A Taste of Argentina
Bodegas with open doors, fine hotels, fabulous fly fishing and natural beauty beyond expectations.
Juicy steaks and lush Malbecs are just part of what the wine regions of Mendoza, Salta and Patagonia hold in store. Visitors will find bodegas with open doors, fine hotels, fabulous fly fishing and natural beauty beyond expectations.
You may already be familiar with the reputations of Argentine beef, soccer and tango. You may even consider Argentinean wine, particularly Malbec, to be top flight. But what about Argentina as a destination for wine tourism? Does South America's second largest country, with its rich history of grape production aided by immigrants from Italy and Spain, rank as a must-see place for anyone wanting wine to be at the heart of their vacation? Sí Señor(a), we say. And we're excited to tell you why.
For starters, Argentina qualifies as one of the world's few truly affordable wine regions to visit. Since a harsh devaluation of the peso occurred in late 2001, Argentina's currency has hovered at three pesos to the dollar. What that means is a steak dinner for two with a bottle of good wine will set you back about $45; a chauffeur-driven car to a winery and then back again may run $25; and a local beer, always the best barometer for gauging relative costs, goes for under two dollars. An empanada for a buck? You bet.
How about lodging? As a culture, Argentineans are a stylish lot. Thus well-appointed wine-country hotels—spots that might cost $500 or more a night in Europe or Napa Valley—can be booked for under $200. It is only the hotels that charge in American dollars that are expensive, though only by local standards.
Cuisine in Argentina is another draw, albeit one with a pattern. With grilled meat at the center of most meals, comida de Argentina, while not as creative as what's on offer in Sonoma or Tuscany, is satisfying and healthy fare because the country's grass-fed beef, lamb and goat are great, the produce is fresh and local, and the price is right.
Maybe best of all, Argentina is a spectacularly beautiful country, especially when you are flush up against the eastern slope of the Andes mountain range. Trust us when we tell you that a high-elevation horseback ride in Tupungato, Mendoza, or a day of fly fishing for trout in Patagonia, or taking in the jagged Quebrada de las Flechas (a rocky outcrop in Salta that is comparable to Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah) will create memories to last a lifetime.
One reality check: I learned two new words on my last trip to Argentina. One is demorada, which means "delayed."
The other is bajón, what Americans call a "downer." And both apply to flying Aerolineas Argentinas (AA) domestically. Because this poorly run airline is a monopoly, there's little anyone can do about the constant delays and cancelled flights. Even the Argentineans are fed up with AA and are calling for other airlines to be brought in to improve domestic travel. But until that happens, charge up the iPod or grab a good book; eventually you should get to where you're going.
To best serve our readers, we've segmented our coverage by region. Mendoza, the source for roughly 70 percent of the country's wine production, is where the majority of wine-loving tourists are heading. Thus we have concentrated on Mendoza and its wineries, hotels, restaurants and outdoor offerings. However, in the north of the country, Salta
is becoming increasingly popular due to its improving wines and stunning countryside. And down south in Patagonia there's up-and-coming Neuquén, where wineries have been sprouting up in recent years and the rivers, lakes and town of San Martín de los Andes draw fishermen, hunters and skiers in the winter.
Big and beautiful, with affordable wines, food and lodging: If that sounds like your kind of place then it's time to make Argentina your next stop for serious wine-related travel.
