Mendoza: Argentina’s largest and most important wine region. The climate and topography found here provide an ideal environment for the consistent production of high quality wine. Meanwhile, the rich selection of restaurants and bodegas (wineries) make this region a wine lover’s mecca and must-visit location on any oenological atlas.
Comprised of three sub-regions (Maipú, Luján de Cuyo and Uco Valley) that span over 400km², knowing where to go and what to do in Mendoza can be confusing. Careful planning is critical and insider knowledge is essential to the success of a weekend visit.
6pm: The most efficient way to arrive in Mendoza is by airplane. The city’s airport receives regular flights from Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, and is currently being expanded to accommodate long-haul international arrivals from Miami and Madrid.
Given the vast expanse of Mendoza, it’s highly recommendable to rent a car while visiting. Rentalcars.com will organise everything with a local agent, who will have your vehicle waiting for you as soon as you land (from $220 for 3 days). It’s a good idea to have at least two designated drivers in your party, that way everyone gets the chance to sample Mendoza’s finest.
Check in to the resplendent 5-star Park Hyatt Hotel (from $150/night), ideally situated overlooking Mendoza’s Plaza de Independencia. The building’s historic facade masks an updated interior, boasting a pool, spa, casino and 3 restaurants, though these should be ignored in favour of the numerous high quality dining establishments within short walking distance.
8pm: Head to Fuente y Fonda for an authentic taste of Argentine home cooking. Proving the country has more to offer than steak, the hearty portions and warm atmosphere set the scene of traditional Mendocino family dinner. Meanwhile, the wine list incorporates an impressive variety of reasonably priced local offerings, perfect to warm the palate for the upcoming weekend.
Pick up a coffee and selection of facturas (sweet pastries) from BRÖD, the locals’ favourite bakery. Enjoy this luscious breakfast whilst meandering the streets and plazas, all the while appreciating the cleanliness and general tranquility of downtown Mendoza.
11am: Bodega Ruca Malen is located in the Lujan de Cuyo sub-region of Mendoza, 30km south of the city. The bodega is a culinary heavyweight and it’s seasonal tasting menu is celebrated regionwide. Yet it is the picada (sliced cured meats/cheese selection) that delivers best value for money and is a more suitable lunch option. For $30 per person, lunch includes a guided tour of the winery as well as two brimming glasses of wine and as much water as you can drink. We recommend the award winning Petit Verdot and the extra special Kinien Don Raúl de la Mota blend.
Next up is Bodega Salentein, in the heart of the Uco Valley. Situated 75km south of Ruca Malen, getting there will take around 1 hour if you take Route 40 as suggested by Google Maps. However, if you instead head west towards the Andes mountains (along Route 7, before turning onto Route 84), you will be treated to some of the most spectacular views in all of Argentina. While this detour adds around 40 minutes onto your journey, the picturesque scenery and countless photo opportunities are a large part of what makes visiting Mendoza so special and should not to be missed.
3pm: From the exterior, Bodega Salentein bears more resemblance to a contemporary art museum than a working winery. The minimalist architecture is a stark contrast to the extreme surroundings and the location, desperately isolated and chosen for its altitude and unique terroir, provides a stunning backdrop for winemaking.
Arrive in good time for the english-language guided tour (3pm, $25/person), which explores the cathedral-like interior of the bodega and culminates in a four glass tasting, deep within its vaults. Before leaving, soak in the scenery from the winery’s elegant bar, where all of Salentein’s wines are conveniently served by the glass.
5pm: While many of the nearby bodegas offer accommodation, there is one stand-out property whose reputation rises head and shoulders above them all. Much like the distant Aconcagua peak, peering down on the Andes, Casa de Huespedes Finca la Azul is the region’s pinnacle when it comes to luxury-boutique accommodation (from $145/night). The modern, 6-bedroom retreat blends breathtaking views with opulent, spacious rooms. Hosts Shirley and Pablo add the finishing touches with genial, familiar service.
Whether you are relaxing by the pool, or keeping cosy in front of the fire, it is imperative to do so with a glass of Finca La Azul in hand. Grapes grown in the surrounding vineyards produce wines that maintain the hotel’s high standards, as do the nightly feasts, which Shirley & Pablo prepare and serve. Of the many delightful bottles on offer, the crisp and refreshing Sauvignon Blanc displays stunning minerality and is a fantastic expression of the Uco Valley terroir.
After all of Saturday’s indulgences, one could be forgiven for wanting to lie in. The gigantic beds at Casa de Huespedes do nothing to quash the appeal of sleeping long into the morning, but doing so would mean missing the magical Mendocino sunrise. This can be witnessed from each of the bedrooms or their individual, private outdoor seating areas; though best of all, whilst ambling local country tracks. And if that’s not enough to entice you, there’s the wonderful continental breakfast awaiting your return, complete with freshly squeezed orange juice and eggs cooked to your preference.
11am: Nearby Bodega Domaine Bousquet is notable for being the first completely organic winery in the region and one of the earlier established bodegas in the Uco Valley. The bodega’s knowledgeable and friendly staff lead informative english-speaking tours, which can be arranged at your convenience. Lunch follows and it’s a decadent affair - 6 courses, complete with paired wines, all competently prepared by Executive Chef Adrian Baggio.
3pm: Return to Mendoza city via the same scenic, winding roads of the previous day. Discover the city’s Cerro de la Gloria (Hill of Glory), atop which stands an impressive bronze sculpture of General San Martin - leader of the 19th Century South American revolution. The hilltop is reachable by foot though the ascent is deceptively arduous. Those that make it to the summit are treated to impressive views and an ideal vantage point from which to watch the setting sun.
8pm: After checking-in once more to the Park Hyatt Hotel, head across town to celebrity chef Francis Mallman's critically acclaimed restaurant 1884. The restaurant pays homage to the local region with a 75 page wine list and groaning cellar that boasts around 12,000 bottles. The food menu is a simpler affair and places emphasis on quality of produce and cooking technique.
Extra touches such as a tour of the impressive wine cellar and outdoor tables overlooking the parilla (barbecue) and horno de barro (clay oven) transform a pleasurable experience into an unforgettable one. Watching the chef conduct the parilla like an orchestra, while you enjoy a fine Malbec, is the perfect ending to a memorable weekend in Mendoza.
Photo Credits: Bharat Vohra