Mendoza’s spectacular Andean scenery is heady enough, and that’s before you even start on the wine. Here’s our pick of where to go for tastings, the best restaurants and where to sleep it all off
Several other provinces in Argentina, such as Salta, Córdoba and San Juan, produce wine, but Mendoza is the star of the show due to the incredible diversity of its production. Its wines range between world-famous, award-winning malbecs, and simple vino patero (foot-pressed wine). That diversity is also evident in Mendoza’s terroir. The eastern department of Maipú – home to big-name wineries such as Trapiche, Zuccardi and López – reaches 700 metres above sea level, while hotspot Uco Valley, a more southerly region in the shadow of the the Andes, tips 1,100 metres. These areas have distinctive microclimates that hold the key to Mendoza’s extensive and exciting portfolio.
Malbec clearly rules the roost in Mendoza (it is World Malbec Day on 17 April) and has made its home in Luján de Cuyo – Argentina’s first denomination of origin (DOC) – and sub-districts such as Chacras de Coria, Vistalba and Agrelo. Bordeaux reds such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc also fare well, while native grape torrontés riojano, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and viognier are waving the flag for the whites.
Thanks to the boom over the past two decades since top-quality malbec hit the world stage, substantial investment has seen elaborate architectural gems spring up, complete with tasting menus, state-of-the-art technology and luxury accommodation. Sounds sterile? Far from it. Mendoza’s vast landscape means there’s room for everyone: from rural, lunchtime-only, family-run eateries to celebrity chef-owned restaurants to winery-based B&Bs and five-star luxury hotels, and from garagistas (garage winemakers) to the industry’s most renowned winemakers. Here’s our pick of some of the best.
WINEMAKERS TO VISIT
Familia Zuccardi, Maipú
Wine-making goes back to the early 1960s for this family concern, now in the hands of third-generation oenologist Sebastián. His grandfather Alberto designed a vine-training system known as the Zuccardi parral, but it was father José Alberto who took the family business to new heights in the 1980s and 1990s, creating accessible as well as high-end wine for export. And the winery – a functional affair located in Maipú’s (relative) lowlands sheathed in the prolific pergola vines – very much remains a family concern. Sebastián’s sister Julia – after whom the Santa Julia line is named – oversees tourism at the winery; brother Miguel has cornered the extra virgin olive oil market, while grandmother Emma manages art exhibitions and a label design competition. As one of Argentina’s most successful wineries domestically and abroad, visiting is a slick yet welcoming affair that takes in the Zuccardi empire. After a three-wine Santa Julia tasting surrounded by the latest art exhibit, stop by Casa del Visitante for chef Matías Aldasoro’s seasonal tasting menu or at Pan & Oliva, where Miguel’s olive oils take the spotlight. In November, the family is set to open its second winery, Piedra Infinita, in Uco Valley.
• Santa Julia tasting 40 pesos (about £3), +54 261 441 0000 familiazuccardi.com
Bodega Carmelo Patti, Luján de Cuyo
If ever there was a man to buck winemaking etiquette, it’s Carmelo Patti. Mendoza’s pioneering garagista started out picking grapes as a 10-year-old for his Sicilian winemaker dad, then studied oenology before working at what is today the Nieto Senetiner winery. Selling his car 26 years ago to finance his solo project, one-man-winemaking-band Carmelo purchases grapes before working his magic in his garage: this is wine warehouse chic at its finest. Aged for a year in French oak, the secret to the famous four that have reached cult status – malbec and cabernet sauvignon varietals, a Bordeaux-style blend and a blanc de noir, traditional method espumoso – is to then bottle-age them for at least four years, or as long as he sees fit. Celebrated for his “my way” attitude, Carmelo welcomes visitors with a beaming smile, touring his cement tanks and barrels before cracking open whatever he pleases in his cosy office. It’s not just a question of sampling the goods, however. Aware that he makes premium, well-aged products while most consumers drink young, easy-to-open bottles, Carmelo might even throw in a lesson on how to successfully open older vintages (holding the bottle at a 45-degree angle helps, he says).