The Park Hyatt Mendoza is the only full-service, five-star hotel in the province of Mendoza. Located on Mendoza city's main plaza, the hotel features a spa and gym, an outdoor pool and a hopping casino along with a very good restaurant (Bistro M) and bar. There is a wide range of regular rooms and suites, all with marble baths and walk-in showers. Overall the Park Hyatt offers everything one should expect from a global hospitality chain's top-level hotel. (Chile 1124, Mendoza; www.mendoza.park.hyatt.com)
Cavas Wine Lodge ranks as Mendoza's foremost design-oriented boutique hotel. With 14 private casitas—all with balconies and fireplaces—Cavas, which opened two years ago, caters to the travel-and-leisure set. Situated in the middle of an old vineyard in Agrelo, the views are spectacular, especially at sunset. As for management, hosts Cecilia Diaz Chuit and Martín Rigal are a savvy and friendly young couple with great taste. (Costaflores s/n, Alto Agrelo; www.cavaswinelodge.com)
Chacras de Coria is a suburb just south of Mendoza city, in the Luján de Cuyo district. Historically it was a place for wealthy Mendocinos to own country homes, but over time it has become less exclusive and more residential. There are several charming casas rurales, or small country hotels, in central Chacras de Coria, including Finca Adalgisa (www.fincaadalgisa.com.ar), the Parador del Angel (www.paradordelangel.com.ar), and Lares de Chacras (www.laresdechacras.com). All are situated just a few blocks from the main town square and close to several wineries.
Winery Lodging and Dining
Finca & Bodega Carlos Pulenta is owned by long-time winery executive Carlos Pulenta. The estate has two guest rooms, both spacious and well-appointed. The property is home to the acclaimed La Bourgogne restaurant, a spin-off of like-named spots in Buenos Aires and Punta del Este, Uruguay, with Jean-Paul Bondoux as chef. And at the small winery, which was completed in 2005, Bodega Vistalba's Corte A, B and C wines are made. (Roque Saenz Peña 3531, Vistalba, Luján de Cuyo; www.carlospulentawines.com)
Club Tapiz in Maipú is a seven-room hotel housed on a wine estate dating back to 1890. The main house and guest rooms have been restored in renaissance style, with 21st-century touches. Terruño is the restaurant on site, and it's one of the best in Mendoza, with highlights such as rabbit escabeche and pork chops done in a Malbec sauce. A small bodega on the grounds still produces some wine, while Club Tapiz is also home to a renowned cooking school. (Ruta 60 s/n, Maipú; www.newage-hotels.com)
Posada Salentein sits adjacent to Bodega Salentein in the Alto Valle de Uco, about 80 miles south of downtown Mendoza. The posada consists of two guest houses, both with eight rooms, each with a private bath. Attractions include the cross-shaped winery, a newly opened art gallery, a restaurant, and the Uco Valley's rugged scenery, which can be explored by foot or on horseback. (Ruta 89 s/n, Los Arboles, Tunuyán; www.bodegasalentein.com)
Almacén del Sur is the type of place that makes Mendoza special. Located in a private house in Maipú, it produces commercial gourmet foods and also operates a restaurant that does five inventive courses for $40. On your way out, stock up on goods such as piquillo pepper or eggplant spread, or maybe some jelly made from Malbec or Torrontés grapes. (Zanichelli 709, Maipú; www.almacendelsur.com)
Francis Mallman 1884 is Mendoza's most storied modern restaurant. It occupies a renovated section of the old Escorihuela winery just outside of the city limits, in Godoy Cruz. This is where winery owners host their importers and friends, and the food is consistently of high quality. Try anything from the wood-fired clay oven and/or the baby goat from Mendoza's Malargue district. (Belgrano 1188, Godoy Cruz; +54.261.424.2698)
La Sal owner José Bahamonde calls his modern bistro a "restaurante cultural," and on any given night that translates into live music accompanying contemporary cuisine that's not entirely Argentine but still tastes good. Design is a big thing here: thin-backed chairs, unique lighting and interesting wall coverings. Good wine list, too. (Belgrano 1069,
Anna Bistro is owned by a pair of French brothers who came to Mendoza as travelers and never left. Indoor-outdoor seating makes it popular from lunch to late-night. French/Argentine bistro is the theme, with a young and attentive staff. (Juan B. Justo 161, Mendoza; +54.261.425.1818)
There are hundreds of wineries in Mendoza province, thus your best bet for visiting is to do it geographically. To that end, we recommend visiting four wineries in the Luján de Cuyo area, about 25 minutes south of Mendoza city. It's a full day of touring and tasting, and you will see the differences and similarities between the wineries and their wines.
