Those who know me, know I love wine. White, red, rose, champagne. All of it. Some may call me a wino, but I just appreciate all types of wine and don’t discriminate. Unless they’re terrible, of course. Thankfully, in the wine region of Argentina, known for their Malbecs, I’m pretty safe and easily pleased.
Unfortunately, we had a hell of a time getting to Mendoza from El Calafate, Patagonia. Our 9am flight on LAN Airlines was canceled due to an employee strike in Buenos Aires. Actually, all LAN flights in Argentina were canceled for the entire country. Ugh. Naturally, we didn’t realize this until arriving at the airport at 7am along with everyone else. But as we’re coming to find, nothing in South America is urgent. No one is ever in a rush, expect for tourists. Even after waiting in line for what felt like forever, the LAN counter told us they had no information about the flight, a replacement flight, or anything else, but “Here’s a breakfast voucher”. Helpful. Being the proactive travelers that we are, we chose to rebook on Argentinas Airlines so we could still make it to Mendoza. But with the bad, there’s typically bound to be some good. And thankfully for us, that came in the way of making new friends from Miami, who were also stranded. Long story short, we ended up spending the day with them in El Calafate, waiting for a later flight which we continued to have a Brady Bunch photo shoot on (see below), sharing a few bottles of champagne in the airport, and continuing the fun once in Mendoza. Thanks for all the laughs and great memories Linda, Dan, Erin, and Ben!
Finally in Mendoza.
Arriving at midnight, we were exhausted, but ready to explore the wine country for a few days before heading to Santiago. Full-day Winery Tours tend to range from $150-200. Trying to maximize our budget, and as much as I wanted to, we decided not to take a tour and just explore on our own. However, if you’re interested in tours, Trout & Wine comes highly recommended.
We were given tips to check out The Vines of Mendoza in town, taste the wines, and then decide which winery you would like to visit. Since The Vines didn’t open until 3pm, we had some time to kill and decided to jump on the trolley and get a lay of the land. [FUN FACT: The Trolleys in Mendoza were imported from San Diego as the old trolley line. Seeing them immediately brought me back to my childhood with my dad and I taking the trolley from Santee to Seaport Village. Or from my college apartment in Mission Valley to San Diego Sate University. So many great memories on those. Felt like home! And while traveling, that’s very important to feel from time to time to help keep your sanity :-)]
While waiting for the trolley at the Belgrano station, we realized there was no kiosk to buy a ticket. An elderly woman asked us where we’re going? We said we didn’t know. She asked “Maipu?” I responded, “Your pool?” Haha funny lady. “Yeah, it’s hot. I’d love to go to your swimming pool.” Then realized she was saying “Maipu” which is a wine region in Mendoza. Stupid tourists. But she was our angel for the day, and told us to get on the trolley and she would pay for us. Once aboard, she continued to give us tips on where to go, and asked the trolley guard to personally walk us over to the winery. He even told us to look for him when we come back to get on the trolley back to the city. Wow! How could we be so lucky?!
We walked three blocks to Bodegas Lopez winery and had a fantastic lunch (best steak so far!) with delicious Sauvignon blanc and Malbec then hopped on a FREE (yes, free!) winery tour complete with a tasting of their champagne and Cabernet Sauvignon. I must admit, when it comes to red wine, I was always a Pinot Noir fan, mostly due to my mom telling me how Pinot has more antioxidants than any wine and by drinking it you “actually look younger”. Gotta love, Mary! But since being in Argentina, known for their fruity Malbecs, I’ve switched teams. LOVE LOVE Malbecs! Then, during our tour they gave us their Cab with its spicy flavor and I forgot how much I love Cabs too! Basically, I love it all. But bottom line, any wine from Bodegas Lopez is a good wine. Facts I learned while expanding my wine knowledge: Younger wines have more fruity flavors. Older wines have more oaky/chocolate flavors. Always drink younger white wines, because “You don’t want to drink a rotten pear”. So only let red wines age. And your taste preference will determine what year you prefer. You’re welcome.
Overall, the people in Mendoza have been the nicest and most accommodating since we’ve arrived in South America. At Wine O’ Clock, a lovely woman informed us the tasting had to be pre-arranged, but she showed us the wine cellar downstairs and said we could buy a bottle to enjoy there, gave us a map of the area, and explained how to get to her favorite wineries. Then our angel on the trolley who paid for us, the guard on the trolley showing us to the winery, and finally on our way back, the guards had switched and the new one didn’t understand us, but a nice Morman guy came to the rescue and paid for us too. We tried to give him money but he refused. Such good people here! We definitely have to pay it forward soon!