• Free tasting, +54 261 498 1379, on Facebook
The Vines of Mendoza, Uco Valley
One of the Uco Valley pioneers, Vines of Mendoza started life as a vineyard ownership project allowing wannabe oenologists to purchase a small piece of terroir in a spectacular Andes-dominated setting. Eleven years on, a whopping 500 hectares is divvied up between more than 130 private estates, a 28-villa resort and spa, and a winery. There’s also Siete Fuegos restaurant led by one of Argentina’s most renowned chefs and grill specialists, Francis Mallmann. If staying at The Vines is beyond your budget, sample a classic tasting led by wine director Mariana Onofri. It’s quite an operation dealing with 300 different labels, but a tour starts in the winery under the painted sign “Nada es imposible” (Nothing is impossible). Back in the tasting room, try out varietals, blends or something ageing in a barrel. The pièce de résistance is Recuerdo, a signature malbec that draws on grapes pooled from collective estates and whose Gran Corte 2011 picked up 93 Wine Advocate points. Blending sessions and a winemaking camp (March and April only) also form part of The Vines’ elaborate offering.
• Tasting about £11.50 per person, +54 261 632-1768 vinesofmendoza.com
Bodegas López, Maipú
If any proof was needed that Argentina has been making wine long before the current malbec boom, look no further than Bodegas López. Founded in 1898 by Spanish immigrant José López Rivas, the bodega is now in the hands of the fourth generation and is one of just two Argentine wineries to still use enormous 10,000-litre French oak casks. This is a time warp tour: the well-preserved museum houses impeccable trucks dating back to the 1920s, wooden presses and a host of sepia-coloured memorabilia. A five-minute walk, with the Andes making for a stupendous backdrop, returns visitors to the 21st century at the thoroughly modern champañera (champagne plant), where both champenoise (traditional) and charmat (second fermentation in tank) method espumosos come to life. While a general tour is free, take advantage of López’s well-stocked cellar and opt for a vertical tasting with the 20-, 15- and 10-year-old montchenot blends (about £26).
• Free tasting and tours in English Mon-Fri 11.30am and 3.30pm, Sat 11.30am. +54 261 497 2406 bodegaslopez.com.ar
WHERE TO EAT
Casa de Contratista, Luján de Cuyo
When doctor and artist José Ianardi breathed new life into a century-old finca in Chacras de Coria, just 20 minutes’ drive from Mendoza city, his project had one aim: to pay tribute to the farm managers or contratistas of old (including his grandfather Enrique) who had put Mendoza on the wine map. Once José and family had carefully restored the original abode, it opened five years ago as a rural restaurant and arts space. Although it’s located on a busy thoroughfare, tranquillity reigns among its malbec vines and on the verandahs of this walk pale pink construction. The historical homage continues on the menu, reviving family recipes such as lasaña campestre (rural-style lasagna with Swiss chard, ricotta, cooked ham and cheese) and matambre de cerdo (pork flank steak) with blue cheese and grilled veg plucked from the garden. No converted vineyard farm house would be complete without a cellar, stocked with local wine from the likes of Bodega Aleanna, Familia Durigutti, Doña Paula and Las Perdices.
• Two courses from £13.50, +54 261 496 5967 casadecontratista.com.ar
Fuente y Fonda, Mendoza city
Following on from the success of his highly acclaimed Siete Cocinas restaurant, Pablo Del Río, from Buenos Aires, has taken a more casual approach with his latest offering, Fuente y Fonda. Set in a spruced-up mansion overlooking Plaza Italia that’s stayed faithful to the original construction (retaining features such as vitraux windows and beautiful tile floors), Pablo takes utmost care when it comes to sourcing ingredients for his Argentine comfort food. The Serrano-style jamón crudo from Córdoba is excellent while other fare such as pasta is made in-house; the pickled beef tongue is a sure fire way to get over any offal-eating phobia. Dishes are designed for sharing (solo travellers might find themselves with an ample doggy bag at the end of a evening), but diners could do a lot worse than gorging on a vat of sweet corn and ricotta-filled cannelloni or a milanesa completa (beef escalope topped with ham and cheese). Desserts are on the house. With a palate so impeccable he takes charge of his restaurants’ wine lists, Pablo is also the face of national cuisine for Wines of Argentina.
