No Mendoza wine tour is complete without a visit to Clos de Chacras, a boutique winery in the heart of Chacras, just a short jaunt from Mendoza. This bodega is unique in that it has an Argentine owner, which is actually something of a rarity in Mendoza (most vineyards are owned by French, Italians, and Americans). The granddaughter of the original owner, a Swiss-Italian man by the name of Gargantini, re-bought the vineyards after a general “wine crisis” in the early 1970s – as products like Coca Cola became widely available, wine consumption dropped like a stone and many vineyards suffered. Wine consumption per capita went from 100 L/year (which, by the way, is a good 1.5 glasses per person per day!) to a mere 14-16 L/year. However today, with the Malbec grape flourishing and making Mendoza famous the world over, Clos de Chacras is back in business and producing 80 000 bottles annually.
We started outside, and tasted a couple of grapes right off the vine – tiny, juicy berries hot from the sun and bursting with sweetness.
We continued inside, where the vineyard still uses concrete fermentation tanks coated in epoxy – the only vineyard I´ve been to so far that does not use stainless steel. Below ground, the original gargantuan storage tanks which have held wine for over 100 years are on display. In 1899 the winery´s production was a mind-boggling 42 million liters – hence the need for the storage! Locals used to come with their vessel of choice and feel up on wine in the cellar, via a little tap in the wall.
We chatted about the lines at the vineyard – young wines (aged 6 months each in barrel and bottle), reserve (12 months each), and premium (18 months each). Both French and American oak are used in varying quantities depending on the wine. Another fascinating historical fact – in 1921 there was no bottling capabilities on site, and all the wine was shipped to the Palermo neighborhood of Buenos Aires for bottling. Roughly 1000 km by train, one way, for each and every drop of wine! Amazing. In 1948, Clos de Chacras was also the first vineyard in Argentina to use the Champenois method of France, producing the mythical Garre champagne.
We headed up from the cool cellar to start the tasting, on the patio outside. Together with Nicolas, the sommelier, we sampled a Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. The Cab Sauv was particularly good – spicy and smooth at the same time, and I left with a bottle under my arm.
For a post-tasting lunch, I highly recommend Anastasia el Pollo, a classic Argentine parrilla just 10 minutes down the road from the winery. Outside, a long parrilla (barbecue) sits above steaming and smoking white-hot coals. Mounds of sausage, chicken, various steak cuts, and vegetables are loaded on top and turned with care by several busy and sweaty-looking cooks. You can go for the whole shebang – which comes complete with entradas (appetizers) of empanadas, organ meats, chorizo, and morcilla, followed by chicken, steak, pork, roast vegetables, and salad. Only do this if you are very very hungry. . . but believe me it is very very good ;). As I was meated-out from the previous evening, I went for a simple but huge plate of grilled vegetables – they were incredible, fresh off the barbecue, with nothing but good olive oil and salt as dressing. Those Argentines know their way around a BBQ.
If you’re in want of somewhere to go at night, El Mercadito is a lovely place for a fresh and flavourful dinner. It’s also conveniently next door to Barijho Beer garden, a lovely outdoor beer joint in case you are sick of all the wine.
If you’re coming to the Mendoza region, spending a couple of days in Chacras is the perfect way to completely unwind, enjoy the scenery, the sunshine, and a slower pace of life. And the wine isn’t half-bad either 🙂
I highly recommend Casa la Galeana Hotel – the setting, staff, and service is fantastic.