There can be few greater pleasures in life than sipping a fine Malbec – Mendoza’s signature grape – from an oversized goblet while reclining among the very same vineyards from where the grapes grew. Wafts from two sizzling Flintstone-sized steaks on the barbecue drift over, in the distance are the snow-capped Andes, and in front of you is a selection of fine wines. This is to take a wine tour in the Uco Valley, Argentina’s most prolific wine growing region.
Mendoza is the largest city in the wine growing region, which is the reason it’s usually mentioned on the label of your wine. It’s a large city with just under a million people in the metropolitan district, but compared to the bubbling chaos of Buenos Aires it’s relaxed, with a taste for the good life.
Mendoza Sunset – Photograph by Justin De La Ornellas
Over the past 20 years, the infrastructure for touring Argentina vineyards has improved proportionally with the international popularity of the wines. Each winery or offers a different experience, from high concept Napa Valley-style visitors’ centres, to helping yourself to a glass in the yard of a boutique bodega.
The Uco Valley covers a vast area, and visiting the bodegas requires a little forward planning. There are basically two options: organise it yourself, or join a tour. In this guide, we’ll look at some of the options for tours, as well as some reputable tour companies.
Whether through good judgement or luck, there are a handful of vineyards along one stretch of road, from the large high-end producer of Rutini to the delightful Carinae boutique operation.
Given the proximity of several good bodegas, and the disingenuous combination of vast amounts of wine and a car, pedal power is a good option. The most established outfit that rents bikes is Bikes and Wines. A bus or taxi needs to be taken to the shop, but once there, you’ll be given a bright yellow bike, a bright yellow map and a push in the right direction. The main tour is in the Maipú region which takes in eight (!) Argentina vineyards, an olive oil factory and a chocolatier along a 12 kilometre stretch of road (although dismiss thoughts of trundling through quiet countryside as there are a fair few trucks that thunder up and down the road). Note that there is a charge to try the various different Argentina wines at all the vineyards.
Tapiz Vineyard, Mendoza – Photograph by Justin Otto
La Rural, maker of the San Felipe and Rutini wines, has a large museum and is a good introduction to the wine making process for a first stop. Next is Trapiche, a mid-priced classic wine with a good visitors’ centre. Tempus Alba has the most modern centre and a beautiful terrace on which to sample the wines – reservations are required for guided tastings. There are several more along the road, but at the end is our favourite: Bodega Carinae. Owned by a lovely French couple, this small bodega is the most welcoming – take time to sit in the vineyard and enjoy a glass of their own fabulous Malbec rosé. Cycle back with extreme care.
Another option is to head to a couple of chosen vineyards in the area. An association of vineyards has funded Caminos del Vino to produce maps of the area. On the website are extensive maps to all the vineyards that are open to visitors, divided into four regions. There is a bewildering choice, but many with names you will recognise, or you can take a lucky dip around a cluster. Some of the best are Familia Antonietti, Bodegas Lopez and Norton. Most can be reached by bus and all by taxi.
There are many companies offering tours out of Mendoza and each hotel will no doubt suggest the one that is paid commission. One of the most respected is Ampora Wine Tours that offers tours to several areas. They’ll pick you up and drive you around the vineyards.
Another is organised by the publishers of the excellent English-language wine magazine, The Grapevine – an essential read for all the latest developments in wine in the region. It also offers tips, the latest party news and restaurant reviews. Its wine tour company is also called The Grapevine.
Tasting at Vines of Mendoza – Photograph by Rebecca T. Caro
In The City
One of the best places to try wines within the confines of the city is Vines of Mendoza. There’s a well-designed tasting area and bar at which knowledgeable sommeliers will take you through wine ‘flights’ or tastings. Try either just Malbecs, or a variety of whites, reds and rosés. There are more than 100 wines by the glass that can be served in private tastings rooms too. There is also a wine bar at the Park Hyatt Mendoza – one of Mendoza’s best hotels and in a spectacular location.
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