You’ve probably been drinking malbec for years—over the last decade, it’s become one of the most popular red wines in the United States. If you’ve been reading the labels on those bottles too, you’ve probably noticed that most of it is produced in Mendoza, a region of Argentina cradled between the pampas, or plains, and the Andes. (Mendoza is actually the name of both the province and its largest city.)
The area’s vineyards possess the same beauty that you’ll find in Burgundy or Napa, with the added attraction of jaw-dropping views of those saw-toothed mountains. And since they’re less discovered by tourists (and because the Argentina peso continues to struggle), prices for hotels and tastings—not to mention any bottles you want to bring home—tend to be lower. Plus, the upcoming months of November and December are the best time to visit Mendoza, when the vines fill the valleys with greenery and the mountains retain the last of their early-spring snow. Here are our tips for how to make the most of a trip there. You’ll find that there’s much more to the area than just juicy malbecs.
Where to Taste
There are more than 1,500 wineries in Mendoza; if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the options, consider booking a tour with Mendoza Andes, designed by a certified sommelier. Here are a few of our traveler favorite wineries to visit:
Situated in a restored, turn-of-the-century adobe building, Bodega Benegas is a logical place to start your explorations of Mendoza’s wine history. A visit here includes not just a tasting of their blended bottlings, but a tour of the historical building, which houses an interesting variety of old tools of the wine trade, as well as a collection of Andean ponchos.
South of the city in the up-and-coming Uco Valley, O. Fournier has the kind of futuristic architecture that would look right at home in Napa these days. The tour here takes you through the winery’s production facilities, which rely on gravity to move the grapes through more gently. Make sure to stick around for lunch at the excellent on-site restaurant, Urban, which has a spectacular view of the Andes.
While it’s fun to taste boutique wines that you’ll never find back home, it’s also valuable to discover a new wine that you can keep drinking long after your trip is over—and that’s where Bodega Tapiz comes in: Their wines are widely distributed in the United States. During their tour, it’s interesting to compare the malbecs they make for the U.S. market to the ones they keep for Argentine drinkers.
Bressia Winery is a family-run operation, and a member of that family may well lead your tour. In addition to the typical reds and whites, they also produce sparkling wine and grappa.
Where to Eat
Where there’s fine wine, there’s almost always excellent food—and Mendoza is no exception. These are two standouts in a city full of wonderful restaurants.
Azafran doesn’t have a wine list. Instead, they have a walk-in library of their bottles. The sommelier will help you choose the right one to pair with their internationally inspired dishes.
Named after the country’s seven gastronomic regions, Siete Cocinas de Argentina serves authentic dishes including chipa (a crunchy bread made from yucca or tapioca flower, typical of northern Argentina); ceviche of pacu, a river fish; and roasted goat with chimichurri.
Where to Stay
The Posada Verde Oliva is well off the beaten path in Maipú, a small town just east of Mendoza City. The rooms are basic but homey, and the common areas (a cozy living room with fireplace, a pool amid vines and olive trees) are welcoming.
Club Tapiz has a peaceful setting surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. With a pool and restaurant on site, you needn’t go anywhere else for R&R, but you’re just 20 minutes by car from the center of Mendoza City. Parts of the property date to the 19th-century and can feel a bit shabby, but that adds to the charm of the place.
For an all-out romantic splurge, book an adobe villa at the Cavas Wine Lodge. Each has its own rooftop terrace where you can see the glorious peaks of the Andes by day and the southern-hemisphere stars by night, with a fireplace to stave off any chill in the air (they’ll even bring a sleeping bag if you want to spend the night up there); some have a private plunge pool as well. The lodge often hosts tango shows and asados (Argentine barbecues) just for guests.
What to Do
With the mountains so nearby, it’s not hard to burn off all the calories you’ll be eating and drinking. Pedro Rosell, owner of Discover the Andes, is an accomplished mountaineer and a wonderful guide, both for outdoor adventures and winery visits (his father is a well-respected oenologist). He and his team can take you hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, and fly-fishing between your tasting appointments.
TripAdvisor users rave about Kahuak Adventures’ zipline, rafting, horseback riding, and biking tours. They can also take you on one- to three-day hikes toward Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in the Americas.
With all this time exploring the countryside, don’t forget about Mendoza City. The urban center is neatly laid out around the large Plaza Independencia, which hosts a wonderful craft market on Sundays. Spend an afternoon at one of the cafes that line the plaza to take in the local way of life.