From the minute you set foot in Mendoza, the Andes burn an indelible mark in your memory bank. Peaks like El Plata and Tupungato, both over 20,000 feet in elevation, sit sentinel over tens of thousands of vineyard acres, creating a postcard visual. Yet, Mendoza is more than just mountains and Malbec. Over the past 15 years, this desert wine region, located some 700 miles west of Buenos Aires, has evolved into a top destination for wine tourism. New hotels, architecturally impressive wineries and greatly improved gastronomy—no longer limited to the asado, Argentina’s famous grilled-meat feast—are today’s attractions.
Where to Dine
Mun @ Casarena is a new winery-based Pan-Asian restaurant in Vistalba run by the Korean-American sushi chef Mun Kim, who also offers make-it-then-eat-it cooking classes. Pan y Oliva at the Familia Zuccardi winery in Maipú infuses house-made olive oil into almost every dish on its Tuscany-meets-California menu. In Mendoza city, Siete Cocinas is chef Pablo del Rio’s forum for refined cuisine from Argentina’s primary food regions, while Maria Antonieta, three blocks from the city’s main plaza, is a bistro with sidewalk tables and good breakfasts.
Where to Stay
Cavas Wine Lodge is a beautifully designed Relais & Chateaux property in the Agrelo wine district. Private casitas offer west-facing views of the Andes. Entre Cielos in Vistalba seamlessly blends into Mendoza’s desert topography. Its funky Flores Blancas “room” which stands above the vineyard, is more like a spaceship on stilts, while its Hamam Turkish-style spa should not be missed. For more conventional hotels in Mendoza city, the Diplomatic Park Suites, Park Hyatt and Sheraton are well-run, full-service operations.
Los Chulengos is a classic estancia (ranch) in Tupungato. Come here for fly fishing, horseback riding and an asado. Contact Slowkar to get behind the wheel of a Citroen CV3, then cruise the streets of Mendoza—just make sure you’re comfortable operating a dashboard gearshift. Ayllu Arte Popular, in Chacras de Coria, is the place to shop for handmade crafts.
The Memorial de la Bandera del Ejército de Los Andes in downtown Mendoza displays the original flag carried in 1817 by General José de San Martín, who led the united armies in key battles that resulted in the liberation of Argentina, Chile and Peru from Spain. Admission is free.
When to Go
Avoid Mendoza’s broiling summers and cold winters by visiting in the spring (September-December) or fall (March-April), when the vines and ubiquitous alamos (poplars) change colors.
Local in the Know
Veronica Mausbach, owner of specialty travel agency Vintura, says, “If there’s a heaven, they serve the empanadas from La Juntada Pulperia, located at the corner of routes 92 and 94 in Vista Flores. The secret is in how the beef is processed; not ground, but patiently sliced with a very sharp knife. And the dough melts in your mouth. The place is housed in a traditional casona and no English is spoken, so bring your Spanish dictionary.”.
Where to Taste
Atamisque is a French-owned winery situated near the town of Tupungato whose claim to fame is its trout farm, along with a restaurant that cooks the fish to perfection. Bodegas Salentein is Mendoza’s signature winery in terms of architecture and landscaping. Its visitors’ center is home to the Killka art gallery, a tasting lounge and restaurant. Pulenta Estate in the Alto Agrelo district offers visitors a chance to play a fun and educational sensory game: put on a blindfold and try to identify 15 natural aromas commonly found in wine. Bodega Norton in Perdriel provides several tasting opportunities; one of the best is the Empanadas y Vinos tour that includes several wines served alongside a trio of clay-oven-baked empanadas. Vines of Mendoza operates a tasting room and “blending lab” in the heart of Mendoza city. You can taste wines in flights or try to blend like a winemaker (reservations required).
Malbec is the grape the runs Mendoza’s wine engine, the region that fuels Argentina’s ever-growing wine industry. Deep in color, aromas, body and flavors, Malbec and Malbec-led blends pair perfectly with Argentina’s world-class beef, hearty pastas and roasted goat, a local specialty. Wineries also work with red grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Bonarda, Syrah, Tempranillo, Pinot Noir and Merlot. Among white grapes, you will find Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, the occasional Semillón or Pinot Grigio, and Torrontés, an aromatic grape more frequently associated with the country’s northern Salta region.