Argentinian WineMendoza – Argentine Sideways
In the oenophile’s eternal conflict between Old World and New, youth occasionally comes out swinging, especially when it’s got Malbec, steak, and South America on its side. Case in point: Mendoza, Argentina, the largest wine-producing area in Latin America.
Good For: Couples and large groups of friends who want to wine-taste, Argentine Sideways-style.
- Visiting the Salentein winery, which is worth a stop even without the wine because it features one of the best art collections in Argentina.
- Dining at Siete Cocinas – gourmet cuisine with ingredients sourced from seven regions in Argentina, plus a cool kids atmosphere.
- With over 1,200 wineries in Mendoza, you can go Argentine Sideways with all sorts of vintages, from premier names like Achaval-Ferrer to newbies Hand of God Wines to family vineyards Carinae and Viña el Cerno.
- Breaking up wine-tasting with a five-course lunch – paired with wine, of course – at Belasco de Baquedano's restaurant Navarra, all for around $40.
What to Know: Take early flights to get to Mendoza from Buenos Aires; even the airlines are on Argentine time. Note that picking between Lan and Aerolineas Argentinas is basically like choosing between the lesser of two evils. Alternatively, Mendoza is closer to Santiago, Chile, than to Buenos Aires, so you can make it a combined Chilean and Argentine wine-buying trip.
Off season can be cold and dreary; travel to Mendoza during the 300-plus days of warm sun and green fields as far as the eye can see. South American seasons are opposite of that in the Northern hemisphere, which means prime harvest season is February and March. Think festivals that would make Bacchus proud. If you're planning to hand-carry all your wine and olive oil from the vineyards, reconsider. Shipping is a small fortune but worth it for all the Malbecs that you can’t buy back home or elsewhere abroad.
Suggested Stay: 2–3 days
Mendoza boomed as Latin America’s first serious wine-growing region thanks primarily to 19th-century immigrants. These Southern Europeans introduced new viticulture knowledge to Argentina’s antiquated wine industry, planting primarily French stock (Malbec, largely) that grew the region’s vineyards to 45,000 by 1910. Today, Mendoza’s mountains protect its vines from ocean moisture, while the desert climate ensures over 300 sunny days annually. High-altitude vineyards ensure grapes with thick, robust skins that produce rich-tasting, deeply colored wines.
A Place to Call Home
While an established wine region, Mendoza still seems like the new frontier compared to Napa Valley. There is a rugged authenticity as you pass through modest towns and travel on dirt roads that seem to lead to nowhere. Do yourself a favor and hire a driver if your Spanish skills are limited to restaurant menus. With a designated driver, this also means you can taste freely at the wineries. A trip to Mendoza is mainly about the wine; plan to spend the minimum amount of time in your hotel. Hotels have a ways to go to reach the standards of luxury spa getaways in Napa. The highest-end accommodation in Mendoza is claimed by the Park Hyatt, on Plaza Independencia, which is near the best restaurants in town. Not quite at the service or appointment standards of the other Park Hyatts around the world, it’s still a comfortable stay with a full-service wine bar and outdoor terrace overlooking the Plaza. For a bed and breakfast, try the four-room Casa Lila, which is the choice of frequent travelers to Mendoza.
Essentially the Napa Valley of Argentina, this isn’t just wine country; this is Malbec country. And one New World bonus: In Mendoza, unlike, say, Côtes du Rhône, you can still do a little arbitrage – that Achaval-Ferrer may very well age as well as the Lafite. Robert Parker doesn’t hand out 99-point ratings for nothing. Founded by a Stanford graduate, these are some of the best wines in Mendoza. Pick up the Malbec dessert wine, which you can’t get anywhere else but here.
Wineries in Mendoza are upscale yet down-home, the way only an up-and-comer can be. In fact, you may find yourself tasting wines with granny at a family’s farmhouse kitchen table, like at Viña el Cerno and Carinae. If this happens, trust us, just go with it. Carinae also has excellent olive oil, another item you can only buy here.
A newcomer to the wine scene is American venture capitalist’s Jon Staenberg’s Hand of God Wine. Staenberg and Santiago Ferrer, of Achaval-Ferrer, were business school friends at Stanford, and they connected because of their love for wine. A joint collaboration (because that’s what business school buddies do), the Hand of God wines are produced at Achaval-Ferrer’s winery. Bonus Jeopardy points if you guessed that Hand of God refers to an infamous moment in Argentine World Cup soccer. Jon released his first vintage this year, and we wouldn’t be surprised if he earned some Parker points of his own.
Catena Zapata is the equivalent to Mondavi, and while they can be a little too big for their britches, pick up the Angélica Zapata, which is not exported. Bodega la Rural-Felipe Rutini has a comprehensive tour and history on winemaking, and is one of the best-value wines in Mendoza.
The wine region in Mendoza is large; map out your trip strategically to cover the greatest ground. The Valle de Uco is a completely separate day trip, and worth it just to see the art collection at Bodegas Salentein.
Man Cannot Subsist on Wine Alone
Mendoza’s not just all wine all the time, though. In case you haven’t heard, they also do beef reallywell. The locals go to the traditional parrilladas at El Patio de Jesús Maria. Think down-and-dirty steaks and red wine. Azafrán is tourist central and an almost obligatory stop, but we suggest ordering an appetizer and gorging on the bread basket before heading for mains elsewhere. Argentina has some of the best Italian food outside of Italy, with simple restaurants like Francesco Barbera and La Marchigiana. Insider gourmet restaurant Siete Cocinas sources the best ingredients from Argentina’s culinary regions, while the classic Francis Mallman 1884 has one of the prettiest settings, in a vineyard outside of town. Between courses of pumpkin ravioli and steak, step outside by the grill with your glass of Malbec to smell a little piece of heaven. Hopping bars like El Palenque, where the French fries are legendary, really come alive after midnight. And needless to say, with enough Malbec, so will you.