Eat, drink and sleep: Mendoza


Photograph: Jason Lowe

Photograph: Jason Lowe

Continuing our series of mini vinous travel guides, itinerant drinks writer Amanda Barnes takes you through the perfect trip to Mendoza, Argentina – with tips on where to stay, what to eat and which wineries to visit

“Mendoza: the land of sun and wine” reads the welcome sign in the airport. And the catchphrase isn’t wrong. You don’t even need to leave the airport to see your first vineyard, it is there in the car park. And as a region with 330 days of sunshine per year, most arrivals to Mendoza are perfectly sunny.

Exploring the peaceful city happens at a relaxed pace. Meander between tree-lined avenues from plaza to plaza, where locals are licking ice cream and drinking coffee on every corner. There’s none of the fast-paced feel of Buenos Aires here, and the siesta casts its sleepy spell over the city for three hours each and every afternoon.

It is out in the vineyards where all the action is happening. Home to over 70 percent of Argentina’s vines, Mendoza is the heart and soil of South American wine. There are three main regions to visit:

Maipú: The closest to the city, Maipú is the most historic region with a crumbling decadence. Old wine palaces bigger than football fields sit alongside boutique bodegas that have belonged to the same family for generations.

Luján de Cuyo: Known as the crib of Malbec, this large region homes some of the most renowned names in Argentine wine. A blend of tradition and modernity, Luján offers a bit of everything – from mountain views to urban wineries.

Valle de Uco: The new frontier. Furthest from the city, the Uco Valley was the last region to modernise but it now draws the biggest investment. Higher altitude, cooler temperatures and rocky soils are what have made it stand out from the crowd. The stunning landscape and no-expense-spared architecture also help.

Where to stay: City or vineyards? That’s the question that will determine where you lay your heavy, Malbec-filled head. The good news is you can squeeze both experiences into a week’s stay. In the city the Park Hyatt scores the best location, right on the main Plaza Independencia. It also offers the best breakfast in town, a wine bar and an outdoor pool area. If you want to stay close to the city but prefer the peace of the countryside, then Chacras de Coria is a good midway point. Finca Adalgisa and Entre Cielos are both close to the action but offer luxury digs surrounded by vineyards. For those who want to feel the remoteness of Argentina with just vine rows and the Andes mountains on the horizon, head out to the Uco Valley and stay in top wine resorts Casa de Uco and The Vines of Mendoza.

Make sure you eat: There is no escaping beef in Argentina, and you wouldn’t want to. It is as good as they say. You’ll be offered a mouthwatering slab of steak at almost every restaurant in the region, but the only way to earn your culinary stripes in Argentina is by experiencing a full-blown asado. The term literally translates to BBQ, but that is an understatement for the full cultural experience of a typical Argentine asado: a minimum of five hours spent watching all shapes and sizes of meat sizzle over burning embers as you drink and talk your way through countless bottles of wine and life stories. The most genuine way to experience an asado is getting yourself invited to one, which is remarkably easy in Mendoza, or you can find “asado experiences” at wineries in the region.

Pulenta Estate, Mendoza. Photograph: Jason Lowe

Pulenta Estate, Mendoza. Photograph: Jason Lowe

The best restaurants: In the city enjoy Argentine-style tapas with delicious wine picks in Zampa by renowned chef Pablo del Rio; or for more formal dining try Azafran, Maria Antonieta and Don Alonso. In the suburbs, Francis Mallmann’s 1884 is still the top blow-the-budget choice. There is, however, nothing comparable to the leisurely romp of food and wine experienced at Mendoza’s wineries with their wine-paired tasting menus. Casarena and Piedra Infinita Zuccardi are top recommendations.

The best bars: Nightlife in Mendoza is all about bar-hopping along bustling Arístides Villanueva street and then heading to a local nightclub in the outskirts of Chacras de Coria. But night-owls be warned, the party doesn’t get started untill 1am. For those with more moderate tastes, you can sip on wine-cocktails and local herb-infused gin and tonics at Cachitas, Zampa and Terracita Speakeasy from 7pm.
Make sure you drink:
Malbec. While you should explore some of the other great varieties coming out of Mendoza (Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Bonarda to name a couple) do take advantage of being in the mecca of Malbec. Organise your Malbec immersion by tasting through different soils and altitudes. There are many tasting routes you can take, but some of the most exciting single-site Malbecs are coming from the Uco Valley where sub-appellations Gualtallary, Paraje Altamira and Vista Flores will give you three very distinct profiles. You should also taste-travel to Argentina’s northernmost (and highest altitude) region, Cafayate in Salta; and down south to Patagonia’s oldest vines in Rio Negro.

Cellar doors to knock on: There are hundreds of wineries worth visiting in Mendoza, so you are spoilt for choice. Organise your wine days by region as distances can be long. In Maipú visit Casa el Enemigo, winemaker Alejandro Vigil’s private venture with the Catena Zapata family. In Luján, Pulenta Estate is a Berry Bros. & Rudd favourite with fantastic wines in a modern winery on the edge of Agrelo. It serves as a gateway to the Uco Valley, where you’ll find some of the most extravagant winery architecture in the New World including O Fournier, Diamandes, Zuccardi and Salentein.

Don’t miss: Mendoza owes its existence as a wine region to the Andes mountains, and they offer rewarding experiences any time of the year. Spring through autumn is climbing season for Aconcagua, the tallest mountain outside the Himalayas and one of the seven summits. For the less adventurous there are horse rides, treks and hot springs to enjoy. During winter, it is ski season and the views from Mendoza are even more dazzling. If you don’t have time for a mountain escapade, just look out of the window as you fly to/from nearby Santiago – it may be one of the world’s shortest international flights (20 minutes) but it is certainly one of the most spectacular.

Find out more about Mendoza on Amanda Barnes is travelling around the world in 80 harvests, find out more about her project and follow her journey here.