A few years ago, I took a 17-hour bus journey from Buenos Aires to Mendoza to explore our famous wine region. I can’t say that I would choose the bus ride again (although I won a bonus bingo round and bottle of reserve malbec) but I would definitely go back and likely will sometime soon.
For wine and food lovers visiting Buenos Aires or other parts of Argentina, Mendoza is a great place to consider as a stopping point as it is a fairly short and reasonably priced flight (about 2 hours). One thing to note is Mendoza is both the name of the Argentine province as well as its capital city (where you would be flying into).
Let’s explore the province of Mendoza (as well as its capital), why it’s considered to be an Argentine wine country and many of the great things that can be explored and enjoyed in this beautiful Argentine province.
Located in the foothills of the Andes Mountains, Mendoza is stunningly beautiful with captivating landscapes. Home to more than 150,000 hectares of vineyards, Mendoza is the wine capital of Argentina and the largest producer of the highly-rated Malbec wines in the world. Often referred to as the land of sun and wine, Mendoza is a place where you can experience the best of Argentine wine culture, cuisine, and history.
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A Glimpse into Argentine Wine Culture
Argentina is known for its rich wine culture, the origins of which can be traced back to the 16th century. During the Spanish colonization of the Americas, Jesuit missionaries brought vine cuttings from Chile and established the first vineyard in Argentina.
Today, Argentina is home to more than 1,200 wineries and is the fifth-largest producer of wine in the world – they know what they’re doing. It’s also the eighth-largest consumer of wine in the world. A wide range of wine grapes are cultivated in Argentina including Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Bonarda, Syrah, Tempranillo, Merlot, Aspirant Bouschet, Ancellotta, and Pinot Noir.
Malbec is the most widely cultivated variety of wine grapes in Argentina. Originally a French grape, Malbec has become synonymous with the Argentine Republic over the years. More than 44,000 hectares of vineyards are planted with Malbec – accounting for nearly 40% of the red wine grapes grown in the country.
Mendoza – A Global Hub for Malbec Cultivation
Mendoza province is one of the biggest wine-producing regions in South America. Malbec is the largest-grown variety of grapes in the province. More than 36,000 hectares of vineyards are planted with Malbec – accounting for 85% of the total cultivated area in the country. Mendoza produces more Malbec wine than any other region in the world.
What Makes Mendoza Ideally Suited for Malbec Cultivation?
Viticultural experts often say that terroir is what separates the best wine-producing regions from the rest. In French, terroir means ‘a sense of place’. In the larger context of wine production, the term is used to describe a combination of factors that play an important role in vine cultivation and wine production. These include climate, soil composition, altitude, and topography.
There are many reasons why Mendoza’s terroir makes it an ideal place for Malbec cultivation. These include:
High Altitude Vineyards
Mendoza is situated in the foothills of the Andes Mountains, which allows for the cultivation of Malbec at high altitudes – as high as 3,600 feet above sea level in some areas. The vineyards in these regions receive a lot of concentrated sunlight throughout the year. It causes the grapes to develop thick skins as a defense mechanism. The intensity of the sunlight also results in greater color concentration, which gives Malbec its signature dark purple color.
The colder temperatures at higher altitudes help preserve the grape’s acidity and slow down ripening, resulting in more balanced and flavorful wines.
Mendoza has a desert-like climate with low annual rainfall. The semi-arid conditions are beneficial for grapevines because they reduce the risk of fungal diseases and rot.
Mendoza enjoys an abundance of sunlight throughout the year. The intense sunlight helps grapes ripen gradually, which enhances the development of complex flavors and deep color in Malbec grapes.
Diurnal Temperature Variation
Mendoza is known for its diurnal temperature shifts – with warm days and cool nights. The warm daytime temperatures play a vital role in promoting sugar development in grapes, while the cold nights allow the grapes to ripen gradually, maintain their acidity, and develop phenolic compounds, resulting in wines with good structure, balance, and aroma.
No Temperature Extremes
With hot summers, cold winters, and dry conditions year round, Mendoza provides a stable growing environment for Malbec grapes. There is no risk of winter dormancy or other kinds of temperature extremes that can affect grape cultivation in the region.
Mendoza’s vineyards often benefit from alluvial soils that have been deposited by the Andes Mountains over millions of years. These soils are well-draining, which prevents the risk of water logging. They contain a mix of minerals that can enhance the character of the grapes.
Mendoza has major rivers like Mendoza, Desaguadero, Diamante, Tunuyan, and Atuel, which serve as the primary source of irrigation in the region. The province also has more than 17,000 boreholes and an extensive irrigation system containing canals, reservoirs, and channels.
Minimal Viticultural Hazards
The region’s dry climate and low humidity levels reduce the risk of common vine diseases, allowing for more sustainable and organic farming practices.
Apart from this, the viticultural practices of wine growers in Mendoza also play an extremely important role in making this region the leading producer of Malbec in the country. Malbec was first planted in Mendoza back in the 1850s. For more than 150 years, wine growers in Mendoza have learned from and adopted the best practices of their French counterparts and have perfected the art of wine growing. It’s why Argentine Malbec has a distinct flavor and taste compared to French Malbecs and has become one of the highest-rated red wines in the world today.
