THREE DAYS IN MENDOZA
Nestled at the foot of the Andes lies the Mendoza province, a charming small town and the epicenter of Argentine wine country. Here, amidst leafy, tree-lined streets and fields of grapevines you will find quaint Art Deco buildings, manicured parks & plazas, and of course, world class wine and food, all with the impressive backdrop of the snow-capped Andes looming behind. With over 1000 bodegas or wineries sprinkled throughout the area, weeding through different options can be difficult. Here is my ideal itinerary for three well-rounded days in Mendoza.
Whenever I visit wine regions around the world and at home, I like having my own car for flexibility and ease. I taste wine responsibly and thus this is a feasible option for me, but for those less confident in this method, I recommend hiring a driver to tour you around. Recommended driver: Mauricio Molina
WHERE TO STAY
1| Casa Lila - Behind an old era facade, lies a modern oasis in the heart of town. The charming B&B has 6 rooms, a peaceful & lush courtyard, a few common lounging spaces, on-site parking, and delicious breakfasts. The staff is super friendly and willing to help plan activities, reservations, and tours without complaint. Highly recommend for a budget friendly stay without sacrificing quality in Mendoza.
2| Finca Adalgisa - Delightful boutique hotel located in Chacras de Coria area just 20 minutes from town. The wine hotel features its own vineyard, a private pool, and a bodega where the first glass of wine is free. Staff is amiable, the rooms are well designed & clean, and breakfast is included.
Late Morning | After a leisurely breakfast, head to Mendel Winery, a rustic & small winery in the Lujan de Cuyo area. Silvina is a wonderful host and will give you a brief tour of the property, point out interesting growing techniques employed, and discuss their whole wine-making process before heading to the tasting room. The wines are varied and unique - we especially liked the Unus, so be sure to ask for a taste.
Midday / Afternoon | Just a short drive away is the next stop, Bodega Ruca Malen, a brightly colored, more contemporary winery with stunning views of the nearby snow-capped Andes mountains. Here you can do typical tours and tastings (their tasting room is beautiful with amazing views) or you can opt for a multi-course lunch with wine pairings. The menu focuses on local produce & ingredients, but also on the traditional techniques and flavors employed by the indigenous populations of the area and is aptly named "Los Origenes." If you do the 6-course lunch, plan to spend several hours here enjoying the views, the eats, and the grounds.
Late Afternoon | To work off the wine, head back to town and take a leisurely stroll through Parque General San Martin. The park is rather extensive, but offers a variety of scenery and walking paths, so tailor the length of your walk to your preferences. If you have the stamina head up to Cerro de la Gloria for sunset and to take in some panoramic views overlooking the city.
Evening | Dinner is at 1884, the Mendoza flagship of the most famous Argentine chef, Francis Mallmann. The menu is wholly Argentine and employs Mallmann's signature siete fuegos cooking method over outdoor fires. The restaurant inhabits an 1884 built winery and is quite romantic (haha). Diners can choose to eat indoors or outdoors overlooking the grills where your meals are being prepared. I highly recommend the Ojo de Bife. To get a better sense of Mallmann and his cooking style, do watch the Chef's Table episode on him.
Suggested Fall Attire | Although not as dressy as the California wine regions, it's good to look presentable in Mendoza. For the crisper fall temperatures, I recommend comfy booties like these Naturalizer ones, dark jeans, a sweater, and a blanket scarf.
Day | For a brief pause in the wine consumption, today's itinerary takes you into the mountains to Parque Provincial de Aconcagua. Aconcagua is the tallest mountain in the Americas and the highest peak in the Southern Hemisphere. From Mendoza head west towards the small town of Uspallata (approx 1.5 hrs). From here take a short drive on Ruta 13 to Cerro de los Siete Colores. Take one of the short trails in the park to stretch your legs and for pretty views and a glimpse of the seven colors the area is known for.
Take the short drive back to Uspallata and head to La Juanita, a family run restaurant on the edge of town for lunch. The ambiance and staff is warm and friendly, while the food is tasty and priced reasonably. I recommend the fresh pastas and the empanadas!
After lunch, continue another hour up Ruta 7 into the mountains, enjoying the panoramic views out every window as you do so. Pull over at Puente del Inca, an unusual, brightly colored, naturally formed bridge that spans the Vacas River, a tributary of the larger Mendoza River. Around the bridge you will find a small market selling local goods and souvenirs as well as a few kioscos where you can purchase snacks or beverages.
Drive the last few minutes to the entrance to Parque Provincial de Aconcagua - the entry fee is 20 pesos/person payable in the parking lot. Follow the well marked trail up the slopes. You will pass some small lakes, colorful hills and rock formations, and perhaps see some unique flora & fauna as you make your way to the viewpoint and the river. Here, take in the majestic views of Aconcagua (The walk is fairly easy and can be done by people of all ages. Do note that you are at a somewhat high altitude).
Evening | Tonight's dinner is at Azafran, a local favorite in the heart of Mendoza town serving classic flavors and ingredients with a modern bent. The restaurant has a homey, unpretentious vibe, complemented by a friendly & helpful staff. The restaurant foregoes the typical wine list and instead allows guests to enter their wine cellar and peruse the bottles themselves. A sommelier is on hand to answer questions and to provide unique insight into the varied selection of wines. Be sure to make a reservation!
Today's explorations head south to the Uco Valley, my favorite wine region in Mendoza. Here, at the foot of the Andes, the altitude is higher and the wines seemingly pack a bit more punch. The Uco Valley feels less commercial and no matter where you look, you are rewarded with stunning views.
Morning | For unique wines in a beautiful setting, the first stop of the day is at Pulenta Estates. The tour is fun and informative (usually run by a woman named Connie), and the wine sampling is top-notch - the Cab Franc from Pulenta is one of the best wine's I've sampled in Mendoza.
Midday / Afternoon | Lunch & afternoon lounging are at Andeluna, a simple but elegant structure tucked into fields of grapevines with more impressive vistas of the surrounding mountains. I have been lucky enough to visit this winery in two seasons - summer & fall, and can attest to its continued beauty in both. Here you can again do your typical tours and tastings, or opt for a multi course lunch with wine pairings (if you know me at all at this point you know what we chose). The wine pairings aren't skimpy and they do pair some of their premium reserve line wines with the flavorful and well composed meal (a six course lunch with wine pairings is approx $55/person at current exchange rates). After lunch, enjoy a coffee on the outdoor terrace or just bask in the sunshine. I can't quite pin what it is about Andeluna, but on both visits this winery was my favorite part of the entire weekend.
Late Afternoon (Optional) | If you still have the desire to sample some more wines, head to Salentein Winery, a modernist designed winery with arguably the most beautiful piano room in all of Mendoza.
Evening | A contemporary bistro style restaurant, Maria Antonieta is relatively new to Mendoza's dining scene, yet has quickly become a favorite for tourists and locals alike. Behind the helm of Chef Vanina Chimeno, the restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, & dinner with a focus on fresh, local ingredients. Highlights include the burrata with eggplant and the fresh pastas.
Suggested Fall Attire | Although not as dressy as the California wine regions, it's good to look presentable in Mendoza. For the crisper fall temperatures, I recommend comfy booties or flat shoes, a maxi skirt, a loose t-shirt, and a leather jacket.
THINGS TO NOTE
1| Unlike much of the California wine country, in Mendoza most wineries require reservations or prior notice for tastings. Send emails to the various wineries or ask someone to call for you.