Bodegas Lagarde will show you old-vines Malbec vineyards and a winery that still incorporates cane roofing and other touches from the old days. Now owned by the Pescarmona family—pioneers in the industrial turbine business—Lagarde, which was founded in 1897, offers pay-to-play lunches, barbecues and even invites groups or individuals to help with the harvest. Appointments required. (San Martín 1745, Luján de Cuyo; www.lagarde.com.ar)
Bodega Catena Zapata in Agrelo may be the one Mendoza winery you have seen in photos; it is designed like a Mayan pyramid. Catena's tours shed light on the high-altitude viticulture that thrives in Mendoza, and guests may select from several tasting options. After the tour and tasting you can purchase Catena wines as well as browse a collection of wine accessories. Appointments required. (J. Cobos s/n, Agrelo, Luján de Cuyo; www.catenawines.com)
Bodega Norton, founded in 1895, has been owned by Austria's Swarovski family since the 1990s. Norton receives small and large groups by appointment only. Located in the Perdriel section of Luján de Cuyo, Norton's free hourly tours (in English or Spanish) include a tasting of the winery's basic wines; Norton also offers tastings of its
better wines for 15 pesos ($5) up to 150 pesos ($30) per person. Special barbecues, garden lunches and other events can be arranged. (Ruta Provincial 15, Perdriel, Luján de Cuyo; www.norton.com.ar)
Bodega Alta Vista in Chacras de Coria operates out of a winery built in 1899, which has been restored and updated with state-of-the-art technology. Scheduled tours include walks through the vineyards, olive groves and winery, and finally, a tasting of exclusive wines. Visitors conclude their stay at the Alta Vista Boutique, a shop that sells wines and other merchandise. (Alzaga 3972, Chacras de Coria; www.altavistawines.com)
One of the most exhilarating things you can do in Mendoza is to head up into the mountains to spend a day riding horses and partaking in an asado (barbecue) at a true estancia (a ranch that raises animals, usually cattle and/or sheep). As you venture south of Mendoza city toward the Uco Valley, you come to the Tupungato Valley, which is home to a pair of estancias owned by the prominent Palma family. Los Chulengos is run by Fernando Palma and his daughters. Snow-covered in winter, green in the spring, and still pretty colorful in the fall, Los Chulengos is 7,500 acres of pure heaven. And the asado is amazing (www.loschulengos.com.ar).
Another option nearby is Rancho 'e Cuero, owned by other members of the Palma family. Like Los Chulengos, Rancho 'e Cuero is a working ranch that offers visitors a chance to live the life of a gaucho, at least for a day (www.ranchoecuero.com.ar).
Getting out and rafting the Mendoza River is fun for white-water novices and families with kids. The rapids are generally Class 3, so while they are neither dangerous nor rough, you will get wet while working up an appetite paddling. There are three major rafting outfits based in Potrerillos, but Rios Andinos (www.riosandinos.com) is the one we recommend because the guides are friendly and multilingual.
The Inside Scoop
Some travelers like to do it all themselves, while others prefer help in selecting the right places to see and things to do. Vines of Mendoza is a wine tasting salon/tourism agency in downtown Mendoza that can book winery tours and make restaurant recommendations and reservations. Its tasting room is South America's only collective wine tasting center, and it is open every day from 11 am to 11 pm. (Espejo 567, Mendoza; www.vinesofmendoza.com)
On a smaller scale, Vintura is the wine tourism company owned and operated by Veronica Mausbach, who knows all the best wineries, hotels, restaurants, drivers and stores in Mendoza. A call to her will get you recommendations, itineraries, reservations, transportation and more. (+54.261.496.5237; firstname.lastname@example.org)
Salta Wine Circuit
Mountains, sunshine and rugged terrain: that in a nutshell is Salta, one of Argentina's most northerly provinces. Salta is
Wine lovers exploring Salta province will want to follow the Valles Calchaquíes circuit, which begins and ends in the city of Salta, but along the way passes through native villages, a sprawling cactus forest, massive rock formations and old as well as new vineyards.
