Less than a two-hour flight from Buenos Aires a visit to Mendoza transports you worlds away from the feel of city life. While the colorful capital city of Argentina is all charming chaos, Mendoza embodies laid-back indulgence at its best. Slow, wine-fueled lunches extend into the late afternoon, and a siesta under the shade of an old olive tree is practically expected of locals and tourists alike. Mendoza is the relaxed kind of place where all plans pause as the sunset paints the sky over the ever-present Andes mountains.
The downtown area is tree-lined and pretty with historical Spanish architecture. It is the place to start your wine trip—but no trip to this revered wine region of the world would be complete without immersing yourself in the many picturesque vineyard areas that lie within an hour of the city. Because there are over 1,500 wineries within the three main wine regions of Lujan de Cuyo, Valle de Uco, and Maipu, it can be very overwhelming to understand where to start, and frustrating to figure out which wineries do tours open to the public and when—that’s where we come in. Also, once outside of the city, it’s important to know that public transportation is not readily available to the vineyards. Because of these factors, the very best way to get around the different wineries is with an all-day wine tour. Let us handle the confusing logistics so you can just kick back and safely drink all you want.
Cosmopolitan Mendoza City is made for enjoying shaded plazas, quality restaurants, a passionate soccer game, and shopping for famous Argentine leather or wool products thrown in for good measure. If you want to stay downtown, try the Park Hyatt Mendoza with all of the amenities expected from a 5-star hotel. Eat lunch at the classic hotspot of Azafran, which used to be the local deli before it found its cult-like following from tourists and locals alike. There, you can leisurely enjoy a cured meat and cheese plate with a bottle of wine. Considering that there are more than 300 different bottles on the wine list, an informative chat with the friendly sommelier might be in order.
Rejuvenate with a siesta followed by vinotherapy treatments at the Park Hyatt spa before walking over to Plaza Italia to listen to live acoustic music at one of Mendoza’s most lovely and romantic restaurants, Florentino’s. It has an indoor-outdoor patio perfect for enjoying a balmy evening, great Italian food, and a glass or two of Malbec. But if you only have one night in Mendoza City, a garden table at Francis Mallmann’s classic restaurant 1884 is just a 10-minute taxi ride outside the city center in Godoy Cruz (reservation required). Their neighbor is the very refined tasting room of Caro, a joint venture between Argentine wine legend Nicolas Catena and French Baron Éric de Rothschild (proprietor of Château Lafite) and the only city winery to offer tastings at night.
Luján de Cuyo
Luján de Cuyo, just 20-30 minutes outside of the capital, offers easy access to the city but a stay here helps you start to feel very connected to nature and the wine-making process. It is also considered by Argentine winemakers to be the heart of the country’s wine industry. With some of the oldest vines in the country, it’s a place where tradition is proudly preserved, often referred to as “the headquarters of Malbec.” Lujan de Cuyo is a perfect spot for anyone serious about the history of Malbec. There are no real drawbacks of choosing this region as your base for an Argentina wine adventure.
An absolute legend in the winemaking world who, when he starts storytelling, seems like he’s lived through all of the evolution in Argentina’s history of wine (and instigated his fair share) is Carmelo Patti. He won’t offer you a shiny bodega, but he will offer you a chair in the lobby of his humble warehouse to taste his internationally revered wines after he personally guides you on a visit through his operation. He’s quite the charmer, and you will soon find yourself under the spell of his mischievous smile and contagious passion for great wine. Save room in your suitcase to take a few bottles home. You’ll be reminiscing about his mind-blowingly complex and sophisticated Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon Reserves long after your journey ends.
Another wine genius in Lujan de Cuyo is the poetic and spirited Roberto Cipresso. Former winemaker for highly acclaimed Achaval Ferrer, in the last decade, Cipresso has created Mendoza’s most environmentally-sustainable wine operation with Matervini, using 100 per cent renewable energy sources. His focus on sustainability is only second to his focus on Malbec—he joyfully experiments with growing Malbec grapes in every terroir imaginable, from young to old geologies and from alluvial to non-alluvial soil structures. He is making unique and award-winning wine from places everyone told him Malbec grapes couldn’t possibly grow, and he’s having a grand time doing so.
One of the world’s finest female winemakers (and notably Argentina’s first female winemaker) is Susana Balbo. Her “Blend Art” activity lets you play winemaker for a day. You’ll try different single-variety wines and combine them to make your ideal blend. Another great way to try Balbo wines is through lunch at Osadía de Crear, the fine-dining family bodega run by Susana’s daughter Ana Lovaglio.
There are very memorable places to stay In Lujan de Cuyo, one being Entre Cielos, a boutique hotel with the only hammam in Argentina. Do the six-stage hammam before blissfully returning to your room for an afternoon rest (we love the Vineyard Loft). The Relais and Chateaux Cavas Wine Lodge offers incredible private villas nestled in 35 acres of vineyards. Bikes are available to guests to explore nearby vineyards, although, with a wine cellar on site that is home to 250 of Argentina’s finest wines, you might want to just stay put poolside. Cavas is ideal for a romantic getaway. Each villa has rooftop access, and there’s no better way to end the evening than by stargazing on comfortable cushions with chocolate-covered strawberries and a chilled bottle of wine.
