A few months ago, I was given an amazing opportunity to visit Mendoza, Argentina as part of a journalists’ and travel professionals’ tour sponsored by Uncorking Argentina. I never dreamed in a million years that I would find myself in the heart of Argentina’s most well-known wine region. In retrospect, I found this trip very doable within a week of travel and it wasn’t as expensive as I thought it might be.
While my actual time in Argentina was only a little over three days, you need to allow a couple of days for travel time on each end of your trip, as the longer flights between the United States and South America are overnight. At minimum, you will need to connect in Buenos Aires, Argentina or Santiago, Chile.
In my case, I chose to fly between my local regional airport to Atlanta, Atlanta to Santiago, and finally Santiago to Mendoza. I took the same route back in reverse. Mendoza is just a short hop over the Andes from Santiago. The 40-minute flight over the Andes was one of the highlights of my trip, so I recommend connecting in Santiago.
Things to Remember
Mendoza is in the Southern Hemisphere, so the seasons are the opposite of those in the Northern Hemisphere. Mendoza does not currently observe Daylight Saving Time, so the time difference with countries that do varies depending on the time of year.
If you are a United States, Canadian, or Australian citizen, you will also need to pay a Reciprocity Fee of $160 to enter Argentina. That fee is paid online before you depart and you show the receipt of payment along with your passport to enter the country. The fee is valid for 10 years.
You will also need to have a voltage converter and adapter plugs for your devices that require electricity.
The currency in Mendoza is the Argentine peso. You can easily exchange currency in Mendoza when you arrive, withdraw money from an ATM, or use a credit card for most purchases. Just make sure to let your bank and credit card companies know you are traveling to Mendoza before you leave. Mendoza is also generally safe, but as in many countries, be aware of the risk of pickpockets or someone trying to take your bag or valuables.
Another thing to know is that mealtimes in Mendoza are at different times. Breakfast is around the same time as what we know in the United States, but lunch is generally later in the afternoon, around 2:00-3:00 p.m., and dinners are much later, around 9:00-10:00 p.m. Mendoza still observes siesta, which means businesses are usually closed in the afternoon and early evening.
A Sample Itinerary
Below is the itinerary I enjoyed when I visited Argentina over the course of just over three days. My trip focused primarily on wine tourism, but there are other activities offered in Mendoza, especially outdoor activities such as biking, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, paragliding, rafting, skiing, trekking, and walking tours. I recommend using Uncorking Argentina to assist in planning your customized Mendoza getaway.
Days one and two were travel days for me, three flights spanning almost 24 hours including layovers. Upon my group’s arrival to Mendoza that evening, we enjoyed a wonderful cooking and wine-tasting class at Cordillera, Vinos y Fuegos. The staff of Uncorking Argentina and the restaurant staff provided us with a delicious culinary introduction to Mendoza.
A driver picked us up that morning for wine tasting and touring in the Luján de Cuyo area. Our first stop was Domaine St Diego, a small, family-owned and operated winery that does not export to the United States. It was a wonderful introduction to viticulture and vineyard management techniques. The winery is headed by well-known winemaker Ángel Mendoza; his daughter, María Laura Mendoza, leads the tours.
Our next stop was at the larger Bodega Renacer for a tour and more wine tasting. The winery is owned and operated by a Chilean family. Pato (Patricio) Reich led our tour and tasting. The winery produces a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and an Amarone-style red blend. I found my favorite wine of the trip here, the 2009 Renacer Malbec. I wish I had purchased more than one bottle of this lush, complex integration of acidity, tannins, and aromas and flavors such as blackberry, black cherry, blackcurrant, chocolate, coffee, lavender, toast, vanilla, and violet.
We ended our formal touring that day with an incredible wine pairing lunch at MUN at Casarena and a tour of the award-winning Casarena Bodega y Viñedos. Chef Mun’s story of leaving his career in finance to become a world-renowned chef is as inspiring as his food is delicious. My favorite course was Chef Mun’s pairing of sushi with Casarena’s 2011 Rama Negra Reserva Pinot Noir.
Although I am an oenophile, our day of horseback riding at La Quebrada del Cóndor was the highlight of my trip. As I described in my personal blog, this was a life-changing experience for me as I faced a long-time fear and learned to trust the animal-human connection. My group and I were challenged physically as we rode into the Potrerillos area of the lower Andes and experienced unbelievable views. We reached an altitude of about 10,000 feet before heading back to the ranch to enjoy an amazing asado (Argentine barbecue) prepared by our hosts.
A driver picked us up that morning for wine tasting and touring in the Valle de Uco area. We first stopped at Bodega Pulenta Estate. The Pulenta family has been making wine for three generations. Sons of Argentine winegrower Antonio Pulenta, Eduardo and Hugo Pulenta founded this winery in 2002. The vines for the vineyard were brought from France and Italy by Antonio Pulenta.
Our next stop was at Bodega La Azul, a small boutique winery that focuses primarily on unoaked and oaked Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. My group experienced a great wine pairing lunch at the winery’s La Azul Resto, seated outdoors with gorgeous views of the countryside and the Andes, and a barrel-tasting of the winery’s Gran Reserva offering.
Our last winery of the day was Bodega Gimenez Riili. The family is in its third generation of winemaking. Don Pedro Gimenez began their winemaking tradition in 1945 and it continued with son Eduardo, then grandsons Pablo, Federico, and Juan Manuel. The winery offers a variety of wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Rosé of Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc, and Torrontés.
That evening we had dinner and stayed overnight at Alpasión, which was one of the most comfortable, relaxing, and welcoming stays I’ve ever experienced. The property only has six rooms, so it’s a very intimate, home-like experience. It has a community living and dining area, as well as another room which reminded me of a den or family room. Meals are prepared to order by the staff; we had a choice of two dinner entrees. For breakfast the following day, we were provided a continental-style breakfast plus eggs prepared to order.
Days six and seven were my travel days home, from Alpasión back to Mendoza, Mendoza to Santiago, Santiago to Atlanta, then finally home.
I will never forget my perhaps once-in-a-lifetime experience in Mendoza. If you’ve thought about Mendoza as a travel destination, don’t hesitate. Do it. You won’t regret it.
All photos are courtesy of the author.