Argentine wine country has never been a more attractive destination. With wine styles moulded by the high altitudes, a little tradition and plenty of modern ingenuity, it’s no wonder that 1.2 million travellers a year come to see the country’s vineyards, set against the craggily dramatic skyline of the Andes.
Offering a unique mixture of luxury, architecture and Latin American culture, the vineyards of Argentina require a little effort to visit but they repay the investment in spades. Organisation is key: crossing the wine country in its entirety is the equivalent of travelling from Edinburgh to Morocco, so it’s important to do a little research and choose your destinations carefully.
Located 987km west of Buenos Aires, the province of Mendoza accounts for 70% of the wine produced in Argentina. The region boasts 153,000ha of vineyards and 625 wineries, of which 146 offer hospitality services and activities. Of its three sub-regions, the Primera Zona to the north and the Uco Valley to the south can be easily visited in a day trip from the eponymous capital city, with vineyards located from 30km to 130km away. It is essential either to rent a car or book your travel through an agency.
Luján de Cuyo & Maipú
The Primera Zona is made up of two districts that border Mendoza City: Luján de Cuyo and Maipú. These districts have formed the heart of wine country in Argentina since the 19th century, when Malbec first found a home here.
Against a backdrop of long rows of cottonwoods, the region offers a mixture of traditional and modern culture. A pair of wineries – Alta Vista and Trivento – are good examples of each, respectively. Alta Vista, built in 1890 and owned by the D’Aulan family since 1998, is a refurbished winery that today sits next to residential areas and has an olive garden suitable for picnics or a traditional asado barbecue.
Trivento, 10km east, is a more hi-tech winery. It even has an art museum on site, which is well worth a visit before you take a tour of the neighbouring vineyard by bicycle. And if you’re stopping here for lunch, the winery restaurant serves tapas.
It is across the Mendoza river (4km south), however, that you can really get a feel for how Argentina’s wine industry has developed in recent times. Agrelo, a sub-district of Luján de Cuyo, boasts more than 100 wineries, all established after 1990. Make your first stop Susana Balbo Wines, which has just celebrated its 20th anniversary. Taste wines from the local terroir before enjoying a five-course lunch at Osadía de Crear tapas restaurant.
About 15 minutes’ drive south brings you to Bodega Budeguer. This pretty family winery opened in 2012 and has now become a hot spot for wine lovers looking to head off the beaten track. View the Virgen de la Carrodilla chapel (designed by Mendoza architect Gonzalo Merlo) before enjoying an exclusive wine tasting.
Your third stop in Agrelo, Pulenta Estate, is about five minutes’ drive to the southwest, and can be identified by the row of olive trees that line the entrance. The winery, which offers regular scheduled tours, belongs to an historic fourth-generation wine family, whose cellars also contain the odd classic Porsche.
Drive south on Ruta 40 and you’ll come to the Uco Valley (about an hour from Mendoza City). Casa de Uco and Alpasión Wine, Lodge & Vineyards are both located in the new Los Chacayes GI (geographical indication) and make an excellent base from which to explore the area on a one- or two-day tour. Casa de Uco is a luxury hotel designed by the architect Juan Tonconogy. If you can’t stay overnight, a day visit includes a tour of the ‘telescopic’ winery, while the restaurant serves food made from ingredients produced on the estate. Horseriding treks through the mountains are also on offer.
Alpasión Lodge is a warm and welcoming inn that’s suitable either for a lunchtime visit or an overnight stay. The restaurant serves Argentinian cuisine, including llama meat, paired with wines from the vineyard.
From there, it’s a 30-minute drive to DiamAndes in Vista Flores. The winery is part of Clos de los Siete – Michel Rolland’s wine project – and is owned by the Bordelais Bonnie family. A visit here is a fascinating architectural experience. Make time to stop at Diam’s Bistrot & Bar à Vin for a glass of wine on the terrace.
About 20km south is another new GI: Paraje Altamira. Familia Zuccardi has built its striking Valle de Uco winery here. Designed by Fernando Raganato, the concrete structure features a copper dome and specially designed tanks and circulation spaces. While the architecture is the main attraction, the winery’s Piedra Infinita restaurant is also well worth a visit.
Heading 45km north again, your next stop will be at Bodegas Salentein, designed by Bórmida & Yanzón. The estate is also home to the Killka visitor centre, with its art museum containing part of winery owner Mijndert Pon’s personal collection and an elegant chapel. If you’re looking for a cosy place to sleep among the vines, the guesthouse here is very alluring.