Start the 325-mile circle by heading south through the tobacco fields of the Lerma Valley, before heading west at El Carril. From there you will climb to over 10,000 feet as you pass through the Cuesta del Obispo on your way to Payogasta and Cachi. Prior to Cachi you pass through the Parque Nacional Los Cardones, where cacti outnumber people by many thousands to one.
Once in Cachi, pick up the Ruta Nacional 40 and head south toward Molinos and finally the village of Colomé. This is a bumpy ride over an unfriendly dirt road, so if you are doing it in a rental vehicle, make sure it's a truck. If you're with a guide, make sure he has a spare tire. And if it's raining, postpone.
A welcome respite comes at the Bodega and Estancia Colomé. Donald Hess, a Swiss businessman with a taste for the extreme, has modernized a rural village called Colomé by building a beautiful hotel, winery and visitors center where virtually nothing used to exist. Hess's wife, Ursula, has overseen the creation of the luxury nine-room hotel, with a very good restaurant headed by chef Daniel Durand. On the grounds you can stroll lavender-lined paths, visit a contemporary art museum dedicated solely to the works of American artist James Turrell (not yet open but coming soon), ride horses with the staff gaucho or relax by the pool.
Upon leaving Colomé, head south through the visually stunning Quebrada de las Flechas (Canyon of the Arrows; below left), where you'll see microscopic villages with hard-boiled farmers drying red peppers in the open air. Next up is Cafayate, home to a number of good wineries specializing in Malbec and Torrontés, the latter an aromatic white. A wine-based lunch or dinner at Macacha in downtown Cafayate should be on the schedule as should a half-day jaunt into bordering Tucumán province. There you can hike through the Quilmes Indian Ruins (just off Ruta 40) and then take in the mosaics and other works of Calchaquí artist Hector Cruz at his personal Pachamama Museum (in Amaicha). For lodging options in Cafayate, Killa is a small, recently renovated hotel with friendly owners and nicely decorated rooms for about $100, while Viñas de Cafayate Wine Resort on the edge of town is a solid option if you want to sleep amidst the vines.
Good wineries to visit in Cafayate are the larger-scale Michel Torino and the smaller, artisan-style Bodega San Pedro de Yacochuya. Torino is located at the El Esteco estate, which also houses the Sheraton-managed Patios de Cafayate Hotel and Spa. Yacochuya is a joint venture between French enologist Michel Rolland and members of the Etchart family. A visit here might include a tour of the vineyards and winery, followed by an authentic Salteño lunch served at one of the two private houses on the property. Reservations must be made in advance, and you should expect to pay about 100 pesos ($33) for lunch and wine.
As you head north out of Cafayate and back to Salta, take the smoothly paved Ruta 68 through the Quebrada de las Conchas, a series of red-rock bluffs and spires straight out of the American southwest. A highlight is El Anfiteatro, a cylindrical natural amphitheater whose acoustics attract classical musicians, guitar players and flutists. A bathroom or wine break with a quick snack can be taken near Alemania at the Posta de las Cabras, where fresh goat cheese is the specialty.
Back on the outskirts of Salta city, finish your sojourn in classy surroundings at the romantic La Casa de
los Jazmines (House of Jasmines), a seven-room boutique hotel owned and managed by Luciana Duvall, the wife of the actor Robert Duvall, who was present and conversing with guests during my stay in March. For no more than $150 a night, it's just what the doctor ordered after a few days of exploring Salta in all its natural glory.
Eating, Drinking, Resting and Sight-Seeing in Salta
Estancia Colomé: Ruta Provincial 53, Molinos; www.estanciacolome.com.
Patios de Cafayate Hotel and Spa: Ruta 40 y 68, Cafayate; www.starwoodhotels.com/luxury.
House of Jasmines: Ruta Nacional 51, La Merced Chica; www.houseofjasmines.com.
Hotel Killa: Colón 47, Cafayate; www.killacafayate.com.ar.
Viñas de Cafayate Wine Resort: 25 de Mayo, Camino al Divisadero, Cafayate; www.cafayatewineresort.com.
Michel Torino: Ruta 40 y 68, Cafayate; www.elesteco.com.ar.
San Pedro de Yacochuya: C.C. No. 1, Cafayate; www.yacochuya.com.
