4 nights in the land of Malbec


My recent trip to Argentina was to discover the Mendoza wine region, and what it offers visitors. I took the redeye connection through Chile and arrived in the morning in Mendoza. This gave me the chance to check into my hotel and freshen up before discovering the heartland of Argentina’s wine region. Flying over the Andes, from Chile to Argentina, was a sightseeing highlight of its own.

With no time to waste, my first evening  began with a wine tasting and cooking class at Vinos Y Fuego Resto restaurant . The wines we tasted began to acclimate my palate to the local terroir, and prepare me what to look forward to in the few days ahead.

The cooking class was wonderful. The chef had the menu set for us to prepare. We marinated the Asada (Argentinian skirt steak) in salt, oregano and oil, setting it aside to bbq later on the parrilla. We made bread, mixing flour, yeast, water, lard (yes, lard!) and salt. As we kneaded the chef explained the reason for the use of lard -- it keeps bread preserved and then lasts for at least four days. As we waited for the dough to rise we boiled and grilled potatoes and sweet potatoes on a special skillet placed on the bbq pit, which was full of wood to add smokiness. Then we shaped the bread into small pieces and baked it in the oven, while the potatoes and beef cooked . We continued our night enjoying the great meal we prepared, paired with great local wines.

The next day we visited three great wineries, beginning with the family-owned and operated Domaine St. Diego. We had the chance to spend time with the owner’s daughter as she walked us through the vines, explaining about the vines and about the regions in the area and where certain grape varietals are grown. Mendoza is a desert town, and because water is a scarce resource, the government controls the irrigation system, providing water to each vineyard, based on the size of their land and need. The other way to get water to vines is to dig deep into the earth and create a well to draw water, which is also government controlled.

We continued our winery visit to Rencer Winery and met the owner and enjoyed a walking tour of the vineyard, wine tasting and made a few purchases of wines we loved. The owner was delightful.  Our wine tour ended with visiting Casarena Winery, where we enjoyed an amazing wine pairing lunch prepared by Chef Munn, with a great menu of Asian Fusion delights. We sat in the terrace-style beautiful restaurant overlooking the vineyard and The Andes Mountains. Our lunch and social gathering with chef Munn ended about 5pm (typical for Argentina).

Our next day’s adventure was a visit to Potrerillos, where we would be doing horseback riding on a ranch. We took the long, scenic drive, sipping on Matte tea (typical Argentinian tea). We drove through the Silver Range of The Andes Mountains and arrived to a welcome reception with coffee and matte tea from the ranch owners.

We were introduced to the gauchos that would escort us on our 3-hour horseback riding  experience. The men were wonderful and they helped us prepare our saddles, get on our horses and have an amazing experience, making stops along the way to enjoy the mesmerizing views. It was my second time on a horse after a horrible experience some years prior. This experience was made so pleasant by the wonderful guides, who showed patience, great guiding skills and care for their guests.

After this beautiful soft adventure we were greeted by the family who had prepared an asado (bbq) for us with beer and wine, in a beautiful setting. We ate, drank, laughed and enjoyed great company. Our drive back was scenic and beautiful.

The next morning I visited three wineries in the Valle de Uco area, beginning with Pulenta Estate Wineries, where we saw the field workers picking grape leaves to trim the vines so they would attract more energy and increased production. We paired wine and chocolates – what a lovely way to enjoy a morning.

Pulenta Estate is a quite large producer,  4th generation winemakers using concrete vats, steel tanks, and French and American oak barrels to ferment and age the wine. The owners of this winery are Porsche fanatics and owners, and have created a special edition wine for Porsche.

We passed many wineries and arrived at La Azul, a family owned winery. Our tour included lunch and wine pairing. Great food and a wonderful waiter that lived in the States for years, but chose to return to his birthplace, Argentina, and help his childhood friend run the winery.

Lunch was very well paired with the wines, and we savored the wines and the meal as we dined with views of the Andes covered with snow in the distance. An ahh moment. The winery and tasting room are small and humble here, but they project to have a hotel and a larger wine tasting facility in the near future.  The family also grows peaches and plums.

It was hard to depart La Azul, but we had other wineries to visit, including the Gimenez Riili Family Winery, which has revamped and launched a new label for their wines. We had a quick wine tasting experience before heading out to our accommodations for the night, Alpasion Lodge. Driving over dirt roads, we arrived at the beautifully constructed home-like lodge, which blends beautifully into the landscape.

Alpasion was the brainchild of friends from around the world to buy the vineyard and build this tranquil lodge among the vineyards and views of the Andes. We were greeted by the manager and escorted inside to find accommodations with 6 bedrooms, a living room, dining room, kitchen and library, along with six additional guest bedrooms. We checked into our rooms and the manager  explained each room represents an element in nature: water, metal, wood, air,  etc. My room was water, a large bedroom and a sunken tub from which you can see the lights of Mendoza at night. A candle-lit dinner was set for our little group and paired with beautiful wine.  I couldn't wait to get back to my room and soak in the tub, with the sparkling lights of Mendoza in the distance.

Morning came too soon, as I packed had a quick bite and coffee and headed back to the city for my return flight home.

The Mendoza area is beautiful and has lots to offer, including great dining experiences, horseback riding, hiking, rafting, fishing and exploring its small boutique and large production wineries, meeting the owners and hearing their fascinating stories .

This type of experience can all be arranged in a seamless itinerary with our local wine tour specialist, to ensure you enjoy Mendoza to its fullest.

Maral Nazarian