warm area like Mendoza, together with the spice notes and that drying cigarbox texture you get from ageing a wine in new oak.

This was a very pleasant, full-bodied wine with medium acidity and pronounced, ripe tannins. It would benefit from a few years’ of further ageing.

For more information about Mendel, check out their website.

Posts to come:

Over the next few posts, I’ll be writing about my short but action-packed trip to Mendoza, including details of visits to a number of wineries, including Mendel.

Cinsault tasters Irina Axenova and Hattie Mills

The light-skinned, softly fruity Cinsault grape hasn’t had much of a look-in over the years. If you’ve never heard of Cinsault wine, it’s no surprise. Grown in much of southern France and elsewhere as a component for red blends, Cinsault is rarely made into wine in its own right.

Here in Chile, swathes of dry-farmed, bush-trained  vines planted in the Itata valley in the mid 20th century languished for decades alongside other unfashionable varieties until winemakers recently began to realise their potential.

Old vines tend to have deeper roots and produce small quantities of more concentrated, flavoursome grapes than newer upstarts. And concentrated grapes can be made into superb wines. And so, just a few years ago, the first Cinsault wine was produced in Chile.

And Chilean Cinsault wine has caught on. Some of Chile’s bigger producers, like Concha y Toro and Miguel Torres are buying in grapes to make their Cinsault wines, while a number of small producers in Itata are making their own versions.

All are light in body and tannins with fresh acidity and juicy red fruit. Some are more aromatic than others. In our tasting De los Viñateros Bravos was the one that took the floor with its soft tannins, light colour and floral aroma.

These wines would be fine as appetizers, slightly chilled to a little below room temperature (15°C) and served with lighter meals, such as white meat, fish or salad. An excellent alternative to Pinot Noir.

Cinsault wine lineup
Cinsault wine lineup

Tasting noes

A los Viñateros Bravos Gránitico 2016, 13.5% ABV

This was the most aromatic of the wines we tried, with notes of flowers, red fruit like cherries and cranberries and some spice like cloves and cinnamon with orange peel. In the mouth, this was a dry, medium-bodied wine with light tannins, fresh mineral acidity and fruity flavours.

Trifulco, 15% ABV

This wine was the darkest in colour, though still light compared to other types of red wine. It was also the one with the most body. The aromas were reminiscent of cranberries, sour cherries, rhubarb and spice. The wine was dry, fairly low in tannins but had high acidity, medium body and a medium finish. The flavours were of sour cherries with some earthy notes.

De Martino Gallardia 2016, 13% ABV

Another fragrant wine with aromas of fresh red fruit (raspberries, strawberries, cherries and cranberries), together with a slightly chalky note. This wine was dry with fresh acidity, medium tannins, medium alcohol, lots of fruit and minerality, medium body and finish.

Koyle Don Cande Cinsault 2015, 14% ABV

A fresh, easy-drinking wine with red fruit and herbal aromas.

Stockists in Chile: De Martino wines are available from Mundo del Vino and Cavas Reunidas; Koyle from Vinoteca, A los Viñateros Bravos from Edwards Fine Wines and la Cava del Pescador Viña del Mar and Trifulco from la Cava del Pescador Viña del Mar.

Stockists in the UK: De Martino de Viejas Tinajas Cinsault is stocked by Virgin Wines and Koyle Don Cande Cinsault is available at the Wine Society.

Have you tried a Cinsault wine? What did you think?