Wine tasting in Mendoza, Argentina
Imagine yourself sitting in picturesque Uco Valley in Mendoza, Argentina sipping on a delightul glass of Malbec wine while enjoying traditional Argentinan empanadas and a juicy steak right off the parilla. The view before your eyes is one of sheer beauty with rolling vineyards and the snow-capped Andes Mountains against a backdrop of pure blue sky. You have no cares in the world. The only item on your agenda for the day is venturing to another exquisite winery for more tastings and perhaps to treat yourself to another bottle of something special to take back home. How does that sound for a Tuesday afternoon? Tempting? Are you ready to go now? If you’re a wine lover or enjoy learning about and tasting wines from different parts of the world you simply must visit Mendoza, Argentina.
During our trip to Argentina early January we not only visited the lively city of Buenos Aires but we also spent a few days in the Mendoza area. Mendoza is the wine region of this beautiful country. After almost a week in Buenos Aires it was a nice change of pace. For Ozdane and I it was the last part of our trip and a perfect way to end our two weeks in Argentina.
Being a native of Sonoma County in Northern California I was fortunate to grow up very close to what is known as the wine country in California. Sonoma, Napa, Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Russian River; you may have heard of these places before or even visited them. Who knows if it’s because of where I’m from, if it’s in my blood or it’s just my pure love for the stuff but wine tasting is something I really enjoy. It isn’t all about drinking the wines though. It’s interesting to learn about the winery itself, their particular winemaking process and understand more about their notable wines. Spending a little time in Mendoza learning about Argentinian wines we had been drinking for the past week in Buenos Aires was a lot of fun!
First things first though, you may be wondering how you get around the Mendoza wine region. Do you rent a car and do a self-guided tour, go with a tour company or hire a private driver for a more personal experience? We went with the third option of doing a private tour with our small group of five people one day and just Ozdane and myself our second day. A friend of ours did a tour of the Uco Valley with Ampora Wine Tours and she enjoyed it also. It depends on what kind of experience you want really. Ozdane and I had a local driver/guide, Mauricio Molina, for the Uco Valley. We were very impressed with his knowledge about the entire area as well as the history and the wineries themselves. He loves his job and is very proud of the Mendoza wine region and Argentina. I highly recommend him. You can find out more information about Mauricio’s tours on his website.
Without further adieu let’s begin our virtual wine tasting tour in Mendoza, Argentina.
Familia Zuccardi, Maipu
The Zuccardi family has five estates in Mendoza: three in Uco Valley, one in Santa Rosa and one in Maipu. We visited the Maipu estate, which is located 40 km southeast of Mendoza, sits 650 meters above sea level and consists of 445 acres of vineyards. They make four different labels: Zuccardi, Santa Julia, Fuzion and Malamado which is a fortified wine. We were lucky enough to taste some Zuccardi wines and enjoyed some of the Santa Julia with lunch. We had lunch just across the road at the Familia Zuccardi restaurant indulging in the Argentinian favorites: empanadas, parilla, steak, steak and more steak! Zuccardi is known for their red wines like Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. Ozdane and I walked away with a bottle of the 1999 Zuccardi Q Cabernet Sauvignon. It safely made the trip back home and is safe and sound in our little wine refrigerator. I do recommend visiting one of the Familia Zuccardi estates during your wine tour.
Ozdane and I went on a private tour of the Uco Valley with our local guide Mauricio. I enjoyed our first day of tasting around the Maipu area with friends but Uco Valley takes the cake in terms of scenery. The landscape is simply gorgeous. The snow-capped Andes mountains, vineyards, trees, open fields, all of it was impressive. The most spectacular view by far was The Andes mountain range beautifully laid out beside you as you drive deep into the valley. I was so excited about the view I probably have 20 photos of the same shot on my iPhone. Does anyone else do that when they travel? Get a little too excited and happy snap away? It’s funny because you’re crazy to think the pictures will even begin to capture the beauty of what your eyes are seeing and they never really do. I just find myself really wanting to share what I’m seeing with family and friends, hence the happy snaps.
Bodega La Azul, Uco Valley
La Azul is a lovely, boutique winery in the Uco Valley. While this may be the smallest commercial winery in Mendoza it boasts some of the most breath-taking views. They also have a nice, little restaurant and if you snag an outside table you literally are looking out on the picturesque Andes Mountains and vineyards while enjoying your traditional Argentinian meal. It’s pretty hard to beat! You almost forget about the sweltering heat surrounding you. A magnificent view and a delicious glass of Argentinian wine can have that effect on a person! Not only did we thoroughly enjoy our relaxing lunch there but we also had the assistant chief wine-maker give us our tour. La Azul produce three types of wines: varietal wines without oak which are their Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, their Azul Reserva which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec aged 15 months in the barrel and finally their Azul Gran Reserva, also a Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec blend but aged for 24 months. Take a guess which one we brought home with us?? If you guessed the big daddy, the Azul Gran Reserva you are correct! It was too hard to resist for this wine-lover! If you venture into the Uco Valley, Bodega La Azul is a must-do!
O. Fournier, Uco Valley
Next on our journey we have the grandiose O. Fournier winery. A Spanish family Ortega Gil-Fournier founded this winery just over ten years ago. The grounds and landscape of this winery are nothing less of spectacular. O. Fournier is in the La Consulta region deep in the Uco Valley approximately 3,950 feet above sea level with 707 acres of vineyards across three estates. This is quite an elaborate operation covering everything from where the barrels are stored, the huge steel vats to the tasting room. O. Fournier is the largest barrel seller in South America currently. Their Alfa Crux label offers their best wines, followed by their B Crux varietals then their Urban Uco label. The names of the “Alfa Crux” and “B Crux” wines are based on the stars of the Southern Cross. While it’s quite a journey into Uco Valley to get to O. Fournier it is worth it to see this spectacular winery and taste their wines. Not to mention it is such a beautiful and relaxing drive.
Pulenta Estate, Lujan de Cuyo
Last but definitely not least we come to the Pulenta Estate winery set in Lujan de Cuyo on 334 acres at 3,215 feet above sea level. The vines at Pulenta were brought from France and Italy and planted by Antonio Pulenta, the founder of the winery in 2002. They have three labels at Pulenta: Pulenta, the great wines of the winery, Pulenta Estate, the varietals and La Flor, the young wines of the winery. Ozdane and I did a combination tasting of the Pulenta and Pulenta Estate wines. I recommend this so you can each taste a variety of their two top labels. Of course our favorite ended up being the 2008 Gran Corte VII, which also made the journey back to Singapore. The tour of the winery itself was short and sweet which was nice as this was our last stop. The tasting set-up was very enjoyable as you sat at a table so it felt much more relaxed than other tasting experiences. Pulenta Estate is another must-do when visiting the Mendoza wine region!
A few other helpful tips when planning your wine tour in Mendoza, Argentina:
- I’d recommend staying at a B&B or inn in the wine country itself if you plan to do a couple of days of wine tasting. We stayed close to the city of Mendoza but there really is no need to if your focus is wine touring and tasting.
- Most hotels/B&Bs can assist in organizing tours for you if you just weren’t able to do it before you arrive.
- Do your research on the tour company or guide before hiring them. Read reviews on TripAdvisor and ask friends who have been to the region.
- Take 2-3 days to do your wine tasting. Don’t rush it, enjoy it!
- Bike tours of the wine country are also available. Check those out here.
Stay tuned for my next post where I’ll share my favorite dining spots in Buenos Aires and Mendoza!