Don’t go wine tasting in Mendoza. Do lunch.
We walked out on the terrace, the Andes to our left, the parilla (grill) to our right, and a chilled glass of Torrontes, an exclusively Argentinian white wine varietal, directly in front of us. One sip and I knew we had made the right decision.
The day prior we had toured the valley on bikes attempting to visit five different wineries as the tour company had recommended. We made it to three and that was plenty. Have you ever tried riding a bike after tasting vino at three wineries? It’s hazardous to say the least.
So after a few crashes and almost missing a bus, we decided to try a more relaxed approach to the region. The next day, our hostel (Hostel Lao) made us a lunch reservation. It’s the only winery we visited that day and it was more than enough.
Lunch in Mendoza is a near-full day affair. We left our hostel around 11am and didn’t return till dinnertime. Our lunch was at Nieto Senetiner, but really almost any winery will do. Many of them offer a wine tasting and lunch combined. Its slow-paced, relaxing, and allows you to really soak in the region.
Mendoza, more so than Buenos Aires, still practices the “siesta,” not just as a break in their day, but also as a way of life. Things just move slower in Mendoza. It’s patient living at its best.
So taking the slower approach to the region, we sat back, took a deep breath and slowly worked our way through four different types of wine (Espumante or sparkling wine, Torrontes, Cabernet, and Malbec), five different types of grilled Argentinian meat, empanadas, salad, grilled vegetables, chocolate mouse dessert, and an espresso. The final tab came to less than $40 USD per person. A lunch like this would cost 4x more in regions like Napa or Bordeaux.
All Of The Quality And Luxury Of Napa At A Quarter Of The Price
So at about 25% of the price of Napa with 100% of the quality of food and wine, Mendoza is definitely the best value wine region I have found. Wine tasting flights run between $4-6 USD per person and lunches (described above) run between $20-60 USD per person and include wine pairings. Furthermore, you can exchange your US dollars on the blue market to get an even better value.
But just because Mendoza is a steal, doesn’t mean it skimps on luxury. There are three wine producing districts in Mendoza, Maipú, Luján, and Valle de Uco. Maipú being the least luxurious is notorious for drunken backpackers looking for a cheap buzz. Valle de Uco is the newest and most luxurious, rapidly growing in popularity. And the Luján region’s well-established town of Chacras has more nostalgia and charm than Beaver's Mayfield, but with a Latin flare.
To get to Valle de Uco (the farthest from the city of Mendoza), you need to take a 1-hour bus ride from the city of Mendoza; included free with your bus ticket are stunning views and plenty of photo ops.
When you arrive to this valley, you won’t want to leave. It’s sprawling, it’s rural, and its main highway is lined with seemingly endless vineyards interrupted only by the snow-capped Andes. It reminds me of the drive down Highway 29 through Napa Valley, but more beautiful and with less traffic.
Accessible, But Not Too Touristic
In fact, Mendoza is less crowded over all. Like the Bordeaux region in France, it isn’t overrun by tourists (yet). Don’t expect to be herded around on a large group tour. Small, private, or near-private tours are abundant at no extra charge. We never waited in a single line and for most of our tastings we received one-on-one attention from someone on the winery staff.
But unlike Bordeaux, the region’s tourist industry is developed just enough to make visits to the wineries very accessible. While expensive full-day wine tours are available by independent companies, it is just as easy to make your own reservations and take public buses and taxis to get to your next spot.
And the winery staffs know how to give tourists a friendly, warm, Latin welcome. Tours, tastings, and lunches are typically available in English as well as Spanish. But if you happen to visit a smaller winery with no English speakers, just enjoy the opportunity to brush up on your Español.
If you still don’t understand, just relax and let the wine talk. It speaks for itself. Good wine translates to all languages, and Malbec and Cabernet mean the same in both English and Spanish.
Lunch in Valle De Uco
We had such a great time lunching at Nieto Senetiner in the Luján region that we decided to take the same slow approach to Valle de Uco. We reclined at La Azul, a small family-owned restaurant and winery.
La Azul has almost exclusively outdoor seating, shaded by a rustic thatch-style patio cover, dirt floors, and surrounded by a field of wild grass. Embroidered pillows and colorfully painted wood furniture adorn the terrace. You really feel like you are in someone’s backyard; someone who has a house in the prettiest valley of Mendoza with a view of the Andes.
Somewhere between brick-oven braised pork and homemade crepes, one of the 3rd generation family members that owns the winery led us on a tour of their quaint barrel room.
While the lunch at Nieto was a more traditional Argentinian-style parilla feast, the food at Azul proved that Mendoza can do more than just grill steak. I would put the flavors and creativity of their dishes up against most restaurants in Napa or Bordeaux.
Lunch here included a wine “tasting” as well. Although, it’s hard to call it a “tasting” since they continually refilled our glasses throughout the meal; there are certainly no pour-stoppers in Mendoza.
We finished off our visit to Valle de Uco with one additional stop at Andeluna Winery. Again, we skipped the formal “tastings” and just bought a bottle to split. We reclined on the outdoor couches with an up-close view of the snow-capped Andes and watched the harvesting of grapes as we sipped some Cabernet.
Beyond The Wineries: Enjoying The City Of Mendoza
And don’t forget the town of Mendoza itself. Although it is planted right in the middle of a dessert-like region with a hot and dry climate, its sophisticated irrigation systems support street after tree-lined street to give you some shade and reprieve from the intense summer sun. All the restaurants take advantage of the shade with outdoor terraces on the sidewalks. Five main squares host outdoor markets and tile-covered benches for relaxing during siesta.
Our favorite street to hang out at during the evening was Calle Colon. It hosts good restaurants, with a vibrant nightlife, and some local brews to give you a break from all the wine.
We stayed in Hostel Lao. At about $10 USD for a dorm bed and $35 USD for a private room and bathroom, the place was a great find. When you walk in and see the relaxing garden, small pool, clean kitchen, and helpful staff, you can see why it was voted best hostel in South America.
The staff made recommendations and reservations for us every day so we could enjoy the region stress-free. We even got to taste homemade empanadas lovingly prepared by the owner’s Argentinian mother-in-law.
And when we weren’t lunching at the wineries, we savored the flavors of Anna Bistro, the fresh juices of Mercadito, and empanadas at Patrona (claimed to have the best in town by our friend, Ben...you can check out his blog here).
Also, the town hosts a large fútbol stadium. We were fortunate to score tickets to the Superclásico rival match-up between La Boca and River Plate.
So as you can see, a taste of Mendoza is never a bad one. Just sip it slow over a long lunch; there is no rush in Mendoza.
I'm Jaime. My husband is Tom. Suburbanites, backpackers, and expats...we've been them all!