After a 10 hour bus ride over the Andes (including a 2 hour delay at the Chilean-Argentinian border crossing at an altitude of 3200m) we arrived in Mendoza, Argentina. Mendoza is a city of approximately one million people and it definitely showed. Overall we didn’t find the city itself all that inspiring – we had envisioned a relaxed city set amongst picturesque vineyards. Instead we discovered that Mendoza is a bustling place without a whole lot of character in of itself. The city has actually sprawled so much that many vineyards are now surrounded by housing developments, making it impractical to grow grapes due to the pollution. Nevertheless, we were eager to explore Mendoza’s surrounding wine regions.
After a little research it seemed difficult to simply show up at wineries for tastings as many wineries required advanced reservations (and none of them were free). It seemed that the most popular way to explore the vineyards was through an organized tour or by renting a bicycle.
As we weren’t too keen on biking around on busy roads in the heat, we booked a wine tour to one of the wine regions, Lujan de Cuyo, with Malbec Symphony. This was a private (us and one other guy from our hostel) and relatively expensive tour ($90US per person) that took us to three different bodegas (wineries). All three of the bodegas (Achaval Ferrer, Lagarde, and Clos de Chacras) were considered boutique wineries producing less than 10,000 bottles per year. The visits to each bodega included a tour and a tasting. We were treated to a really unique tour at Achaval Ferrar where we were able to sample wine directly from the oak barrels that it was aging in. Our final bodega of the day, Clos de Chacras, included a 4-course lunch paired with their wines – this luxurious lunch alone would probably have cost $90 at home. Overall, all of the wines we sampled were really good and although we had to splurge a bit for the tour, the experience was well worth it. Note that most of the top rated tour companies charged a minimum of $200US per person!
After such a great experience we decided we would book a second, less expensive group tour to three other wineries in the Maipo Valley (the most popular valley due to its proximity to Mendoza). On this tour we visited a large scale bodega (Lopez) and two smaller scale bodegas (Vina El Cerno and another we can’t remember). While overall the wines were not as good the wines on our first tour, we loved the Malbec from Vina El Cerno. Given that their wines were only available for purchase at the vineyard we couldn’t help but buying a bottle. Since they only produce 9,000 bottles of the Malbec each year, they actually number each bottle that they sell (we were the lucky recipients of bottle number 1,184). After the sampling, we had lunch as a group which gave us an opportunity to (try to) speak a little broken Spanish with our fellow wine samplers. It never ceases to amaze us how patient and encouraging South Americans can be as we attempt to muddle through their language.
Where we stayed: Hostel Llao Llao – it had a big backyard with hammocks (just what the doctor ordered after mucho de vino).
Best meal: Anna’s Bistro – simply fabulous meat and pasta.
Best experience: The Malbec Symphony winery tour.