Exploring Mendoza’s Wine Country

Sometimes I make great life choices.  In fact, in general when Sarai and I plan our annual girls’ trip, we historically have made some of the best life choices known to man.  And the two days of Mendoza wine tours we did in Argentina, possibly rank at the top of the list.

Our week in Argentina featured a day exploring the awe-inspiring beauty of the Iguazu Falls, followed by four days in Mendoza drinking wine and heading up into the Andes, and then a day in Buenos Aires.  The two days of winery tours also featured, hands down, two of the best meals I’ve had in my entire life.  So while the breadth and quality of Argentina’s wine was the focus of the tour, this post is also food porn at its finest.

A little about Argentina’s wine

Today, Malbec is the most famous variety of wine from Argentina.  Did you know that even a few decades ago Malbec was considered basically a crap wine?  But then they realized that the Malbec grape (originally from France and basically dead there) thrived in Argentina’s climate and terroir, and also drastically modernized the wineries to produce much better wine, and it became an international hit.  Besides Malbec, other reds you’ll see a lot of are Bonarda, Cabernet Sauvingnon, Syrah, Merlot, and Tempranillo.

For whites, Torrontes is the biggest white that Argentina is known for, and really does well there.  Besides that you’ll see quite a bit of Chardonnay (or “chardonn-no”, to me), but then there are a ton of other varieties in much smaller quantities.

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Day 1:  Lujan de Cuyo region

Wineries visited:  Alta Vista, Susanna Balbo, Benegas, Casarena

After doing a ton of research, we booked with Trout & Wine (info at the end of the post; this isn’t sponsored in any way).  Our guide, Ivan, picked us up at our (adorable) Airbnb around 8:00am and took us around to pick up the rest of the group.  One thing that appealed to me about Trout & Wine was that they keep their tour groups quite small, so the group dynamic feels nice and intimate.  Along the way he told us about the history of the area and the wineries we’d be visiting.

The wineries in Mendoza are a must-visit on any Argentina itinerary

We started at Alta Vista, where we toured the wine-making facilities and then did the tasting.  It’s definitely interesting to start drinking wine around 9:30am 🙂  Alta Vista is a newer winery, started in 1998 by a French family.  Alto is their icon wine, and it is DELICIOUS.  I brought a bottle back with me and it’s sitting in my wine fridge just waiting for the perfect occasion.

Argentina has become one of the best-known wine regions in the world, so touring wineries has to be on any Argentina travel itinerary

Next we headed to Susanna Balbo’s winery Dominio del Plata.  Considered the “First Woman of Wine” in Argentina, Susanna has played a major part in Argentina’s wine industry coming into its own on the world stage.  I’ve been reading a fascinating book that Ivan recommended called “The Vineyard at the End of the World”, about how Argentina’s wine industry grew and became an international powerhouse in the last few decades, highly recommend (I’ll be doing a separate post reviewing the book).

The tasting at Dominio del Plata was accompanied by four food items so we could better understand how food pairings affect the flavor of a wine.  We had arugula (bitter), a kind of sour cream-like cheese (sour), dulce de leche (sweet), and potato chips (salty/oily).

Next up was Benegas, where we did a tour and another straightforward tasting.  Benegas’s history goes way back, the founder’s great-grandfather founded El Trapiche in the 1880s, but the family sold the winery in the 1970s’ economic crisis.  The current winery was re-founded and restored in the late 1990s, which I think is an awesome story.

All about touring wineries in Mendoza, Argentina...some of the best food and wine you'll ever have

And finally, lunch!  Our last stop of the day was Casarena where, after a brief tour, we sat down for a six-course meal with wine pairings.

We started with a creamy, foamy ricotta with apple and yeasts, followed by grape leaf-wrapped quinoa with lemon and corn puree.  Next was a cured salmon and beet tartare and some kind of dried falafel-like thing.  These were just the starters.  The main course was, of course, steak (more on that in a minute), and then we finished with a palate cleanser of stone fruit gazpacho and then a little apple pancake with walnut cream and melon.

What makes a day touring Mendoza wineries even better? Pairing it with Argentine steak and tons of other amazing food.

A day or two of Mendoza wine tours is well spent on any Argentina trip itinerary #gastrotourism

The steak was definitely a highlight, as you’d expect in Argentina (and I’m a total steak snob, having grown up on a cow farm, so that’s really saying something).  It was served with potato and tomato confit.  And we finished our insane meal with a double espresso.  We all sat around and talked about our lives and where we’re from, tried our wines and relaxed.  It was such a lovely meal.

When we got back to our apartment around 5:00pm, Sarai basically face-planted and slept for a few hours and I couldn’t get up off the couch.  That much day drinking takes it out of you!  We were wishing we’d had a better breakfast to pre-emptively soak up the alcohol, and that we’d hydrated better.

Day 2:  Valle de Uco region

Wineries visited:  Pulenta, Sophenia, Andeluna

I made sure to get a quick run in the next morning, and we were picked up around the same time.  Since Valle de Uco is further away, we were only visiting three bodegas.

Our second day of Mendoza wine tours started at Pulenta (a winery founded in the early 1900s by an Italian family), starting with a little breakfast wine at 9:00am (breakfast of champions!).  Then we toured the facilities and settled in underground for our tasting.

Next it was on to Sophenia (founded in the late ’90s), and finally a peek of blue skies!!  I love the story of Sophenia’s name…it’s a mashup of the two founders’ daughters names, Sophia and Eugenia, and I think that the “S” logo that looks like half of a wine glass is genius.

After a tour of the vines, we sat down for our tasting, which was lovely.

The two days we spent taking Mendoza wine tours rate among the best single days of food and wine I've had traveling anywhere in the world!

Then we settled in at Andeluna for our second superb lunch and wine pairings.

We started with a roasted watermelon carpaccio with a balsamic reduction, arugula, and sprinkled with sea salt.  After that we had a corn squash pastry with fresh ricotta, peaches, and basic, followed by a fried ravioli filled with gouda, green garlic sprouts, and a “chancho en piedra” (kind of like a spin on pico de gallo).

Our two days of winery tours in Mendoza, Argentina, provided not only some of the best wine I've had, but two of my all-time best meals

The two days we spent taking Mendoza wine tours rate among the best single days of food and wine I've had traveling anywhere in the world!

The steak was again the hero of the meal, this time with lemon-oregano butter, beets, toasted pistachios, saffron mayo, and baby carrots.  And a phenomenal wine.

Feeling VERY full, we cleansed our palates with an apricot sorbet, then had white chocolate mousse and ice cream, preserved cherries, coconut, and fresh raspberries.  And a double espresso.  For digestion, of course 🙂

Two days of Mendoza wine tours with Trout & Wine, who I found on TripAdvisor

Here is our group pic from the second day.  The couple on the left, John and Ainsley, ended up being on both of our days of winery tours, so Sarai and I met them for dinner the second night.  Turned out they didn’t have plans for the next day, so we invited them to join us on our Andes high mountain tour the following day (also with Trout & Wine), and the four of us had an amazing time (more to come on that!).

About our two days of Mendoza wine tours

We did both days of wine tours as well as our Andes tour with Trout & Wine Tours (no, I wasn’t compensated in any way for this post).  I found them to be super responsive and we got a slight discount for booking multiple tours.  Highly recommend!

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