Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Mendoza: Argentina's wine country

Mendoza was our final trip in journey through South America, so to celebrate, we toasted to a nearly perfect, yet still once-in-a-life-time, voyage.  Because Mendoza was well-known for producing Argentina’s best and more famous wine, we reckoned we should find out for ourselves....

Wine tasting at Vina el Cerno (Maipu)

Even though Mendoza is on the other side of the country to BuenosAires, we thought we needed to break up the 2 weeks we were in BA.

San Martin park
The stunning Mendoza region was full of lush green vineyards surrounded by dramatic mountains although Mendoza city itself was also beautiful with its cobbled pedestrian streets, plazas and many green parks. Our favourites were Plaza Indepedencia and San Martin park.

The city was pretty busy with backpackers in January and many places were booked out. It was high season so places were fairly pricy but we found a great place, Hostel Suites: Mendoza, which was extremely sociable with a great breakfast and AC in all the rooms. Shame the kitchen was pitiful but the staff were lovely (P75 for 5-bed dorm, incl. breakfast).

Mesmerised by the fountain in Plaza Indepedencia

Harry had a great time in this hostel as he learnt he could make a small profit selling his own empanadas like our friend Niccolo taught us in BA. Each night he would make around 12 empanadas and they were actually a hit! Great money making scheme if you do it in bulk...just an idea.

Because we were backpackers and quite short on cash, we went to Maìpu as nearly all other backpackers do. Best part was you could cycle between the vineyards (no need for a designated driver)! Maìpu was a 45min bus ride away.

We rented bikes from Mr. Hugo who was the most popular company who provided decent bikes, helmets and a basket for your bag and any wine you want to buy. Plus they were really nice and provided water and juice on bike return. Bike rentals were P35 for a full day and must be returned by 7pm. They also gave us vouchers for discounts and a map of all the surrounding vineyards.

Cycling between vineyards in the sun

There were about a dozen wineries to choose from and some were separated by a few km’s. We had every intension to go to as many bodegas as possible until we realised that wine tasting in Mendoza was far more expensive than it was in Cafayate.

We had heard from other travellers that tastings take longer than you expect, plus the experience was the main point, so we decided to choose the 2 highest recommended wineries and go to an olive oil farm. Here is a brief summary:

Viňa el Cerno (#5 on Hugo map)
·         Price: P50 per person
·         Amount: 4 half glasses of 4 wines or 8 quarter glasses of 8 different wines. Equivalent of 2 glasses.
·         Additional info: Most recommended and our favourite. Lovely staff who also showed us around the warehouse for free.
Harry and our friend Sophie tasting
A LOT of wine!

Mevi  (#13 on map)
·         Price: P35 per person
·         Amount: 3 half glasses (all red).
·         Additional info: Beautiful views from the balcony outside. Very fancy. Bodega serves food. They provide info about each wine.

Unbeatable view for wine tasting, Mevi (Maipu)

Entre Olivos (#8 on map)
·         Price: P20 per person
·         Amount: tastings of olives, olive oils, vinegars, chutneys, jams, chocolate and 2 liqueur shots
·         Additional info: Short tour of the olive oil making process followed by a wonderful tasting of a wide selection of products. Highly recommend!

Liqueur tasting at Entre Olivos (Maipu)

The wine tasting was broken up with beer and more empanadas at the Beer Garden. Because Maìpu was a backpacker tour, the beer garden was obviously (and disappointingly) the busiest place in the area. But it was HOT and all we were served was red wine!

Overall, fantastic wine tasting experience and could not beat the views!

The next day we went to San Rafael which was 3h south of Mendoza city to taste wine at one of Argentina’s most famous sparkling wine companies, Bianchi. My dad managed to set us up with a personal English-speaking guide who showed us around the factory (P30) and talked to us about the wine making process followed by a glass of bubbly.  

Bianchi Estate (San Rafael)
We ordered a platter of food and were then spoiled for choice on what wines to choose from. The people of Bianchi were more than welcoming and their estate was by far the most impressive winery I have ever seen. My favourite tasting of all Argentina.

No that is wine tasting! (Bianchi, San Rafael)

After all the wine excitement, it was time to head back BA... our last bus ride so we did it in style! We decided just this once we would try Cama Suite (basically 1st class) and it was brilliant! For the 14h ride (P725, CATA) we had our chair recline 180° into a bed, with pillow and blanket, a personal tv with English speaking movies, hot breakfast and dinner served with wine AND champagne! Worth ever penny! I was actually hoping the bus would be delayed.

Chair becomes bed!
Free wine on a bus ride!

Getting there

·         Mendoza: Night-bus at 9pm (14h). Price: P510. with El Rapido  semi-cama.

·         San Rafael: 7.30am, a few per day (3h 15mins). Price: P39.60 with CATA bus company.

·         Maìpu: Public bus from the terminal (there were a couple that went there, ask at customer service in the station). Price: P2.70. You will need a bus card to use the buses in Mendoza, our hostel lent us one and we topped-up at any kiosco that sells the card. Tell the bus driver you want to get off at Urquiza and Montecaseros, which was where all the bike rental places were.

Wineries in Mendoza

There were many areas where you can go wine tasting: Uco Valley Area (1.5h south of the city), Lujan de Cuyo (40mins away, known as the “promise lands”),  Godoy Cruz (only 10mins from the city, few wineries on offer) and Maìpu, the cheaper, lower quality wine tours. For more information on Mendoza vineyards and wineries, see here.   

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