Mendoza, Argentina is the largest wine producer in Latin America. The region is far west of Buenos Aires, set against the towering presence of Aconcagua (the tallest mountain in the Americas, and the Western and Southern Hemispheres) and a short distance from the Chilean border.
The region is famous for its quality and abundance of malbec wine. This grape, one of the six traditional Bordeuax grapes, has seen its prominence decline in France, but skyrocket in Argentina.
Visiting Mendoza has always been high on my list, and this trip didn't disappoint. The area is lovely, with its majestic backdrop and a climate evoking that of California. This blog post is primarily about the wine. Check out our Americas blog for more info and stories about our whole experience.
There is a wine bar in the heart of central Mendoza called the Vines of Mendoza (creative!). Their claim to fame is that they collect the best wines of the region for sampling and purchase. This is mostly geared toward those tourists who don't have time to visit many wineries themselves, and I was skeptical of their quality.
My initial doubt was misplaced, because VoM really does have an impressively good wine offering. We started by sampling four glasses, which quickly evolved into a full-on tasting and the decision to buy 12 bottles.
Side Story: In Cafayate, we purchased seven bottles of wine with the intent that we would ship six home, along with six we were to acquire in Mendoza. We couldn't have been more naïve. Shipping wine from outside the U.S. is nearly impossible. We investigated all our options upon arriving in Mendoza. The UPS clerk laughed us out of his office. Not even possible. The DHL guy was very helpful, but it would cost $500 per dozen or $350 for six because they have a special (costly) relationship with a licensed alcohol distributor.
We were out of options and fearing the worst. Once we reached VoM, we had an idea. They would ship our six wines home for $220, and if we bought 12 bottles from them, shipping only costs $1. The deal seems to-good-to-be-true, but it's legitimate.
So began our wine tasting odyssey. We quickly struck up a friendship with Justin and Kate, two Americans from D.C. sitting next to us. Julia from VoM gave us the royal treatment, even opening up new bottles just so we could give them a try. It was such a fun, social experience. Hats off to Vines of Mendoza for not just living up to, but exceeding their reputation. We made some tough decisions, and settled upon these bottles (including a few multiple purchases):
Bressia Monteagrelo Syrah 2008
Bressia Monteagrelo Cab Franc 2009
Cuvelier Los Andes Grand Vin Blend 2007
Cuvelier Los Andes Colección Blend 2008
Enamore Blend 2009
Lindaflor La Violeta Malbec 2007
Lindaflor Malbec 2008
Gran Lorca Poético Petit Verdot 2008
Gauchezco Plata Malbec 2009
Bonomo y Montiel Malbec 2012
Gran Malbec de Angeles 2009
By far, our favorite wines were the Gran Malbec de Angeles and the Lindaflor La Violeta. They were simply incredible malbecs. I'm not sure which of these you can find in the U.S., but if you can find them, they will be worth any price.
After spending two days in the city of Mendoza, we headed out to the town of Maipú, about 30 minutes south. There are three major valleys in the area: Maipú, Uco, and Lujan de Cuyo. Maipú is the most frequently visited and easily accessible. We rode the light rail (yay transit!) to the edge of town and walked to the center.
We booked four nights at a vineyard guesthouse called Posada de Cavieres and highly recommend it. It was peaceful and idyllic, and the Belgian owner Hans is incredibly hospitable. (Read more in the other post.)
We arrived at Cavieres on harvest day and were lucky enough to watch the farm hands methodically and rapidly collect the grapes.
In Maipú, we decided to scale back our tasting schedule. Mendoza is not nearly as easy to navigate as Cafayate without a car. We also wanted to relax more, and the pool at Cavieres was irresistible.
Luckily Hans kept a full stable of mountain bikes for his guests' use.
On the first day, we rode 10 minutes up the road to Tempus Alba for lunch. Their rooftop deck was comfortable and modern. The food was very good, although overpriced. The wine was not as impressive. Their Cabernet Sauvignon was actually their best, and the rest were mediocre.
Following Tempus Alba, we decided to ride our bikes up to Bodega La Rural. It was a far ride - like 8 km - and we paid for it in sweat and sore bottoms. La Rural is one of the older and larger wine producers of the Maipú region. Their labels include San Felipe, Rutini, and Trumpeter (in ascending order of quality). We sampled a Rutini sauvignon blanc and malbec, which were both pretty good. We later bought a bottle of Trumpeter malbec in Buenos Aires, and enjoyed that too. La Rural exports to the states, and if you can find a bottle less than $40, it's worth the money to try it. (The Trumpeter cost $15 here in a grocery store, and that is a moderately high price for wine.)
La Rural also has a wine museum. We didn't pay for the tour, but still got to see some interesting old winemaking equipment near the cavernous tasting room.
The next day, we rode 2 km down to Carinae. This winery is owned by a couple of French ex-pats, and I must say their wine is excellent. We paid for a full tasting of their offerings, which span the whole spectrum of grapes grown in Mendoza. Their "Carinae Prestige" blend (malbec, cabernet, syrah) is their top offering, and is one of the best I tasted in Mendoza. We purchased a bottle of their "Octans" blend for dinner that night and were also happy with the purchase. Luckily, Carinae exports to the U.S., so keep your eye open for it.
We were only able to get to three vineyards in the two days we allocated to bodega hopping in Maipú. Lindsay's bicycle tire popped right after Carinae, so we had to walk back to Posada Cavieres and called it a day. However, because of our prodigious sampling at Vines of Mendoza and our strong desire for rest and relaxation, we were perfectly content only visiting three wineries. Again, if you want to visit more in the Mendoza region, we strongly advise renting a car.
Finally, I wanted to note one more winery that we did not visit. For our anniversary dinner, we ate at the Terruno Restaurant at the Club Tapiz winery. The meal was excellent (lamb ravioli and filet), and we enjoyed a bottle of Benegas Malbec 2011. This malbec was excellent. We also enjoyed a bottle of the Benegas Finca Libertad blend (cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot) with our dinner at Don Julio in Buenos Aires. Based on these two wines, this has become one of my favorite Mendoza wineries. AND it appears you can buy it through Total Wine in the U.S. We highly recommend trying it.