Friday, January 14, 2011


We happened upon CarinaE while driving on the dusty tree-lined roads of Maipú. This is one of Mendoza’s boutique wineries that encourage vintage expression and traditional quality winemaking. Our host Elena took us through the simple but immaculate winery, showed us the barrel room, and led us through a lengthy tasting, all the while relating the history and philosophy of CarinaE.

CarinaE was founded in 2003 by French immigrants Brigitte and Philippe Subra. After relocating to Mendoza in 1998 and managing an electric company for years, Philippe invested in the old abandoned winery in Cruz de Piedra that would become CarinaE Viñedos y Bodega. Its name derives from Philippe’s favorite pastime as an amateur astronomer: the Carina constellation containing the massive Eta Carinae nebula hovers directly above the vineyard in the summer and fall months. (Side note: Cruz de Piedra is a reference to the stone crosses that follow the pilgrims' road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain)

The main vineyard of the estate is an 80+-year-old, 11 hectare plot of Malbec, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The altitude here is around 850 meters and the soil is predominantly alluvial, loam, and loamy clay. The Mendoza River provides plentiful irrigation in this region and the vines rarely suffer drought conditions. Here Bordeaux varietals flourish and the Malbec grapes mature beautifully during the long, slow ripening season. No significant pests or diseases plague the vines, save for a little botrytis in rare years. The wines from the Cruz de Piedra area of Maipú have a rich jammy character, with fruit shining through as the focus, as opposed to the higher-altitude vineyards that highlight more minerality and floral notes.

the old wooden press, still used, sits outside the winery
CarinaE’s winery has a 30,000 case production limit making it truly a boutique winery in this region. An old wooden press sits outside the winery. This is not a prop: this 100-year-old refurbished relic from the old winery is still used during the harvest!

cement tanks
Epoxy-lined concrete vats are used for fermentation, and many of the wines are finished in French oak. Though Brigitte and Philippe comprise the winemaking team, Michel Rolland acts as consulting winemaker through his Mendoza-based crew at Enorolland and conducts biannual tastings. The prerequisite cold maceration and prolonged post-fermentation maceration result in concentrated, rich wines with a strong tannin and acid backbone.

Two brands are produced by CarinaE: Octans and CarinaE. Octans is the southernmost constellation in the night sky of the southern hemisphere which contains the southern polar star. It is an omnipresent fixture in the sky above the vineyard due to its location. This aptly named wine is only available through the winery. CarinaE, on the other hand, is available in many countries throughout the world.

Brigitte Subra at the winery

Here are the wines we tasted with Elena:

2009 CarinaE Reserva Torrontés

This wine is vinified in Maipú with grapes from Cafayate near Salta. It has a round mouthfeel due to the 2.5 grams per liter of residual sugar. A nose of tropical fruits and baking spices with a slight ginger ale feel is followed by a lingering citrusy finish. I would prefer it to be a little less sweet, but it isn’t cloying by any means. Overall quite good.

2010 CarinaE Malbec Rosé

The grapes for this wine hail from the 80-year-old espalier trained vines in the Cruz de Piedra vineyard. Fresh and fruity, this is great on a Mendoza summer day in the park.

2009 CarinaE Malbec

Again from 80-year-old Malbec vines. Unoaked and fresh, this wine is full of ripe red cherries. A good wine for the price, but nothing particularly special.

2008 CarinaE Reserva Malbec

Half of these grapes come from Lújan de Cuyo, the rest come from the Maipú vineyard. It has a distinctly oaky nose due to its 12-month rest in French oak. Plummy and full of jammy red fruit, this is another good wine for the price. Parker gave it 90 points for those interested in scores…

2008 CarinaE Reserva Syrah

This wine is from young vines, grafted 9 years ago in the Cruz de Piedra vineyard and trained in the traditional parral method. A vibrant, rich nose of violets, dark berries, and plums. This wine is enchanting! 12 months in French oak have given it a sturdy frame to complement the vivid fruit. We were sure to take a couple bottles home.

2009 CarinaE Cuvée Brigitte

72% Malbec, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon from 85-year-old vines in Cruz de Piedra. Half the wine was aged in French oak for 9 months. Though is contains almost 15% alcohol, this cuvee maintains some elegance and nice structure. This is a delicious fruity expression of Malbec, meant for drinking soon with a roast or rare steak.

2007 CarinaE Malbec Gran Reserva

3211 bottles made. 15 months in French oak. And a whopping 15% alcohol. Chocolate and espresso waft out of the glass, along with syrupy blackberry and a bit of leather. This was almost too much to drink, but in a fantastic way. The long finish lingered on well after we had tasted, and I almost hated to sip the next wine and eliminate the luxurious tannins and intense fruit of this Malbec. This is a must try.

2007 CarinaE Prestige

79% Malbec, 14% Syrah, 7% Cabernet, but the blend varies year to year. These grapes are a selection of the best CarinaE has to offer. Very dark, filled with caramel and toffee, and astounding. This will last quite a while in the cellar as well. Our favorite (and the most expensive, of course).

To contact CarinaE, visit their website or email Elena.

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