Mendoza is to Argentina what California is to America; wine paradise. Over 75% of the countries wine is made in this one region, sloping down from the Andes mountains and spreading over a hot, dry plain, with the small but vibrant city of Mendoza taking centre stage. Considering Argentina is the 5th largest producer of wine in the world, that's a lot of wine! A combination of Italian and Spanish immigration in the early 1800s and 1900s more or less guaranteed Argentina a place on the world stage, with local consumption driving the industry forward, although now the world has come to know and love the wines of Argentina, with Malbec front-and-centre, and Mendoza remains the powerhouse of South-American wine production.
If you're visiting Argentina and want to really get to know Argentine wine, then Mendoza is your city. There's 18 different sub-regions within Mendoza, each with a different style and character, hundreds of Bodegas and thousands of wines to try. Then, in the city itself? Gorgeous restaurants, barbecues, wine bars and a friendly, welcoming atmosphere to cap it off. This guide is designed to give you some top tips and our favourite spots to drink, travel and experience everything the city has to offer. If you're planning to visit, make sure you read on for some suggestions and insider information!
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If you're visiting Mendoza, it would be crazy not to spend at least a day or two visiting wineries. Barely 30 minutes drive from the city and you're in Lujan de Cuyo, a flat plain 800 metres above sea level, littered with some of the countries most iconic wineries. A drive further south takes you down to the Uco Valley, at heights of over 1500m and introduces you to some of Mendoza's most exciting producers. The best bit? The gorgeous countryside stretching out in front of you, the snowy Andes in the distance and the promise of a day full of wine on the agenda. What are you waiting for?!
The Region – Lujan de Cuyo
Lujan de Cuyo is the old historical home of Argentinian wine, just 30 minutes outside of Mendoza. This region was the first designated zone of Argentinian wine back in 1993, and as a result, many of the most famous bodegas in the country have their operations set up here, even if their vineyards are now more spread out through Mendoza. A flat, elevated plain stretching for miles, with the snow-capped mountains looming in the distance like clouds, and bodegas at every turn; it can be hard to choose! However, there's one winery that you definitely need to visit whilst you're here....
The Winery – Catena Zapata
Catena Zapata is arguably the most famous winery in Argentina, putting the country on the map in a big way. Nicolas Catena was a pioneer and the first to really experiment with quality wine in Argentina, passing the baton to his daughter, Laura, who continues to lead the field in research and development to this day. Not only that, but the wines are utterly world class and the top of the range are undoubtedly some of the best in the entire country. The winery itself is a testament to design and opulence, styled in a unique pyramid format, with two impressive barrel rooms on either side. A visit to remember!
The Wine – White Bones Chardonnay
This is probably the greatest white wine in the entire of South America today, and an utterly unforgettable Chardonnay. One of the great successes of Catena Zapata was pioneering high altitude plantings, mostly focused around their iconic Adrianna Vineyard in the Uco Valley. Taking it a step further, they then started identifying soil types, and producing wines from individual plots. Enter; White Bones Chardonnay, produced from limestone soils with ancient, fossilised sea creatures, quite like Chablis! The result is stunning. Intensely floral, refreshing and so, so long. This is the sort of Chardonnay that stands out in a line-up, effortlessly, and despite its premium price, is the sort of wine you absolutely must try and least once.
For more information and to contact Catena Zapata, get in touch through their contact page.
The Region – Tupungato
Tupungato is a gorgeous region, 40 miles from Mendoza, climbing into the mountains as you enter the Uco Valley. The elevated altitude here is responsible for the styles of wines, which are fresh, vibrant and packed with juicy fruit and acidity. Some of the countries most interesting styles of wines are made here, those that prioritise freshness and accessibility over sheer power and force. The town of Tupungato itself is charming and sits at the feet of the Tupungato Volcano but don't worry, it hasn't erupted for over 30 years!
