One of the benefits of covering a particular wine region for a long time is the opportunity to witness evolution. Over two decades of exploring the wines of Spain and South America, Mendoza in Argentina has come farther than arguably any other locale. That’s especially true of the budding area known as the Uco Valley, where wine tourism has become as big as the Andes that tower to the west.
This month, we’ve explored the people and bottlings behind this once-modest region’s rise to prominence. The following are recommendations to get the most out of a wine-oriented trip to the Uco Valley, a high-desert region that begins about 30 miles to the south of Mendoza city and extends southward for another 45 miles before temperatures become too cold for grapes.
Blessed by high elevations that can top 5,000 feet, pollution-free air, abundant sunshine and alluvial soils made fertile by snowmelt from nearby mountain peaks, the Uco Valley not only produces great Malbecs and other wines, it’s a thrilling destination to visit.
The All-In-One Experience
Located in the Chacayes subzone, Casa de Uco Vineyards & Wine Resort ranks as the best full-service hotel in the Uco Valley. With inspiring views of vineyards and the Andean foothills, Casa de Uco, opened in 2014 by Buenos Aires-based Tonconogy family, is an architectural spectacle.
The hotel consists of 16 well-appointed rooms and three private villas, many of which look out onto a pair of irrigation ponds favored by ducks and desert fowl. Casa de Uco has a serious restaurant with vaulted ceilings and two-story windows as well as its own winery, located less than a mile away.
Should you fall in love with the place, vineyard plots are for sale. These allow you to get into the wine and/or grape-growing business from a distance.
Not far from Casa de Uco is The Vines of Mendoza and The Vines Resort & Spa, created by an American, Michael Evans, in partnership with Pablo Giménez Riili. The property’s stylish stone-and cement hotel opened in 2014. It features the Siete Fuegos (Seven Fires) restaurant, headed by famed Argentine grill master Francis Mallmann. Like Casa de Uco, The Vines sells vineyard plots and shares, and allows one to make their own wine at the on-site bodega.
Winery Touring, Tasting and Dining
Fifteen or so years ago, only a handful of wineries existed in this region. Now there are dozens in all shapes, sizes and outputs, with more under construction. Several of the region’s pioneers—Salentein, Domaine Bousquet and Andeluna—boast on-site restaurants. After a winery tour, guests can pair each bodega’s wines with local dishes, most of which are grill-based and include various cuts of beef, roast goat, trout and Argentina’s famous empanadas. At Salentein’s Restaurante Killka, the views of the Andes are impeccable. The popular Sunday asado (a traditional mixed grill) regularly draws families from Mendoza city and beyond eager for an afternoon in the countryside.
At Gaia, the indoor/outdoor restaurant at Domaine Bousquet in Tupungato, Chef Adrian Baggio turns out set meals that span four to six courses. Andeluna, founded in 2003 by American corporate executive Ward Lay, is now owned by the Argentine Barale family. It boasts a comfy, lodge-like restaurant with high ceilings, authentic Mendocino food and first-rate views of vineyards and the Andes.
The most physically impressive winery in the Uco Valley is Bodega Piedra Infinita, opened two years ago by the Zuccardi family. Located in the Altamira subzone of San Carlos, the structure was constructed from solid stone. There’s not a traditional barrica (225-liter barrel) on site, as winemaker Sebastián Zuccardi has outfitted the winery with cement tanks, 3000-liter foudres and used 500-liter barrels. The restaurant here is casual and comfortable. You simply can’t go wrong with a well-grilled steak paired with the winery’s new age, no-oak Malbecs labeled Concreto and Polígonos.
For the pinnacle in Uco Valley dining, plan your trip for harvest time, which runs from late February into April, when Mendoza’s weather is at its best. It’s when Germán Martitegui, a star chef and owner of Buenos Aires’ Tegui, brings his entire crew to the Uco Valley to run a 40-day pop-up restaurant at Bodega SuperUco, located in Chacayes and owned by the Michelini brothers. At these multicourse dinners, all the wines are from the four hermanos Michelini, with selections that range from highly unusual to spectacular.
Martitegui’s team of talented young chefs hits you with small plate after small plate of marvelousness. If dining under the stars surrounded by grapevines, local winemakers and celebrities from Buenos Aires and São Paulo sounds like a memorable blast, well, it is.
Harvest Rock N’ Roll
The event is the brainchild of Monteviejo head winemaker Marcelo Pelleriti, who looks the part of a true rock-and-roller. The daylong concert features multiple bands, most geared toward rock and metal, while attendees eat, drink, shop for arts and crafts, and bang heads.
Hands down, this is one of the Uco Valley’s premier annual events. Its tag line, “Tu copa, la montaña y mucho rock,” translates to, “Your glass, the mountains and a lot of rock!”