Argentina: Wine Travel
The Andes Mountains are even more majestic than they appear in photos and definitely a magnificent distinction of this wine region. Winemaking can be traced back to the mid-1800s when many European immigrants found their way to this beautiful land. This South American country definitely has a culture of wine drinking with some crazy levels of consumption per capita. With a fun-loving wine culture it is a delight to visit.
Mendoza is the center of this wine country and a lovely town with tree-lined streets. You can visit several regions by using this town as a home base; however, for sheer beauty, a stay in the Uco Valley is a must. You will find a majority of the large, modern wineries here, and many take full advantage of the mountain views.
I recommend hiring a driver, not because the roads are bad, they are just poorly marked, and many places cannot be found using the GPS. In addition to driving, they will make winery suggestions and arrange your visits. Contact me for a recommendation.
The indigenous grapes in Argentina are Bonarda and Malbec. Malbec is the most well known; a mix between the power of Cabernet with a lot of tannins and the softness of Merlot. The grape produces a wine with nice concentration, but softer tannins that turn more drinkable. However, you'll find so much more than Malbec with amazing quality to price ratio.
When exploring the Uco Valley, a must stop is O Fournier a modernist winery with one of the most unique barrel rooms. Its restaurant takes full advantage their jaw-dropping Andes backdrop and was one of the best wine pairing lunches of our visit.
A wonderful visit is to Catena Zapata whose family came from Italy and planted the first Malbec vineyard in 1902. As the vineyards were handed down through the generations, Nicolas spearheaded the revolution for quality over quantity in Argentina. He brought techniques from France and Napa and began planting at higher altitudes. His daughter Laura has taken over and continues with research and development of their wines and has an excellent line of her own.
My favorite wines were found at Pulenta where we started the tour with a glass of their Sauvignon Blanc in hand. After a winery tour, the tasting began with a blind "smell test" which was a fantastic way to then discuss the wines we tasted.
I was shocked to find not one but two places where the Cabernet Franc was outstanding; El Enemigo and Salentein. The winemaker from Catena owns El Enemigo, and he makes some unique and premier wines. There is also a restaurant and a unique art showroom at the winery. Salentein is an immense estate with several wine lines producing over 10 million bottles. A winery with fantastic architecture that holds piano concerts in the barrel room. If you visit Salentin, you must head across the street to La Azul for lunch. La Azul is a traditional family run establishment with a casual atmosphere and an incredibly tasty dining experience. Afterward, you can head into their garage and taste their small production of wines.
If you are a meat lover, you will be in heaven in Argentina. A meal that still stands out to this day was in Mendoza at Francis Millmann 1884. He is a renowned chef in Argentina, and it was definitely the best meal we had on the trip.