Wine me, dine me. Simple methods to win my heart. After having been wine tasting together in Napa and Tuscany, we knew we couldn’t be so close to Argentina’s wine country (another of the world’s Great Capitals of Wine) without making it a destination. Set just below the Andes, Mendoza is a lively metropolitan area that is home to a little over a million people. The altitude and elevation in Mendoza is key to creating the perfect climate for grapes that produce rich wines with good acidity and intensity. Mendoza is surrounded by the three wine regions: Lujan de Cuyo, Uco Valley, and Maipu. The city of Mendoza is centered around the Plaza Independencia, which is where we stayed. All around the city you will find exposed ditches, which are actually small canals that run along the roads to supply water to the trees. Be cautious when walking around, especially at night, hey could be easy to step into if you aren’t paying attention! These ditches are similar to the irrigation control used by many of the vineyards.
We spent three nights in Mendoza. We arrived in the late afternoon and started with wine and cheese at one of the restaurants in our hotel. Then, we explored the city before an elaborate meal that was one of the most memorable of our lives. Our hotel had a casino inside so we had plenty of night time entertainment following dinner. The next morning, we woke up early and had an amazing breakfast at our hotel before being picked up by our wine guide to go to the Uco Valley region for a day full of tastings. Our final stop included a five course meal paired with wines. We were so full and tired that we relaxed that evening. The next morning, we woke up and filled our stomaches at the hotel again to prepare for another day of wine tasting in the Lujan de Cuyo region. Again, our day ended with a five course meal paired with wines. That night we ordered room service to satisfy our never ending empanada cravings and tried our luck at the casino. We left early the next morning feeling extremely content with our time in Argentina’s wine country. Planning a trip to Mendoza? Keep reading for more about our trip and my recommendations.
GETTING THERE & AROUND
The best way to reach Mendoza is via the International airport. However, there are buses that run from both Buenos Aires (approximately 13 hours) and Santiago (approximately 6 hours). City buses run throughout or taxis are prevalent. Wineries are spread out in the valleys surrounding Mendoza and the regions themselves take a little time to reach. It took us about 45 minutes to get from one winery to another on one of our tasting days, so plan accordingly. When wine tasting, drivers and vans are available either for private hire or through a wine tour company. Taxis will take you to wineries as well. Rates to different regions are posted in the taxis, but you may have difficulty finding cabs from winery to winery unless you have prearranged them to pick you up. If you are wine tasting in Maipu, many people rent bikes and plan to visit wineries that are closer together. If you are tasting in Lujan de Cuyo and the Uco Valley, biking is not the best method of travel. Also, many of the wineries can be difficult to find if you are unfamiliar with the area and of course, you should not plan to drive if you have been drinking. Long story short– just hire someone to do your driving!
There are plans for a wine train (El Tren del Vino) that will provided local transportation through the wine producing districts of Mendoza. I don’t know the details, but will definitely look into the progress for my next trip. A booze cruise on a wine train could be an interesting experience!
There are several companies in Mendoza that offer wine tours to meet a variety of needs. You can get a private trip custom tailored for you, go in a small group, or go in a larger group. We chose a small group tour through Ampora Wine Tours and made a few requests (such as where we wanted to eat lunch both days) that the company gladly accommodated. Given that we were there in the ‘off season’, there was no one else doing a tour with our company one day, which left us with a private tour. On our other day another couple was with us from England. We enjoyed having other perspectives on the wines and they were fun to talk to throughout the day.
- Ampora Wine Tours: this is the company we used and I would definitely recommend them. We had a former teacher named Sabrina as a guide on our first day to the Uco Valley and she went above and beyond to educate us about the region, wineries, and wines. She even stopped to help us get some medicine when we mentioned we might be coming down with a cold. On the second day our guide was a lawyer named Jose who was also knowledgeable and provided a different perspective when tasting. Both guides spoke English and helped make our experience enjoyable. Our tours included transportation from our hotel, the guides, wine tastings, and a five course lunch and wine pairing. When visiting Lujan de Cuyo we went to four wineries. In the Uco Valley we went to three wineries, since they are more spread out and further from the city. All of their tours are small groups (2-8 people), but they do offer private tours as well.
- Uncorking Argentina: this company does private tours and is highly recommended. Tours include a private driver and tour guide. They create custom itineraries for you based on your interests or preferences. However, it is significantly more expensive than a small group tour.
- Trout & Wine Tours: this company is highly rated and offers a variety of tours such as cooking at a winery, a city tour, trout fishing, and horseback riding.
The wineries here are extremely generous and many of the tastings included pours that were the size that many restaurants give when you order a glass. Several brought out special bottles for us to try and most will gladly give you more of any wine if you really enjoyed it. I never got the feeling that they expected you to buy a bottle at the end of the tasting, even though we often did. Lujan de Cuyo and Uco Valley alternate days that many of the wineries are closed on the weekends, so check ahead. Most require a few days’ notice for tastings or other reservations.
My favorites on the days we visited included:
- Bodega Gimenez Riili: this is owned by a family and I loved their story. One of the brothers served us and was extremely generous. This was the first winery I had ever done a tank and barrel tasting at, which was such a unique experience. Towards the end of our tasting, they brought out a special bottle for us to try and some empanadas when we were mentioning how much we loved them. The rap music that was playing did not necessarily match the atmosphere of the tasting (and I’m a rap fan), but the wine and service were delicious. They also have a guest house that will soon be available for rent.
