We have yet another great guest post here on About.com Argentina Travel, by author Irvina Lew, who has written for us a few times before. You might remember her fantastic two part series on wine tasting in Buenos Aires, accessible here,in part 1 and here for part 2. She also wrote about highlights of Jewish Buenos Aires in this article, also in two parts, with part 1 here, and part 2 here. She also recently wrote on her hosted trip to visit the Algodon Wine Estate in San Rafael, which is not too far from Mendoza.
An opportune invitation to visit Argentina arrived in my inbox, via cyberspace, just a few days before I was ready to depart for a first trip to Buenos Aires, on a self-guided stay with my daughter. Argentina had been on my wish list for decades and I responded to the opportunity to return to Buenos Aires and discover Mendoza and Bariloche with an enthusiastic YEA!
Mendoza City, the capital of the 5th biggest wine producing region in the world has ideal conditions—hot dry days and cold nights–for the production of the Malbec grape, Argentina’s best-known grape. Although the varietal originated in Europe, it thrives in the stony soil watered by snow from the adjacent Andes Mountains along which the vines are planted. The grape has become more and more popular as winemakers—some of whom started planting in the early 1900s–concentrate on its vinification.
Mendoza City has lovely buildings, verdant parks, shopping streets and wine-centric restaurants that attract tourists. Oenotourism may be an unfamiliar word, but it’s a concept that Thomas Jefferson and avid 21st century oenophiles share. We fly, cruise and drive–or are driven–for hours, days and more, just to reach a wine bar, restaurant or winery and swirl, sniff and sip the liquid pleasure.
Artisanal local wines were very much a part of our lunch at a contemporary, Italian-Argentinian restaurant called La Marchigiana. We arrived so near noon, that the restaurant had that where-are-all-the-people? emptiness. It’s something that Americans so often experience in a foreign country when they enter a restaurant at 7:30pm or 8pm and find locals showing up well after 10pm. While we were finishing our fresh, seasonal menu items, family groups arrived for their Sunday mid-afternoon dinner and by the time we departed, the place was jumping.
Our driver drove through the city and dropped us off near the wrought iron gates of General San Martin Park for a stroll. The massive park—with monuments, fountains, a man-made lake, botanical gardens, playgrounds and shaded allées–was designed byFrench Argentine landscape architect Carlos Thays who designed the Buenos Aires Botanical Garden and the terraced gardens behind Palacio Duhau as well as other major Argentine parks: Ninth of July Park, Sarmiento Park, Parque Tres de Febrero, and Nahuel Huapi National Park (a pristine, two million acre park which we viewed, explored and hiked, later in the week, while we were staying at Llao Llao in Bariloche.)
Later, we joined a Hop-on Hop-off bus tour, which passes the Mendoza Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Anthropology, Plaza Pedro del Casillo and an aquarium. The bus followed a winding road up to an entry into Cerro de la Gloria (Hill of Glory), a huge and magnificent national monument.
Mendoza City is central to the 1500 regional wineries. Maipu begins about 10 miles from the center of the city and the desert-like Valle de Uco—where the prestigious Bodega Catena Zapata winery rises like a Mayan temple begins approximately 50 miles away. City visitors can visit a few wineries in a day, IF someone else is driving, or lunch at one winery, such as the popular Bodega Familia Zuccardi.
Winery resorts, including the Algodon Wine Estate in San Rafael, where we spent three nights, welcome guests for overnight, weekend and longer stays. By mid-afternoon on the day we arrived, we sped out of Mendoza city heading south en route through wine country towards San Rafael, and the rolling foothills of the Sierra Pintada Mountains, at the base of the Andes Mountains.