Located on the far western edge of South America’s largest wine-producing country, Argentina, the city of Mendoza — much like Napa Valley, California — is a beautiful, compact, medium-sized cosmopolitan town surrounded by valley floor wineries that give way to challenging-to-reach destination districts, each with its own distinct personality. From flat, bikeable Maipú to picturesque Luján de Cuyo and all the way south to the windswept Uco Valley on the foothills of the Cordón del Plata, there are myriad ways to take a sip of all that tasteful Mendoza has to offer.
Balance and concentration are easy at first — this is, of course, before you’ve taken in your second or third winery by bicycle. Basic cruisers can be rented from countless places in Maipú — Mr. Hugo’s offers helmets, water and even a taste of his homemade wine! — and all of them are just a quick bus ride from central Mendoza. Don sunscreen and a hat, and bring a sturdy backpack for your acquired souvenirs as you hit up all the easy-to-reach wineries, including the ancient and almost entirely female-run Bodega Familia Di Tommaso. Working your way back toward town, a light lunch on the sunny deck at the more contemporary Tempus Alba is the ideal pairing for a dry rosado (rosé) de malbec. After the meal, take your time returning with your treasures and be sure to stay to the far right!
Luján de Cuyo
A little farther afield, Luján de Cuyo is home to makers of world-class malbec, but also to an increasing number of Old-World varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah and sauvignon blanc. Ampora Wine Tours delivers you to spectacular area wineries. Your itinerary might, for example, begin with a tasting at charming Clos de Chacras. Founded in 1921 by the Swiss-Italian Gargantini family, the winery on this site was abandoned in the 1970s and later restored by a granddaughter in the late 80s. When you leave there, have your camera at the ready for an appetizer pairing at the picturesque, state-of-the-art Pulenta Estate. Be sure to check out the rolling fermenters at some time during your stop. Moving on, Bodega Caelum (Latin for “sky” or “heaven”) welcomes you with estate pistachios, a treat that the family grows in addition to grapes. Time your visit right and you might catch the pump-over of fermenting wine, which is organic in accordance with the owners’ philosophy. The tasting here concludes with Nuvola Dolce Torrontés, made by drying the grapes and then interrupting fermentation. Finally, a visit to Susana Balbo Wines is a treat when you consider that its namesake, Balbo, was the first woman in Argentina to graduate with a degree in enology. You’re in good hands.
On the windswept Eastern foothills of the Andes, and with views of Tupungato volcano, a trek around the Uco Valley requires patience. Most tours out this way will only get you to about three wineries over the course of a very full day of travel. Use the time in the van (about an hour and a half each way) to bombard your friendly English-speaking Trout & Wine Tours guide with questions about the area’s agriculture (olives, nuts and cherries thrive here, too!), Mendoza’s culture of “closed-door” dining establishments and its renowned hiking. Before you know it, you’ll have reached the peppery malbecs and cabernets of 100 percent Argentine-owned garagista (garage winery), Bodega la Azul. Next, move on to the small family winery of Gimenez Riili where, if you are touring at just the right time, you may get to taste young wines (sauvignon blanc or torrontés) from the tank along with aging selections from the barrel (malbec or cabernet franc). Dutch-owned Bodegas Salentein, a modern temple to wine made from concrete and glass, doubles as an art gallery. Here, lunch is served with easel-worthy Andean views and a tour of the sprawling estate that includes the grand cellar, with acoustics that befit the twice-yearly charity events held in its cathedral-like enclosure.
Mendoza by Private Hire
If no particular itinerary speaks to you, create your own. Reserve a black car for the day (every concierge in town has a favorite driver) and contact wineries directly through their websites to arrange appointments, which are generally mandatory. With your own ride, you can visit the incredible, three-tiered pyramidal Bodega Catena Zapata, tuck into a five-course pairing lunch on the sundrenched grounds at Bodega Ruca Malen and wrap the day with the impressive and weighty single-varietal wines at Luigi Bosca. With more than 1,500 wineries in the Mendoza area, something is bound to suit your taste.