Mendoza is located at the Western edge of Argentina on the border with Chile and is at the foot of the Andes mountains. It’s also a very dry, desert-like climate so it’s very different from the humid jungle that we just came from. This is also Argentina’s main wine producing area and it’s best known for its red Malbec wines and its white Torrontes wines, though you will also find some pinot noir and chardonnay in the Uco Valley area.
We stayed for three nights in Mendoza and we rented a car from the airport. We thought it would be nice to have our own car but I will say that it wasn’t 100% necessary as there are plenty of ubers and taxis around this area.
Our first day we spent at our hotel relaxing after our long flight and drive. The next day we had a winery tour followed by lunch with wine pairings at Susana Balbo winery and we drove ourselves there. Susana Balbo was one of the first winemakers in this area and her wines can be found in the United States under her “CRIOS” label. We had a tour of the facility first, which was all in Spanish so a little hard to follow (Steve speaks some Spanish) and then we sat down for lunch with wine pairings. We had a choice of a three course or a 6 course lunch and opted for the three courses. Of course, there are beautiful views of the Andes Mountains everywhere you look.
I have to say that Mendoza is where we had the best food on our trip. I loved the food at Awasi Iguazu but the meals here blew us away with their creativity and use of local ingredients. Our lunch at Susana Balbo Winery was a starter of a roasted pumpkin salad with yogurt, followed by a slow roasted goat meat terrine that was to die for and ending with an incredible dessert of goat cheese cheesecake tart with peach chutney. Every course was perfection! I was swooning over the dessert. Each course came with a perfectly paired wine of white Torrontes, a red Malbec and a lovely dessert wine.
On our second day, we had a private wine tour with a guide and driver so we didn’t have to worry about drinking and driving at all. Our guide, Emily, was French but she also spoke perfect English and Spanish. She has been living in the Mendoza area for several years and works in the wine industry so she has a wealth of knowledge about the wines here. She gave us a very interesting explanation regarding why Malbec is so popular in Argentina. Mostly, it’s because the Malbec vines here are unaffected by phylloxera and don’t require the additional step of being grafted to phylloxera-resistant American root stock, which Malbec vines do not respond to well anyway. On top of it, the dry, warm climate with cool evenings is perfect for Malbec, which tends to ripen exactly as needed here for the right balance of sugar and acid.
Our first stop was one of the oldest wineries, Benegas Winery, which is closer to the city of Mendoza. It’s housed in a 100 year old building and has a very interesting underground cellar and barrel room. We sampled 6 wines here and enjoyed their bordeaux style blend the most.
After Benegas, we drove back towards Lujan de Cuyo and visited a very new and modern winery called Matervini (meaning “Mother Vine”), which only makes Malbec wines. This boutique winery was our favorite wine tasting and we purchased a case of Malbec here to have shipped home. They were also in the middle of making wine and removing fermented wines from the cask to place into barrels for aging so we got to see some of the wine making process in action. Our wine guy was extremely knowledgeable and friendly and there were great views from their beautiful, modern facility.
After Matervini, we went to our last winery for the day for a 6 course gourmet lunch with wine pairings at Ruca Malen. Ruca Malen is know for having one of the best gastronomic restaurants in the region and it did not disappoint. They gave us a glass of bubbly as soon as we walked in and escorted us to our table on the patio with a view of the vineyards and Andes mountains in the background.
As we sipped our crisp and light bubbly that was “prosecco style”, we perused the 6 course menu, which highlights all local ingredients from the herbs to the meats to the dairy. It was really quite impressive and featured many items that I have never heard of before.
As the meal went on, we sampled some amazing dishes, which were all perfectly paired with Ruca Malen wines. We sampled another bubbly in the French champenoise style, a white Torrontes, 3 different Malbecs and then an interesting “chardonnay cocktail” that tasted almost like iced tea. Everything was wonderful, including the beet root dish which surprised us because we both despise beets. We had this long leisurely lunch with our guide, Emily, and thoroughly enjoyed learning about life in Argentina as well as about the wines. We discussed everything from Argentine politics to gender disparity to healthcare. It was quite interesting and Emily was game to describe or explain anything we wanted to know about Argentina.
As expected, the lunch took about 2 hours so it was after 3pm by the time we finished. We headed back to the hotel (we had a driver who was very nice but didn’t speak any English so I didn’t catch his name) and ended the day. I booked our tour through our Virtuoso travel agent and I believe it was called the “Agrelo Classic.” I highly recommend this tour and Emily was wonderful! There are SO many wineries in this region to visit. We didn’t even scratch the surface nor did we even make it an hour down the road to the lesser known Uco Valley, which has more pinot noirs and chardonnays. Also, we quickly discovered that all wineries here require reservations for tastings. For example, we drove over to visit Belasco Baquedano for a simple tasting because their website very clearly stated that reservations for a basic tasting are NOT required but we were immediately turned away at the driveway. Emily told us that most wineries simply don’t want to take more people than have reserved privately so even if they say no reservations are needed, they really don’t mean it. Lesson learned! Almost all wineries have an online reservation system or just have your hotel call in advance for you.
We loved doing a mix of driving ourselves around and having a full blown guided tour and driver. That was the best of both worlds for us.