Macacha: Guemes 28, Cafayate; +54.3868.422.319.
Posta de las Cabras: Ruta 68, Talapampa; +54.387.499.1093.
Ruinas de Quilmes: 50 km south of Cafayate on Ruta 40, Tucumán; +54.3892.421.004.
Museo Pachamama: Ruta 307, Amaicha del Valle, Tucumán; +54. 3892.421.075.
Vines, Dinosaurs and Trout in Patagonia
Last year I wrote about the wines of Neuquén (see the December 1, 2006 issue), noting that this emerging section of Patagonia had the potential to become a quality wine region. This spring I went to Neuquén to check out the three family-owned wineries that are up and running there, Bodega Fin del Mundo, Bodega NQN and Bodega Familia Schroeder, and to take account of what they have to offer visitors.
Julio Viola, the owner of Fin del Mundo, showed me his large-scale winery in San Patricio del Chañar and pointed out where a tasting room, restaurant and a guest room or two will be built. Based on the speed at which Viola likes
to move, Fin del Mundo should be receiving visitors within the next year. (Ruta Provincial 8, San Patricio del Chañar; www.bodegdelfindelmundo.com.)
Meanwhile, NQN and Schroeder, Viola's smaller-scale neighbors, are well-polished finished products. Schroeder offers tours, wine tastings, a full-service restaurant and an interesting exhibit of dinosaur bones that were found during excavation. (Ruta 7, San Patricio del Chañar, Neuquén; www.familiaschroeder.com)
NQN, which is owned by a family comprised of architects and interior designers, is a visually appealing mix of stone and stainless steel that also welcomes the public. And its restaurant, Malma, which looks out onto the vineyards, serves the best rolled baby goat (chivito arrollado) that I will probably ever eat. (Ruta 7, San Patricio del Chañar, Neuquén; www.bodeganqn.com.ar)
Of note, a new winery, hotel and spa called Valle Perdido (Lost Valley) was under heavy construction in March. (Ruta Provincial 7, San Patricio del Chañar, Neuquén; www.valleperdido.com.ar). In one way I feel lucky that I couldn't stay there, because instead I spent two nights with the Vérel family, owners of Lo de Vérel, a small bed and breakfast located on a pear and apple farm near the town of Cinco Saltos. They are charming people who speak English and serve excellent homemade jams and good coffee with breakfast. But beware of the peacocks; they will wake you up bright and early. (Ruta 151, km. 22 near Cinco Saltos, Neuquén; +54.299.495.2020; email@example.com)
Cast, Mend and Strip
Four hours west of the Neuquén wine region sits the alpine town of San Martín de los Andes. With its Swiss-Austrian look, San Martín attracts skiers in the winter but during the summer the area is all about fly fishing for rainbow and German brown trout as well as hunting the regal red stag.
There are a number of fishing and hunting lodges in the San Martín area, but based on personal experience and interviews with local fishing guides, there are none that match the overall quality and commitment offered by Tipiliuke Lodge, which rests on a 50,000-acre estancia founded by wealthy French settlers.
Tipiliuke offers guided personal or group fly fishing trips, usually on the nearby Chimehuín River, which is chock full of hungry fish weighing up to 10 pounds. It also caters to deer hunters, trekkers and equestrian lovers. Breakfasts, lunches and dinners are gourmet, and there's unlimited wine and other drinks to enjoy while sharing your fish tales with guests
or the lodge's cheerful hosts, Maria José and Kevin Tiemersma. The lodge's nine rooms are comfortable and nicely appointed, all with private baths.
Tipiliuke, which charges in U.S. dollars, is by no means a bargain, with high-season (November to March) rates that include activities starting at $300 a night. But it's a truly special place, with fabulous food and service, English-speaking fishing and hunting guides and more, including easy access to the nearby Jack Nicklaus-designed Chapelco Golf Club (www.chapelcogolf.com).
With so many different packages and prices, we advise that you contact Tipiliuke directly to select or design a program that's best for you. (+54.11.4806.8877; www.tipiliuke.com)
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