The Malbecs are mouth-watering, the wineries cutting edge and the Andes resplendent. Every way you look at it, Mendoza is a delight.
The pleasant provincial capital of Mendoza owes its prosperity to the Andes, or more specifically the network of acequias (irrigation channels) that taps into the raging snowmelt torrent that is the Rio Mendoza. Built by the Huarpe and perfected by the Incas, the acequias still flow through the streets of the city and the water they bring is life-giving in every sense of the word. Without it there would be no wine, no fountains and no shady avenues...
The many faces of Malbec
Argentina is fifth-largest wine producer in the world and Mendoza is its undisputed capital. Malbec, which in its native France is only used in blends, has come into its own in Mendoza’s high-altitude desert environment. While most of Mendoza’s highest ranked wines are Malbecs, there are also several excellent red blends and smattering of wonderful Chardonnays too.
Winemakers love Mendoza because it gives them “a blank slate to work with. It’s very flat, dry, sunny, and an almost pest-free environment to grow wine grapes, allowing viticulturists to have near-complete control over water management.” Which brings us back to that ancient system of water management...
Broadly speaking there are two main wine regions in Mendoza: the Primera Zona (First Zone) and the Valle de Uco (Uco Valley). The Primera Zona comprises those regions closer to the city which have been producing wines for a long time, while the Valle de Uco, which is further south and at higher altitude, is the (extremely well-credentialed!) new kid on the block. The Valle de Uco has seen some serious investment in recent years, and in addition to producing exceptional wines, there’s also some really great modern architecture to be enjoyed in the valley.
It’s impossible to say which of the two regions produces better wines. But it is incredible to witness the enormous variety that can be achieved by farms that are barely 30 miles apart and use the same raw materials. Which is why our most popular Mendoza itinerary includes full day tours of both regions, including visits to some of the most iconic wineries (places like Bodega Catena Zapata, producer of the highest-scoring Argentine wine ever, a 97-point 2006 vintage Malbec) and incredible gourmet lunches....washed down by plenty of vino.
Elegant plazas and shady streets
Wine is more than likely the main reason for your visit, but the city of Mendoza also has much to commend it. Despite being established in 1561, the city of a million inhabitants is all but devoid of colonial-era buildings: huge earthquakes in 1782, 1861 and 1927 put paid to that idea. Mendoza makes up for its lack of architectural highlights with an orderly grid of shady streets and elegant plazas.
At the heart of city is Plaza Independencia and the pedestrianised peatonal, but everyone’s favorite is over-the-top Plaza España, with its tiled benches, soothing fountains and garish depictions of colonial history. It’s a great place to watch the world go by, or to grab some Spanish fare at La Tasca de la Plaza. Another must-try restaurant is nearby Azafran which has an excellent, varied menu (believe me, it is possible to tire of Argentine beef) and a wine collection that is so vast they have not been able to produce a wine list: instead guests are invited to visit the cellar with the sommelier to choose their own bottle.
The other highlight of Mendoza is the vast Parque General San Martin, with its lovely lake (that doubles as the local rowing club) and ornate entrance gates which were manufactured in Scotland and brought out to Argentina on a ship in 46 separate bundles! A few blocks from the park is trendy Aristides Villanueva street, the sophisticated epicentre of Mendocino nightlife.
Mendoza’s sophisticated lodges and hotels are in stark contrast to the more urban experiences you’ll have in Buenos Aires and Santiago. Our preferred addresses include two state-of-the-art wine lodges in the countryside a classic alternative in the – blessedly tranquil – center of town.
But wait, there’s more
Mendoza is the gateway to Aconcagua, the highest peak outside the Himalayas, and a day-tour to the Andes is highly recommended. (Another option is to ask your Destination Expert to arrange a road transfer from Santiago to Mendoza, as the spectacular 5-hour trip traverses the Andes and passes in the shadow of Aconcagua. This might not be a good idea in Winter, when the pass is regularly closed due to snow.)
If you’re feeling really intrepid you could even indulge in a spot of white-water rafting or zip-lining en route. Check out this blog on popular Mendoza day trips, and remember...We can customise your itinerary to include absolutely anything that takes your fancy. ¡Salud!