What’s not to love about a place known as “The Land of Sun and Fine Wines”?
Located in the foothills of the Andes mountains, Mendoza is a cosmopolitan city with all the ingredients for enjoying life as it should be. Beautiful weather. Gorgeous plazas. Expansive parks. Not to mention, it’s the gateway to Latin America’s largest wine-producing region.
We arrived in Mendoza by way of an 18-hour overnight bus from Salta. At the bus station, an onslaught of hostel owners descended upon us to persuade us to their lodging. Escaping the chaos, we made our way to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, located in a beautiful Neoclassical style building designed by Chilean architect Ramos Correas. After gathering some information, we headed to family-owned Casa Pueblo, a cheery hostel located in a typical house of Mendoza. Husband/wife team, Daniel and Claudia, along with their enthusiastic friend QuiQue, offered us a warm welcome and gave us plenty of suggestions, including a no-name empanada place across from the local police station to grab a late lunch. Yum.
Before heading out to wine country, we took some time to explore Mendoza itself.
Extremely livable, it offers all the perks of a big city and also feels communal with plenty of parks and open spaces to enjoy. Downtown Mendoza features a lively pedestrian street filled with shops, cafes and restaurants. Outdoor seating abounds as locals catch up with one another under the shade of leafy trees. At the end of Avenida Sarmiento lies the massive General San Martin Park, one of the largest public parks in South America. In addition to various statues and walking trails, the 865-acre park houses a zoo and national science museum. We took a stroll around the manmade lake, joining the many locals out for a jog, biking and walking their dogs.
Retracing our steps, on the other side of downtown Mendoza, we walked through Plaza Italia and Plaza España. The former features beautiful Andalusian tilework on almost all of its benches, fountains and monuments. Both plazas flank the larger Plaza Independencia, the city’s central gathering spot. Here, we watched local kids, dressed up for a school dance, pose for photos underneath he iconic city seal of Mendoza. A couple of them noticed us and asked where we were from. They were curious, but also eager to practice their English. Once they found out we were from the states, they insisted on having us join them in their photos.
Eventually, we made our way to Maipú, the town just outside Mendoza known as one of Argentina’s premier wine regions.
From downtown Mendoza, we caught a colectivo (shared bus), a common form of local transportation in South America. In less than an hour, we found ourselves among tree-lined country roads and endless vineyards. Argentina is the world’s fifth-largest wine producer and more than 75% of that wine comes out of the high-altitude vineyards of Mendoza. We made our way to local family-run business, Mr. Hugo’s, to rent bikes and officially kick off our wine adventures.
Like Cafayate, each of Mendoza’s bodegas offer something unique. At Rutini Vineyards, our wine tasting included a visit to their Museo del Vino La Rural. Here, we learned about how Argentina’s wine industry started in the 16th century. At CarinaE Vinedo, owned by a French couple, we sampled wines made with grapes grown in their Maipú vineyards and wandered the maze of massive oak barrels on their wine cellar tour. At rustic Bodega Familia di Tommaso, Constansa, our enthusiastic wine server, talked to us about their wine making process. We were impressed how knowledgeable she was as a college-aged young woman. And at contemporary Tempus Alba, we simply relaxed on their outdoor patio, sampling wine while taking in their expansive vineyards and enjoying the warm sun and gentle breeze.
Probably our favorite aspect of wine country was getting to taste each winery’s iconic Malbec.
Malbec was brought over from Bordeaux, France and thanks to the desert climate, grows very well in Argentina. Cool nights, low humidity and little to no rain allows it to be the country’s most stellar grape. For us, Malbec ranks up there with California’s famous Cabernet Sauvignons, with its bold, jammy and rich, fruity flavors.
As the wineries began to close for the day, we headed back to Mr. Hugo’s to return our bikes. Disembarking, we realized how sore we were from riding on uncomfortable seats all day. Thankfully, Mr. Hugo’s warm hospitality and our steady wine buzz more than made up for it. And hey, there was even a happy hour going on! As the sun began to sink behind the vineyards, we found open seats at a table with some fellow travelers from Australia, Switzerland and The Netherlands. Nothing to do except enjoy delicious wine with new friends and toast to yet another amazing day of travel.