• Two courses for two to share £23, +54 261 429 8833 fuenteyfonda.com.ar
Don Mario, Godoy Cruz
Look beyond Don Mario’s slightly odd location in Palmares shopping mall, because this joint is a meaty must on the Mendoza foodie circuit, serving up some of the finest classic cuts – rib-eye, lomo and asado de tira – in town. Friendly service and fine steaks are just two of the attractions, but also try the chivito (kid) or lechoncito (suckling pig). Most starters, such as a picada (charcuterie selection) and salads are for sharing, as are the parrillada mains – these individual grills with a smoking coal base to keep meat warm are served at the table. The extensive wine list also plays an important role at Don Mario, with more than 200 labels running from cheaper wines to vintages from Catena Zapata’s Angélica Zapata Alto Malbec and Vistalba’s Corta A, a blend whose grape composition changes year on year.
• Two courses for two to share £24, +54 261 439 4838, donmario.com.ar
WHERE TO STAY
Domaine Bousquet, Uco Valley
It’s not every day a trader jacks in international markets for agriculture, but that’s exactly what Kuwait-born Labid Ameri did. Besides making organic-certified wine with his French wife Anne at Domaine Bousquet – a winery he proudly says is Argentina’s 20th-largest – the Tupungato-situated bodega also has four cute terraced cottages to its name. A tree-trunk pergola covers the shared stone verandah whose eastern panorama looks out onto the gently sloping valley and malbec vines, and waking up to the snow-capped Andes is also part of the attraction. Each one- or two-bedroom cottage has its own kitchenette and a shower-only en suite bathroom; sleeping quarters are spacious if simple. With the great Mendoza outdoors for company and no TV or Wi-Fi to speak of, crack open a bottle of something complimentary and watch the sun set over the mountains.
• Double room, breakfast included £64, domainebousquet.com +54 9 (0) 262 248 0011
Finca Adalgisa, Luján de Cuyo
When your Italian great-grandfather is known as the King of the Vineyard, it’s quite a reputation to live up to. Gabriela Furlotti, however, is rising to the challenge, managing both Bodega Furlotti winery and Finca Adalgisa, the family summer house turned 11-room lodge in the heart of leafy Chacras de Coria. Nestled among a hectare of 99-year-old malbec vines and olive trees, Gabriela restored the Old House and constructed the Stone House, ensuring the vineyards weren’t ripped up to create gated settlements like many other fincas in the area. Original features such as ceramic floors and stained glass windows, family portraits and contemporary comforts fuse seamlessly in the former, while the latter’s self-contained cabins offer more independence; king-size beds are the norm in both categories. Adalgisa produces 5,000 bottles of its own name malbec made by garagista Carmelo Patti (see above) onsite, which guests can sample with tapas each evening overlooking the vines, quince trees and swimming pool. Staying in the same area and close to the river Mendoza, is the Luján de Cuyo B&B, whose four spacious rooms include a simple double, deluxe triple and even a quintuple. Its central Luján location means it’s a short drive from many wineries such as Lagarde, Vistalba and Alta Vista. Guests can make full use of the garden, swimming-pool and shared lounge after a hard day’s sipping.
• Double room (breakfast included in low season) from £156, +54 (0)261 496 0713 fincaadalgisa.com.ar
• Luján de Cuyo B&B, double room from £49, +54 9 (0)261 640 9153 lujandecuyobyb.com.ar
Finca Blousson, Uco Valley
When Victoria Jones and Patrick Blousson jacked in Buenos Aires six years ago, they headed west for the ultimate lifestyle change. Based in Vista Flores in the Uco Valley, the couple initially planted three hectares of vines before opening the bistro. Demand dictated a B&B came next in the pecking order before unveiling their first malbec, Finca Blousson Vista Flores Malbec 2013. While Patrick mans the restaurant’s kitchen, serving up Argentine dishes with French flair, front of house is led by Victoria. With three double rooms sporting a rural elegant look, each offers up either a view of the Andes or the finca’s own malbec vines. Guests can treat the dining room and its cosy fireplace as an extended lounge. Stop by for lunch and give the fillet mignon in a malbec sauce a whirl (about £16.70).
• Double room from £128 B&B, or £195 with four-course paired tasting menu for two people and breakfast, +54 261 655 3382, fincablousson.com
The Guardian | Sorrel Moseley-Williams