The Winery – Finca Sophenia
Finca Sophenia is a special winery, located within the Gualtarry sub-region of Tupungato, a region that has become famous for its rocky soils, unforgiving climate and stunning wines. Started in 1997 and named after the owners daughters, Finca Sophenia has gone from strength to strength, specialising in Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, with some of the most drinkable examples in the country. A short walk through the vineyards here, followed by a tasting of their wines, is enough to convince you that the future of Argentinian wine is up here, in the mountains!
The Wine – Synthesis Cabernet Sauvignon
Argentine Cabernet Sauvignon has been having a hard time recently, unable to compete with Malbec and competing with the very fashionable Cabernet Franc. However, what they're doing at Finca Sophenia is proof that it's possible to make excellent Cabernet Sauvignon here, and the Synthesis bottling is excellent. Fresh, juicy black fruits, cool herbal elements and wonderfully integrated oak. Refreshing, clean and very moreish!
To contact Finca Sophenia regarding a visit, fill out their booking form here.
The Region – Maipu
Maipu is the oldest wine region in Mendoza, abutting Lujan de Cuyo, and home to some of the countries most traditional producers, as well as some of its new stars. Driving down the streets here, you can see elements of the old region it used to be, with trees lined down the sides, creating a natural foliage over the roads. The climate here is hot and dry, so many wineries have vineyards elsewhere and bring the grapes into the winery to be processed into wine. However, despite its traditional nature, there are quite a few upcoming, exciting projects as well and the best part is that it's barely 30 minutes from the city of Mendoza!
The Winery – Familia Zuccardi
Zuccardi are one of the traditional wine-making families of Argentina, founded in 1963, yet they're also a classic example of the changes afoot in Argentine wine. Their wines now focus on specific terroirs, with minimal intervention wine-making designed to express a place as clearly as possible, and they're even in the process of building a second winery in the Uco Valley itself, to try and keep the grapes as fresh as possible after harvesting instead of transporting them to Maipu. A remarkable producer and one of the top visits in Mendoza!
The Wine – Jose Zuccardi
When Zuccardi first started producing wines from the Uco Valley, they created a wine called 'Zeta' in 2002. Since 2013, this wine has been tweaked and changed to Jose Zuccardi, a blend of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, mainly from grapes grown in Gualtallary. Ripe and powerful, with plums and blackcurrants layered over earthy, medicinal notes, with a long peppery finish. This is high-altitude Malbec at its best! Grab a bottle or two, bring it back and let it sit for a few years. History in the making.
To get in touch or to organise a visit, get in touch with Familia Zuccardi through their Contact Page
Considering Mendoza is the capital city of Argentine wine, it probably comes as no surprise to learn that there's a few wine bars and shops well worth investigating! Whilst there are a plethora of restaurants with excellent wine lists (we particularly recommend Francis Mallman's 1884!), here's a collection of shops and bars where you can get your vinous fix inside the city itself.