Nearby, the flagstone-roofed Bodega Atamisque is located on the border between the Uco Valley and Luján de Cuyo. Surrounded by one of the region’s prettiest estates, the vineyards adjoin groves of walnut, cherry and peach trees, as well as a trout farm supplying the restaurant. Allow half a day to visit the winery and estate, then spend the night in one of the lodges or have lunch at the restaurant.
Eating, drinking and shopping in Mendoza City
Winery restaurants are an excellent option for lunch while you’re staying in Mendoza City. Azafrán, Maria Antonieta and Anna Bistró are among the best on offer.
At night, a meal at the lively Fuente y Fonda is a good option for groups, while those seeking a more sophisticated atmosphere should head to Orégano, Josefina Restó or Siete Cocinas.
If the plan is to drink plenty of wine or buy bottles to take home, Cabrera Charif Wine House on Avenida Arístides Villanueva is worth a visit. Said avenue boasts a bustling nightlife, full of pubs, bars and eateries. Mendoza also has a burgeoning craft beer scene, with Chachingo Craft Beer, Antares and Hangar 52 all offering a good range. For cocktail lovers, the popular Gingger has an excellent list.
There are two main shopping areas in Mendoza: the pedestrianised city centre and Palmares Open Mall. Recently opened in the Maipú district, the gourmet market Il Mercato is a 25-minute drive away.
Mendoza: where to stay
Amérian Executive Mendoza Hotel An elegant four-star hotel overlooking Plaza Italia, with an outdoor pool and a sun deck.
Diplomatic A five-star hotel that’s close to shops and museums, with views of the Andes mountains from all rooms.
Park Hyatt An imposing central hotel opposite the historic Plaza Independencia, with an outdoor pool and a casino.
Sheraton Mendoza Hotel A modern hotel featuring an indoor pool and a restaurant that offers panoramic views of downtown Mendoza and the Andes mountains.
Outside the city
Alpasión Lodge Cosy, six-room accommodation in the Uco Valley offering a pool and a roof terrace with dramatic mountain views.
Casa de Uco Set in the Andes foothills, this contemporary Uco Valley hotel has been designed to blend in with its breathtaking surroundings.
Entre Cielos Mendoza This modern boutique hotel in Luján de Cuyo has an outdoor pool and duplex suites with private terraces overlooking the vineyards.
Skies of Salta
The province of Salta lies in the far north of Argentina, on the Tropic of Capricorn. Amid a breathtaking landscape of deserts and ravines, cacti grow building-high and the sky is an extraordinarily pure blue: it’s here that Salta’s Calchaquí Valley produces a range of unique wines.
It is important to bear in mind that it takes at least three hours to get from Salta airport to the local wineries, as the surroundings shift upwards from jungle to a more lunar landscape.
Your first stop is the sleepy little town of Cafayate. At its entrance is Bodega El Esteco, where you can experience both the past and present of the Calchaquí Valley. A visit to the old, colonial-style bell tower – built in 1892 – gives a good idea of its remote location. The winery provides tastings and tours of the vineyard (advance reservation required).
Heading north into the Calchaquí Valley, drive for at least two hours along winding mountain roads – it’s an arduous journey, but it’s well worth it – and you’ll arrive at Bodega Colomé. Set in a remote, extraordinary landscape amid the peace and quiet of its 1,600m-high slopes, Colomé offers wine tastings, austere but well-appointed accommodation and absolute tranquillity.
Spend the night at the lodge after visiting the winery and the onsite James Turrell Museum, which is home to nine immersive light installations by this celebrated light and space artist.
Salta: where to stay
Grace Cafayate This boutique spa hotel just south of the town centre is set in La Estancia de Cafayate residential and sporting estate, featuring vineyards, equestrianism and a golf course.
Patios de Cafayate Part of the El Esteco wine estate, this colonial-style hotel is set in the original estate farmstead, which dates back to 1892.
Viñas de Cafayate Just west of the town centre, this Mediterranean-style wine resort is set in vineyards and offers wine tastings and an outdoor pool.
In the valleys
Estancia Colomé Colonial-style lodging in a remote location, with an outdoor pool, a unique light museum and magnificent mountain views.
Finca El Carmen A cosy and laid-back guesthouse in Angastaco offering valley views, an outdoor pool and a museum.
Hacienda de Molinos A refurbished 18th-century hacienda that makes a tranquil stop-off on any Argentinian wine tour, boasting a swimming pool and a terrace with mountain views.
How to get there
Flights from the UK to Buenos Aires take just under 14 hours (daily flights from Heathrow with British Airways). It takes 1 hour 50 minutes to fly from Buenos Aires to Mendoza (12 daily flights) and 2 hours 45 minutes from Buenos Aires to Salta (four daily flights). There is also one direct daily flight between Mendoza and Salta, which takes 2 hours 15 minutes.
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Source: Decanter Staff