Make Mendoza your next great wine vacation
Go beyond Malbec in this South American wine destination.
With its high-altitude vineyards and aptitude for growing quality Malbec, Mendoza has long been a destination for wine lovers. As the northern hemisphere enters its hottest months of the year, escape the heat by heading south to this dynamic wine area. Here’s where to taste, eat, and stay on your Mendoza vacation.
OverviewMendoza is the largest wine-producing area in Argentina, with 76 per cent of the country’s vineyards located in the region. The Andes Mountains serve as a barrier to the humid winds from the Atlantic, while the hot, dry summers and cold winters define this continental climate.
Nestled in the territory are five sub-regions, each with its own characteristics: Valle de Uco GI, Primera Zona, Northern oasis, the East, and the South. Within these smaller areas reside departments, such as Luján de Cuyo and Maipú in Primera Zona. But what they all have in common are high-altitude vineyards, up to 6,500 feet in altitude. The sunshine provides ample ripening, but large diurnal shifts cool vines and retain acidity. Given the altitude, UV exposure is higher, and grapes tend to have thicker skins as protection, resulting in wines with more tannins. While Malbec is the main variety, plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Bonarda are also found. Cabernet Franc, in particular, is becoming a grape to watch.
Getting ThereFrom North America, numerous flight options abound, and of note is Copa Airlines, which offers new layovers in Panama, followed by direct flights into Mendoza.
Where to TasteBodega Salentein
Considered the first winery in the Uco Valley, this impressive property released its first vintage in 1999. Inspired by Chandon’s expansion into Argentina, it initially focused on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and today, Bordeaux varieties, Malbec, and sparkling wine all create a constellation of wines in the portfolio. Tour the on-site art gallery and then the vast cellar, where a live pianist can often be found serenading both guests and barrels of aging wine.
A powerhouse in the Mendoza wine scene (Nicolas Catena Zapata holds numerous awards for his work with Malbec), the property is now overseen by Laura Catena, who pulls double duty as an emergency room doctor in San Francisco. Given her science background, it’s no surprise Catena founded the Catena Institute of Wine, in collaboration with the University of California Davis and Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, to further study Malbec and Mendoza’s terroir. Book a tour of The Pyramid and gets hands-on with a blending session of Malbecs from various sites.
Owned by Adrianna Catena and Alejandro Vigil, Catena Zapata’s Chief Winemaker, this relatively young winery, founded in 2007, puts emphasis on Bordeaux red varieties — Cabernet Franc, especially. Bonarda, a red variety well-known in the region, also shows to be a contender for the next great Argentinian red. Some white wines like Chardonnay and Semillon age under a layer of flor (yeast) for a short period of time, which lends a bright salinity to the wines. At Casa Vigil Bodega, tour the gardens, which provide fruits and vegetables to the on-site restaurant, then taste through a flight.
A new project with investments by the Sheraton Mendoza, this boutique winery plans to expand its hospitality offerings with a new 400-seat restaurant. For now, you can sit on the patio overlooking a lake and taste their Malbec-dominant cuvées, such as the Malbec and Cabernet Franc conferment.
Owned by Ernesto Catena and Joanna Foster, this small label focuses on low-intervention winemaking. Under the Stella Crinita line, you’ll find quaffable pet-nats and skin-contact orange wines, created from grapes from their certified biodynamic vineyards. L’Orange, on the other hand, is where the winemakers really play. Vinification techniques, fermentation vessels, and other aspects of winemaking are all up for examination in these experimental cuvées. An appointment is necessary as the property serves double duty as both the winemaking facility and the couple’s house.
Where to EatAbrasado
Beef dominates most menus in Argentina and one place to really explore the protein in various preparations is at Abrasado restaurant at Los Toneles winery. As carpaccio, in empanadas, or dry-aged and grilled, meat appears in every course (except for dessert). Pair this carnivorous feast with wines from the estate. It’s no surprise the house style leans big and rich with a good amount of oak, all of which hold up to the food.
Chef Francis Mallmann made a name for himself with his use of fire in his cuisine, and the dishes at the restaurant, located on the grounds of Kaiken wines, skew traditional Argentine with some fiery twists, such as polenta a la plancha and barbecued beef. Large tents cover the dining grounds and after your al fresco meal, descend to the dark cellars of Kaiken for a tour.
Located close to the Mendoza city center, the winery counts 125 years of history in the area. Its airy and light-filled restaurant on the top floor of the winery is an ideal place to indulge in traditional Argentinian cuisine, all paired with the estate’s wines. Not to be missed is the dulce de leche flan.
Where to StayAlpasión Lodge
This seven-room boutique hotel pulls inspiration from the natural elements—wood, fire, air, water, metal, and earth—for the decor. Enjoy jazz on the roof during sunset and a morning run through the vineyards.
This luxurious boutique is home to a hamam spa, which uses elements of heat to detoxify the body. Cycle through steam rooms and warm pools, and finish by lying on a warm stone — it’s the perfect antidote to a long day of wine tasting.