Back in the city, we stopped at The Vines of Mendoza to continue our wineucation 🙂 I can’t speak more highly of The Vines – the company, the staff, the wines – everything was absolutely wonderful.
Bike Wine Tour.
One our second day, we ventured out on a Bike Wine Tour with our Miami friends. Again, you could do an organized tour through one of the many operators in the area (google is your friend), but we wanted something more casual, cheaper, and that we could do on our own. We heard from many locals that Mr. Hugo is the best! We took a cab outside the city to his shop, jumped on 6 bikes, studied the map full of dozens of wineries within a 10k radius, and took off! The bikes were rideable, some stuck in the higher gears giving us an extra workout, the roads a little uneven, but everything made for a great story.
Our strategy was to ride to the furthest winery (sober), then work our way backward, stopping at all the wineries on the way back to Mr. Hugo’s. However, unless you start at 9am (or as soon as Mr. Hugo’s opens), you won’t be able to hit every winery on the street – There are more wineries than time! A good problem to have, I know. We ended up making it to 4 wineries and 1 brewery. Not a bad afternoon! The wineries range from small family-owned vineyards who only make 60,000 bottles a year to larger international commercial wineries who bottle 300ks+. By the end of the day, I had 3 bottles of wine in my bike basket – one was a free unlabeled bottle from the first shop, and then we bought two premium bottles from our last stop. On the ride back to Mr. Hugo’s, tackling the uneven roads, I sadly hit a giant pothole, and well… you can imagine what happened next. Slow motion, all three bottles fly in the air, and smash on the asphalt! Ahhhh I was so sad! But also couldn’t help but laugh at the vision of myself in my head of how that must have looked from my friends riding behind me. (Michael was less than amused, but karma’s a bitch… Continuing reading for more on that).
After our biking adventures were over, we had to rush back to The Vines of Mendoza where we made our own personal blends. Such fun! Michael and I did this once in Napa a few years ago, and we had a blast, maybe a little too much fun, and by the time we decided on a blend, had it shipped home, and popped the first bottle, it wasn’t exactly drinkable. Needless to say, I now cook with the M+D Blend 🙂 But I regress. So there was a lot of pressure on making a new blend to redeem ourselves, especially with our new friends. The difference this time is that we had a sommelier with us, giving us tips on the wines, tasting our blends, and sharing his expertise. After each of us made two blends and tried everyones, the majority of the room liked Michael’s blend the best. Mine was very similar so I stuck with it, but the consensus was 60% Malbec, 30% Cab, 10% Syrah. Even the sommelier agreed it had a nice flavor!
Mendoza, we had a lot of fun drinking all your wine, especially the delicious Malbecs! But it’s time to detox… Off to Santiago!
Bucket List Complete:
- Bike Wine Tour
- Drink Argentinian wine and eat Argentinian steak
- Take a horseback riding wine tour through the Lujan de Cuyo and the Uco Valley
- WINE – Need I say more?
- Less than 2 hours by plane from Buenos Aires
- Nicest people who will do anything for you
- Mendoza is just a city. Nothing else going on. But I like wine, so I was happy 🙂
- If you can afford it, take a tour. I’m sure they’re fantastic. If not, take the trolley (or short cab ride) to Bodegas Lopez and you can jump on a free tour with the guests that paid $$$ for the full-day winery tour. Talk about beating the system!
- 2-3 days is all you need in Mendoza. And if you don’t drink wine, don’t bother with Mendoza. There is nothing else going on in the city.
- Stay in Central – Walking distance to all the restaurants
- Trolleys in Mendoza are the old trolleys from San Diego
- Michael makes more dog friends:
As previously mentioned, Michael was slightly perturbed about the bike basket wine bottle explosion incident. After our final dinner with our friends, who were flying back to Miami the next day, they insisted on giving us one of their premium bottles since they wouldn’t be able to fly back with all of them. We graciously accepted. While walking back to our apartment, Michael was still making fun of my lack of biking skills to avoid the pothole, while swinging the bag with the wine bottle in it, and well… you can see where this is going. Yep, the bag broke and the wine bottle smashed on the sidewalk. Karma’s a bitch! 🙂