Mendoza: Argentina's Wine Country
Mendoza, two hours by plane from Buenos Aires, is the heart and soul of Argentina's wine country, where European settlers introduced the ancient craft of winemaking in the 19th century. It's also the adventure tourism center of Argentina's Cuyo region, offering world-class hiking, biking, fishing, rafting, horseback riding and skiing, all within reasonable driving distance of downtown Mendoza.
But wine is the main draw in Mendoza, and before you go, it's best to get a primer on the local grapes. Contact Buenos Vinos to get your palate primed for blends like Torrontes, Semillon, Syrah, Tempranillo and Argentina's signature grape, Malbec.
Once you arrive in Mendoza, travel agencies can familiarize you with the various vineyards and wine routes. One of the best is The Vines of Mendoza, an American-owned company that operates a stylish Wine Tasting Room and Info Center in downtown Mendoza. The firm offers aspiring oenologists the chance to brew their own boutique blend from start to finish.
Mendoza is home to more than a thousand wineries. What sets them apart from their counterparts in Napa, Bordeaux, and Tuscany is that most Argentine vineyards share recipes and techniques with tourists. On many tours, visitors are encouraged to get up close and personal with barrels, equipment, and grapes. Most vineyard tours are free but require reservations, and most include a sample tasting afterwards. Call ahead.
Dr. Nicolas Catena, a Columbia University-trained economist and cohort of Robert Mondavi, is widely credited with bringing Argentine wines to the world. His vineyards produce some of South America's most highly decorated wines, including the Nicolas Catena Zapata and the well-priced Los Alamos, now hugely popular in the U.S. Catena Zapata has one of the most recognizable vineyards in all Mendoza, a replica of a Mayan Temple called La Pirámide.
The Zuccardi vineyard offers one of the most impressive tours in Mendoza, which concludes with a mouth-watering asado in a glass-covered patio and open-aired veranda nestled deep inside the vineyard. Each course of the lunch features a different Zuccardi blend; don't make afternoon plans.
The event of the Argentine wine industry calendar, the Vendimia (wine harvest) festival attracts local and international wine lovers to Mendoza every March for a week of parties and parades. It's a heady mix of jet set pomposity and provincial traditions that culminates in a colorful pageant held in a Greek-style amphitheater. This is an event not to be missed.
Aerolineas Argentinas and LAN Airlines run several flights daily from Buenos Aires' domestic airport, Aeroparque. The flight takes two hours and roundtrip tickets cost around $200 USD. Flights fill up quick; reserve early.
Unless you are booked on an organized tour, it's best to rent a car at the Mendoza airport. All of the major international car rental chains have offices there. You can also hire a remise, a private car and driver that will take you wherever you wish for a fixed daily rate.
Where to Stay and Eat:
Two great places are located near each other in the charming neighborhood of Chacras de Coria, about a 15-minute drive from downtown. The Nuevo Hotel San Francisco was one of Mendoza's most popular hotels in the 1950s and 60s, but fell into disrepair until 2004, when new owners renovated the colonial brick building and restored its rustic charm. The hotel's white decor is simple, yet elegant, and a wine cellar houses special Mendoza blends. Outside, a semi-Olympic-size pool and lush gardens make this a great place for a cigar and a glass of the local libation. Rooms from $70 USD a night.
Just down the tree-lined road, Finca Adalgisa gives you the opportunity to live on a small private vineyard. The guesthouses come complete with hammocks and a fireplace, and ooze with rural charm. This place is special. Book early. Rooms from $100 USD a night.
Housed inside the working winery of Escorihuela, 1884 is the flagship restaurant of famed Argentine chef Francis Mallman, who also owns restaurants in Uruguay (Punta del Este) and the United States (the Hamptons). When you enter the iron gates and see the marble floors and plush furnishings, you'll know that you're in for a special evening. The ever-changing menu features local favorites like cordero (lamb), ojo de bife (rib eye), and empanadas, all prepared with Mallman's signature flair.
Since 2001, Brian Byrnes has made his home in Buenos Aires, where he's contributed to the last three editions of Fodor's Argentina.
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