- Familia Cassone: if one of the owner’s here looking like the Argentine George Clooney isn’t enough to make you want to visit, the gorgeous tasting room, delicious wines, and hospitality should be. The tour was wonderful and personal and was a perfect start to our tasting day in Lujan de Cuyo.
Pulenta: one of my favorite wines we purchased was from this winery. I loved touring their grounds and learning more about the unique way they approach wine making. There is a room that is full of new ‘experiments’ the winemakers are trying which was great to learn about. With an up-close view of the Andes and an amazing cheese pairing, this winery was an all around great experience.WHERE TO EAT
- Francis Mallman 1884: holy moly this guy knows his food. Francis Mallmam is one of the most famous chefs from South America and was featured on an episode of Netflix’s documentary Chef’s Table. We watched the documentary prior to eating at the restaurant and I am so glad we did because it helped us understand his style of cooking. We ate here for dinner on our first night in Mendoza and it was one of the most delicious and memorable of our lives! I had a lamb that had been roasted for 7.5 hours with mashed potatoes that was melt in your mouth delicious (My mouth is watering again just writing this) and my boyfriend had a steak with chimichurri and scalloped potatoes. The service was wonderful and the atmosphere, food, and wine of the restaurant were all a perfect representation of this region of Argentina. If you are going to Mendoza, EAT HERE!
- Uvas Lounge & Bar: we stopped by this lounge in our hotel on our first afternoon in Mendoza to start tasting wines of the region and to enjoy some appetizers. We had a wonderful cheese plate and a sampling of empanadas. Prior to this we had not had sweet corn empanadas and they quickly became a favorite.
- Casa de Uco: we had a five course lunch and wine pairing here during our tour of the Uco Valley. It was absolutely wonderful! After reading about the hotel and the chef, we requested this as a stop and I am so glad we did.
- Bodega Ruca Malen: the restaurant here was named “Best of Wine Tourism” Global Winner in 2014 by Great Wine Capitals. With a delicious menu that perfectly pairs with their wines and a picturesque view of the Andes, this meal was a wonderful experience during our day of tasting in Lujan de Cuyo.
- Bistro M: also located inside our hotel, this restaurant serves a delicious breakfast each morning. It is a little pricey, but it has a lot of variety and really good food. I couldn’t get enough of a dulce de leche pastry they had. They have Italian style food for lunch and dinner, also.
- Grill Q: this is a traditional style Parrilla that is also located inside the Park Hyatt with traditional steaks and killer empanadas.
- Don Claudio: stop here and try an Argentine staple, the lomo, which is a sirloin sandwich with cheese and an egg (a lomo we had at our hotel is pictured above).
- Maria Antonieta: if you find yourself needing a big brunch following a day and night full of wine, this is your spot. They also offer lunch and dinner menus with a large variety of foods.
- Ferruccio Soppelsa: this little ice cream parlor is a must for your sweet tooth when visiting Mendoza.
WHERE TO STAY
- Park Hyatt Mendoza: we stayed here (pictured above) and if you are looking to stay in the heart of Mendoza, I highly recommend it! It has several great restaurants, a casino, a spa, and is walking distance to many places around town. We chose to stay in the city of Mendoza since we were touring multiple regions on different days and wanted to get a feel for the city. The service here is wonderful and the rooms are very nice and comfortable to relax in after a long day of wine tasting. The only down side was that breakfast was not included in our stay.
- Casa Lila: this little bed and breakfast is centrally located in Mendoza and is highly recommended. There are just a few rooms, which creates a nice family feel with great service and good breakfast.
- Casa de Uco: I could not love this hotel more. If you are wanting to stay out of the city to relax and enjoy yourself, this is the place. The hotel design is stunning and the service is amazing. When I looked into staying here they offered to arrange wine tours for us, horseback riding, or anything else we may need. The restaurant (discussed above) is excellent and they offer a several course tasting through their vineyards via horseback. The hotel is new, but runs so smoothly you’d never guess. They are working on villas and their bodega will be finished soon. Next time we head to Mendoza, you’ll find me here.
- Entre Cielos: a luxury wine hotel and spa that even boasts a floating wine loft above their vineyards. It has a good location for tastings and has large rooms and impeccable service.
- The Vines Resort & Spa: named one of Conde Nast’s best new hotels in the world in 2014, this hotel comes with a major price. But, if you are heading to Mendoza on a honeymoon or with some cash to spare, I cant imagine you could go wrong staying here. Francis Mallman is also the chef behind their restaurant, Siete Fuegos, which means you can’t go wrong.
WHAT TO DO
Wine tasting allll day, of course. Add in some cheese plates, empanadas, and steak and I would be perfectly happy. Not too mention a little winning at the casino! But, Mendoza offers a number of other activities including horseback riding, parasailing, fishing, and biking that would be fun, too. Numerous wineries also offer cooking classes.
If your full day of wine tasting doesn’t leave you wanting a relaxing night in, there is some fun nightlife and things to do in town, also.
- Plaza Pellegrini: go here to catch some tango alfresco by the locals
- El Palenque: an after midnight locals spot with good cocktails and empanadas
- Mini Moog Club
I hope this guide is helpful if you are planning a trip to Mendoza or I hope it convinced you that you need to! It is such a wonderful place to visit. I loved the food, scenery, and people just as much as I loved the wine. Thank you, Mendoza for an amazing time. We left with full stomachs, happy hearts, and wine stained teeth.