Anytime vacationing in wine country is an option, my answer is a definitive YES. My friend, Katie, invited me and four other gals to celebrate her 40th birthday in Mendoza. Each of our three days was unique, but sublime!
As a city, Mendoza lacks the charm of a wine country downtown like Napa Valley or Stellenbosch. Still, there’s plenty of great dining and shopping. I found retail to be far pricier than in Buenos Aires, but the selection was unique. We spent our evenings strolling Avenindas Villanueva Arístides, Belgrano and Bartolomé Mitre.
I must mention…the ice cream at Bianco & Nero was decadent! It’s no surprise, given the ratio of ice cream shops per person in both Mendoza and Buenos Aires. They seem to be on every corner!
Day 1: Sunbathing at Termas Cacheuta
After a short LAN flight from Buenos Aires, we arrived in Mendoza, ready to relax. We couldn’t have asked for a better experience than soaking in hot springs nestled in a valley of the Andes Mountains. The day admission fee included a generous buffet lunch, circuit of geothermal pools, wet sauna and mud bath therapy. Guests can enjoy the grounds from 9:45 am to 6:30 pm. Even after a full day, we didn’t want to leave!
Each of us added on a 30-minute massage. The spa is “no frills”, but it did the trick. (Notes: advance reservations are required for all day visits; cash only; no cell phone service; computers with wifi available in the lobby; hotel option available.)
Day 2: Wine Tasting
We began at Bodega Cantena Zapata, thanks to arrangements made by the uncle of our birthday girl. Since he works in the wine industry, he was able to book us a private tasting, tour and lunch. The entire experience was exquisite. We were already familiar with their label Alamos. However, the sommelier, Tatiana, was thoughtful enough to only offer us wines not available in the US. I fell in love with the 2010 Nicolas Catena Zapata. It was the smoothest wine I had ever tasted.
Romina organized an absolutely delightful tour for us with Matteo, the Italian winemaker at Bodega Calle. This winery was surprisingly located in a neighborhood, though its vineyards are elsewhere. I already knew I liked their label Alberti.
Matteo walked us through the basics of winemaking: soil, water and the varietal. He said Mendoza is ideal for producing organic wine since fewer pesticides are needed in desert climates. While vineyards in other famous wine regions are rain-fed and located near major bodies of water, the vineyards in Mendoza see little rain and are instead irrigated by snow from the mountains. Mendoza vineyards are planted at a high altitude of 900 meters and enjoy strong sun since there’s an average of only 55 cloudy days per year. Though the region is famous for wine, only 3% of agricultural land in Mendoza is actually dedicated to vineyards.
Our final stop brought us to Carmelo Patti, a winemaker whose label is his own namesake. He is…let’s just say it: adorable!
Carmelo has an infectious passion and taught us three important lessons in Spanish, as he doesn’t speak English:
- When you bring a bottle of wine home, remove the decorative foil so you can keep an eye on the cork. As long as it isn’t soaking up the wine, the bottle is still good. Store the bottle in the dark and angled downward so the wine touches the cork.
- To remove the cork easily, use a lighter or match to warm the neck of the bottle for ten seconds before opening. The cork should slide out easily.
- Always, always, always decant your wine. To serve a red at 16-18 Celsius (61-64 Fahrenheit), place the decanter on a plate of ice, rather than in a bucket of ice.
Our day simply couldn’t have been better! (Notes: make all winery reservations in advance and confirm them two days before arrival.)
Day 3: Day Hike at Parque Provincial Aconcagua
After driving over two hours one way, we paid 20 pesos admission per person to hike a relatively flat portion of the trail leading toward Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Western and Southern Hemispheres (standing at 22,837 feet).
Our guide and driver, Miguel and Gustavo, led us on this hike. Our group of six appreciated their translation services and local tips during our three days. We especially enjoyed their recommendation for La Estancia de Elias, which served us a hearty feast on the way to and from Aconcaqua.
Later in the evening, my friends and I met a local shopkeeper who implored us to visit Parque General San Martín, telling us how its beauty reminds her of Central Park in Manhattan. I decided to sneak it in on Day 4 before catching a 9:30 am CATA bus to Valparaíso, Chile. Her exact words were: “Vale la pena!” And she was right. It was worth the effort!