Naoki Wine Gardens
G Espejo 529
Formerly known as 'Wine O'Clock', Naoki Wine Gardens is one of the very best wine shops and bars in the city of Mendoza. Led by Gus and his team, there's a huge selection of Argentine wine, from the classics through to the niche and funky. Want to try orange wines from the Uco Valley? This is the place for you. Want to indulge in a powerful, rich and oaky Malbec? They've got that here too. However, the real standout is their outdoor seating in the exterior garden, where you can sip through organised flights of wines, snack on empanadas and learn all about Argentine wine in a hidden, relaxed environment. Make sure you bring a few bottles home with you, as the selection is just brilliant! Naoki Wine Gardens
Chinita's Wine Club
Don't worry, you don't have to be a member to drink here! Chinita's is a cozy wine bar in Mendoza, specialising in small, artesanal producers from the region. They specialise in offerings flights of wines, so that you can contrast, compare and learn about the differences of Mendoza's different regions, like comparing 4 different Malbecs from different soil types, or at different altitudes. Our favourite thing about it, though? The relaxed, friendly atmosphere and how accessible the owners are. Definitely a top spot! Chinita's Wine Club
Sol y Vino
Av. Sarmiento 664
Sol y Vino is one of Mendoza's great wine shops, with a huge selection of Argentine wines available and discounts for purchases of 6 bottles or more! Rafael and Martin are both hugely knowledgable and willing to spend time walking you through some of the more esoteric choices in the shop, without a pushy sales pitch to accompany it. However, the real gems here are the top wines from many of the most famous wineries in Mendoza, often produced in small quantities and not readily available elsewhere. If you want to splash out on a couple of really special bottles, Sol y Vino is the shop for you! Sol y Vino
This is the fanciest wine shop in town, with a different room for each major Argentine varietal; almost a cross between a shop and a museum. Some of the countries most prestigious wines are on show, as well as a large quantity of hard-to-find gems, including some single-vintage, experimental wines. What makes it worth visiting, though, is the quality of the service. Bilingual, expert staff are ready to guide you through a potentially bewildering selection, and don't push based on price. Located in a gorgeous white building a single block from Plaza Independencia, make sure you make time to visit!
Mendoza isn't a large city, but there are still a few things to be aware of that outside of the wine world, should you come to visit:
Hire a Car - Mendoza is a region that's really quite stretched out, meaning that travelling via public transportation is tricky and very expensive should you want to visit the Uco Valley. Hiring a car isn't necessary, but it's highly recommended.
Explore the Wine List - With it being the centre of a huge wine industry, most good restaurants have got wine lists, with prices often close to retail. This is a great way to explore back-dated vintages of wines in a lovely setting. Save up for at least one special meal whilst you're here and take advantage of it!
Late Nights - Lot most Argentine cities, Mendoza doesn't really come alive until late at night. Eating early is a great way to get a seat at a popular restaurant, but it also means missing out on much of the atmosphere. Our suggestion? Have a late lunch or an afternoon snack, have a nap and don't go for dinner before 9:30.
Asado - Ever heard of an Asado before? It's an Argentinian barbecue, famous throughout the world, and the places that do it well are usually the most popular restaurants in town. For Mendoza, check out Asadito, a wonderful barbecue joint just 5 minutes out of the centre.
Hydration - Whilst this is good advice for any wine trip, take extra care to stay hydrated in Mendoza. The searing hot temperatures are mitigated by altitude but don't be fooled, it's warm, and with all the wine and delicious, salty food, you'll find yourself struggling to drink enough!
Sundays - Mendoza is a very traditional Argentine city and as a result, almost everything closes on Sundays, including winery visits. Interestingly, the opposite is true for the Uco Valley which tends to take a break on Mondays instead, so Sunday is a great opportunity to visit these wineries instead.
Hike - Whilst we mainly visit Mendoza for the wine, there's a lot of outdoor activities that take place here as well, including hiking, fishing and kayaking. Should you want a break from wine for a day, consider a day out in the countryside. Just be sure to bring your sun-screen!
Exchange Rates - Argentina is a country with a relatively unstable economy, and period inflation and deflation is just a part of life. Be sure to be aware of the exact inflation rate during your visit, so you can convert accurately to your own prices and keep a track on spending.
Taxis - Whilst the Uco Valley is a little far away for taxis and public transportation, it's entirely feasible to visit wineries in Lujan de Cuyo and Maipu this way. A taxi to a winery in Lujan de Cuyo will generally cost around 10 euros or 12 dollars, and around the same for Maipu. Perhaps not viable for an entire trip, but should you have a day where you'd like to take an extended, boozy lunch, it's definitely an option!
As you can see, there's a lot to see and do in Mendoza, and most of it revolves around wine! As always, make sure your plan your trip well in advance and be sure to give the wineries you want to visit plenty of notice, as they do book up. We hope you have a wonderful time in Mendoza, we certainly did, and that you get a chance to try some delicious wine and even bring some back with you! Salud!
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