Maipu is just about 15-20 minutes outside of Mendoza City, making it a convenient first stop when exploring past the city. It is known not just for wine but for food and olives and is home to the “Olive Road,” which offers miles of tasting rooms for olive oil and wine (and a wine museum). The roads are flat and paved so you can arrange to rent bikes, making for a fun and active way to explore. Not to be missed is Pasrai, whose tradition of working with olives reaches back five generations to 1920. Take a guided tour to learn about everything from the cultivation stage to the harvest to the pressing of the oil, and go home with some of the country’s finest olive oil as souvenirs.
When it comes to lunch, languidly savoring the five-course meal with pairings at Casa El Enemigo is where you need to be (leave the reservation to us, it can get a bit confusing to book because it is also referred to as Casa Vigil). Don’t leave without trying their world-famous 2013 Gran Enemigo Gualtallary, the first Argentine wine to receive 100 points by Robert Parker, the kind of old-style Right Bank Bordeaux wine that will mark a before and an after in your wine life. It’s no wonder that this winery is able to produce such quality wine: it is the joint venture of Adrianna Catena (daughter of none other than Nicholas Catena, one of the biggest names in the wine world), and Alejandro Vigil, the soil expert and chief winemaker at Catena Zapata.
As for sleeping, Club Tapiz Hotel and Resto is a casual, cozy, and mid-range affordable place to snuggle in for the night. It is set in an 1890s Renaissance villa surrounded by 10 acres of vineyards and olive groves, with two open-air pools available to cool off in. You could just show up for lunch or dinner, but a much more fun option is to sign up for a cooking class and cook your own. Experts teach you how to grill like an Argentine and use many vegetables and herbs straight from the onsite garden for some mouth-watering sides.
Valle de Uco
Dramatically set at the base of the towering Andes, on a clear day in Valle de Uco you can see Tupungato Volcano in the distance. With sunny skies over 300 days of the year, this upscale region aimed at oenophiles has a climate ideal for creating big reds like Bonarda, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Merlot, and Tempranillo. The only con of staying in this region is that it is about an hour from Mendoza City and once you arrive to this wine wonderland, you most likely won’t want to move regions—Valle de Uco has a way of holding you there.
A Leading Hotel of the World, the Vines of Mendoza is the place to stay—striving for and embodying perfection in every sense. Set among 1,500 acres of pristine vineyards, the “rooms” are the size of homes, some up to 2,700 square feet, complete with a private outdoor bathtub overlooking a lagoon. In this case, the hotel restaurant is Francis Mallmann’s Siete Fuegos, where Argentina’s most famous chef and talented staff explore seven rustic ways to cook with fire. Try the nine-hour slow-grilled ribeye for what may be the best steak of your life. Santiago Achával is the consulting winemaker here, so a stay at this place is a chance to live in food and wine heaven.
Another option nearby is Casa de Uco. For utmost privacy and an incredible view of the Andes, opt for one of their villas. Book a gourmet picnic in their onsite ecological reserve Los Chanares or join an asado right in the vineyard to experience the kind of slow food experience Mendoza is known for.
If you want to explore the area, get out for lunch at the family-owned restaurant and run La Posada del Jamon, which long ago was the only restaurant in the valley. While the menu is a book with seemingly infinite options, it’s known for its ham infused with Malbec. It’s where all the local winemakers gather to eat well and drink well over hours-long meals, and the extensive wine list is definitely up to the high standards of its knowledgeable clientele.
Gaucho (cowboy) culture is as much of a part of Mendoza as wine is. Indulge your inner gaucho with a horseback ride into the mountains at sunrise with a day or half-day trip with Nino Massi at El Viejo Manzano, who will help you to understand genuine Argentinian hospitality. He’s very well-known all over Mendoza for his infectious smile and genuine love of sharing his culture with tourists. He has a wine ranch in Tunuyan near Valle de Uco and any excursion with him will most definitely involve copious wine and delicious local food in droves.
When to go
While late February and early March offer long southern hemisphere summer days, it also is when the Vendimia Festival takes place. It’s a two-week celebration of the grape harvest, and it completely takes over the town. Tens of thousands of people from around the world show up for one big music and wine party, so in order to plan the best possible experience, it is important to work with our experts to arrange accommodations, tickets to events and transfers to parades. April, however, is an ideal time to explore, as the weather is still warm, the harvest has been collected (making it more probable that the winemakers might be around at tastings), and there are poplar trees everywhere whose leaves turn a stunning gold.
More than just wine
While the focus of the “Napa Valley of South America” is often solely the vineyards, it’s easy to forget that you are right in the Andes with some of the best outdoor adventure tourism in Argentina available.
There is white water rafting on the Mendoza River, the same river that irrigates Maipu and Lujan de Cuyo vines. It’s a class III river, meaning it provides excitement but can be easily done even if you have no rafting experience. Excursions take place on the wild and scenic portion of the river above the Potrerillos Dam and Reservoir and the starting point for rafting is usually around 45 minutes to an hour from the city center. In summer there are high flows of snowmelt water which creates large holes and fun haystack waves. This is glacial melt off from the Andes, so wetsuits are provided to combat the chill of the water.
For those who prefer to fish rivers, trout abound in this part of the world. Spend the day on a local ranch with a private river following the stream with your guide who knows the best fly fishing spots. Full instruction is given if needed and it is common for beginners to catch up to 20 trout. Lunch is often a picturesque riverside asado paired with fantastic wines.
And for the most physically ambitious, there’s always the option to climb Mt. Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America at 23,838 ft. While a full summit attempt involves serious training at high altitude and a couple of weeks of your time, it is possible to do a day hike and head back into town by evening to celebrate your efforts with a glass of Malbec.
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