Thursday, September 9, 2010

Llamas in the Vineyard at Bodega Tapiz, Mendoza, Argentina

(Sept. 3, 2010) After a filling breakfast of coffee, eggs, and croissants at the Club Tapiz Resort, we climbed into the van and drove a short distance to the modern Bodega Tapiz winery. It was a very cold and cloudy morning, but the 8 of us were quite excited because it was a winery fieldtrip day.

Arriving at Club Tapiz, we were greeted by the hospitality manager and invited to go on a horse-carriage ride through the vineyards. Four of us climbed aboard and covered up with blankets made of llama wool. We were able to view the malbec vines up close and see the cane pruning with the tule ties on VSP trellis. We also found cabernet sauvignon in a traditional cordon.

Soon we saw the actual herd of about 15 llamas in the vineyard (see photo). Our guide told us that the llamas ate the grass and weeds and also provided fertilizer. However they have to be moved to a separate pasture once the vines produce leaves and grapes, because they eat them. Bodega Tapiz sells llama wool, shawls, and blankets in the winery gift shop. Knitting of the products also provides jobs for some of the local people.

Next was a tour of the 120,000 case winery. It was very modern and we were able to taste sauvignon blanc and torrentes from tank. They are using Lallemand yeast for both varieties, but we didn’t receive a specific number or name of the yeast. Both wines were incredibly fruity and fresh. We also tasted a young malbec from Lujan de Cuyo in tank that would be blended with malbec in barrel. It was ripe and jammy with raspberry and big tannins – an obvious baby which needed more time. Even more structured with grippy tannins was the Uco Valley malbec, which is further south – meaning from a cooler climate in the Southern Hemisphere.

After tank tasting, we were escorted into a beautiful private tasting room with large windows overlooking the tank room. Patricia, the President and Owner, was there to greet us and invited us to sit down to a very elegant tasting of 3 special malbecs. The first was the 2007 Bodega Tapiz Reserve Malbec which had spent 14 months in French oak. It was classic with big velvety tannins and ripe blackberry fruit.

Next was a special bottle of Tapiz Bicentennial 2008 made to celebrate Argentina’s 200 years. It was a very interesting blend of 60% malbec, 30% Bonarda (charbonno), and 10% Torrentes. They were using the Torrentes in the same manner that they use viognier with syrah in the Northern Rhone – in order to provide a floral lift and intensify the color. It was very elegant with more subdued fruit and a nice acid structure.

We concluded with the Tapiz Black Tears 2006 ($30-35 in US). This was a huge, chewy intense malbec with dark berry, anise, spicy oak and velvety tannins. It had spent 24 months in 75% new French oak. This is the kind of malbec that many Americans really enjoy – a huge mouthful of flavor that does not disappoint. Our visit to Bodega Tapiz was wonderful, and we felt very welcomed with the special treatment including a horse carriage ride through the vineyard for llama viewing.

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