The Wine Capital of Argentina
Located in the foothills of the Andes Mountains, the province of Mendoza is famous for wine, particularly malbec. Wine production spurred by Italian immigrants has flourished in Mendoza thanks to its long sunny days, unique soil composition and high elevation. Three regions make up the majority of Mendoza’s grape growing area: Maipu, Lujan de Cuyo, and Valle de Uco. Touring wineries, or bodegas, and tasting wine in Mendoza is popular among wine connoisseurs and backpackers alike. An added bonus is that here, at the source, wine is very affordable. Needless to say, we tried our fair share!
The city of Mendoza makes a great base for a day trip to the small vineyard-filled region of Maipu, only 9 miles (14km) away. To get to Maipu you can take a taxi or uber, rent a car, organize a trip through one of the many agencies in town, or use public transit. Maipu is 45 minutes away by public bus. To catch the bus from Mendoza’s city center go the Rioja 1150 bus stop and take bus 920, 816, or 817.
Biking Around the Wineries
Maipu’s 5-mile (8km) stretch of wineries is easily explored by bike. Maipu Bikes, right on the main strip, rents bikes for about $9/day (350 ARS). Maipu’s main road is equipped with bike lanes and the side streets are quaint country roads filled with views of trellised grape vines. Click here to view the bike map. If biking, remember to bring water to off-set the sun and alcohol. Return your bike by 5pm to catch happy hour at the bike shop with free wine and empanadas.
What to Do
While there are many vineyards to choose from, and some tourists may feel the need to maximize, we’ve found that visiting 3 to 4 makes for a nice full day that isn’t overly ambitious, the idea is to enjoy, after all! You truly can’t go wrong with any winery you choose, though they are different and range from small and quaint to large scale production. The wineries typically offer a few tours each day in Spanish or English. You can opt for a tour and tasting or just a tasting. Tours take about an hour and tastings can be short or leisurely depending on your style. Bodega Trapiche requires a reservation in advance for a tour, but the owner of Maipu Bikes can reserve you a spot the morning of. In Maipu we visited Bodega La Rural, Bodega Domiciano and Bodega Trapiche.
Lujan de Cuyo
Lujan de Cuyo is perhaps Mendoza’s most recognized wine growing region. Located 12 miles (19km) south of the city of Mendoza, Lujan de Cuyo has a smaller urban presence but plentiful fincas and wineries. The grapes here grow at an average elevation of 3,000 feet (914m) above sea level. In Lujan de Cuyo you’ll find three types of wineries; the old original wineries that now produce on a large scale, small mom and pop bodegas, and chic modern wineries as a result of foreign investors. Wineries here fall in a larger radius so they are best explored by taxi, car, or organized tour.
What to Do
Some places to include on your itinerary are Bodega Familia Cassone, Bodega Alta Vista, and Bodega Lagarde. At Bodega Familia Cassone you can take an intimate tour of the grounds where the grape vines are over 100 years old. You can also chat with the amicable owner while sipping wine and sampling olive oil. At Bodega Alta Vista sit outside in the shade of their olive trees for a picnic.
A Must-Do in Lujan De Cuyo
What’s truly not to miss is the elegant 4-6 course lunch and wine pairing at Bodega Lagarde. You can spend a relaxed afternoon savoring the expertly paired courses while sitting in the shady courtyard beside grape vines. The entire meal, from homemade bread to delicate dessert, is perfection. The service and food is impeccable and, best of all, they attentively ensure that your wine glass is never empty!
Where to Stay
If you want to locate yourself central to all of Lujan de Cuyo’s vineyards, check out Lujan de Cuyo B&B. This charming B&B is a green oasis with tranquil grounds and swimming pool. The rooms are spacious and the brick buildings add a rustic flair. The owner is passionate about the area and takes pride in helping guests plan a customized itinerary, whether that be hiking, sight seeing, or wine tasting. If you’d like, you can share communal dinners in the evenings and chat with the other guests. The three course dinner menu changes each day and every course comes with a glass of wine paired by a sommelier.
Valle de Uco
Valle de Uco is Mendoza’s largest and most scenic wine region. Here the mountains provide a scenic backdrop to the fields of grape vines. Valle de Uco is the furthest wine region from the city of Mendoza, about an hour drive away. It’s closest to the Andes and the combination high elevation and sunshine makes for dynamic wine with perfectly balanced sugar and acidity content. Some of the most noteworthy names in Argentine wine can be found in Valle de Uco. This is largely due to international money flooding into the region after the 2001 economic crash in Argentina. Now striking palatial bodegas dot the landscape. Being more remote and expansive than the other wine regions, Valle de Uco requires a car rental, taxi, private driver, or organized tour to get around. But, don’t let this discourage you, the region is absolutely stunning and well worth a visit!