Main Wine Regions of Mendoza
The most prominent wine regions of Mendoza are Maipu, Lujan de Cuyo, and Valle de Uco.
Maipu is the oldest and most historical wine-growing region in Mendoza. Located to the east of Mendoza city, Maipu is home to some of the most renowned traditional wineries in the country. The region’s climate is a bit warmer and the vineyards are planted at lower elevations compared to other regions. Still, the altitude is high enough to lessen the impact of the heat.
Red wine grapes account for close to 70% of the cultivated area in the region – with Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon being the most cultivated strains.
Valle de Uco – Home to High End Wineries and Amazing Views
Valle de Uco, commonly referred to as the Uco Valley, is located to the southwest of Mendoza city and is known for its high-altitude vineyards – with elevations ranging from 2,600 to 4,900 feet above sea level.
This region is known for producing high-quality single-vineyard wines as well as high-end blends that are exported all over the world. The grapes cultivated in the Uco Valley include Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.
Although I have not visited, my parents and several family members find this region to be their absolute favorite. Some of Argentina’s best wineries are found here as well as incredible landscape views. Valle de Uco is about an hour and a half away from Mendoza City Center and will require a car rental, private driver or Winery Tour to visit, but it is well worth it.
Within the Uco Valley, there are sub-regions like Paraje Altamira and Gualtallary, which have distinct microclimates and slightly different terroirs compared to other regions.
Must-Visit Wineries and Bodegas in Valle de Uco:
- Bodega Salentien (one of my top picks and a great Mendoza Wine Tour option)
- Domain Bousquet
- Bodega DiamAndes
- Bodega Los Toneles
I recommend Viator as a great resource for finding Mendoza wine tours, transportation and other excursions both in Mendoza as well as around the world.
Lujan de Cuyo – The Most Popular Wine Destination in Mendoza
Lujan de Cuyo is located at the eastern foothills of the Andes Mountains and has a unique combination of geographical features that contribute to its exceptional terroir. The hot and dry climate of the region is completely mitigated by the altitudes at which vineyards are planted – which can be anywhere from 2,600 to 3,600 feet above sea level. The hot days and the cold nights extend the growing season, resulting in full phenolic ripeness that has come to define the grapes grown in the region.
Lujan de Cuyo produces a wide range of grapes including Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Torrontes. The region is also known for producing single-vineyard wines and sparkling wines.
Among the numerous wine regions in and around the Mendoza Province, Lujan de Cuyo is by far the most popular and attracts the largest number of tourists every year. Its historical significance as the first Denomination of Origin (D.O.C.) in South America, an impressive selection of vineyards, and excellent wine tourism infrastructure make Lujan de Cuyo stand out from the rest of the regions.
Lujan de Cuyo Bike Tour – A Mendoza Wine Tour You Should Not Miss Out On
When visiting Mendoza, I opted for a guided Mendoza wine tour and it did not disappoint. Anyone who has visited Lujan de Cuyo can tell you that the best way to explore the region is by bike. Riding a bike allows you to take in the views of the gorgeous wineries scattered across the region at a leisurely pace. Guided by a local, you can experience the best of what the region has to offer and enjoy activities that many other tourists might miss out on. The tour usually includes wine tastings at different wineries and lunch with fine wines. You can also get to know the origins and history of winemaking in the region.
There are also several bike rental places in Lujan de Cuyo where you can rent a bike for you and your companions and experience the wineries on your own.
The Best Wine and Food Pairings Offered by Wineries in Lujan de Cuyo
The best wine and food pairings offered by the most prominent wineries in Lujan de Cuyo include:
- Malbec and Argentine asado
- Torrontes and empanadas
- Cabernet Sauvignon and grilled steak with chimichurri sauce
- Malbec Rose and ceviche
- Chardonnay and grilled chicken
Must-Visit Wineries and Bodegas in Lujan de Cuyo
Lujan de Cuyo is home to some of the highest-rated wineries and bodegas in Mendoza. These include:
- Catena Zapata(one of my personal favorites and a great tour)
- Nieto Senetiner
- Bodega Clos De Chacras
- Bodega Alta Vista
- Ruca Malen
- Pulenta Estate Winery
- Achaval Ferrer
- Bodegas Baudron
- Otero Ramos Winery
- Bodega Renacer
- Vina Cobos
- Bodega Foster Lorca
- Bodega Norton
- Bodega Familia Cassone
- Viamonte Winery
How to Travel to Mendoza
There are a few things to keep in mind when booking a flight to Mendoza, Argentina. Especially if you are traveling from a location outside of South America, you will not have a direct flight option. This is a great opportunity to include a visit to Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital, and fly from the domestic airport, Aeroparque Jorge Newberry(AEP) to Governor Francisco Gabrielli International Airport. I recommend Booking.com for great flight options and rates.
Top-Rated Hotels in Mendoza to Stay In
The three top-rated hotels in Mendoza are:
All three hotels are located in the midst of gorgeous vineyards and offer a host of amenities including comfortably furnished rooms, state-of-the-art facilities, ample outdoor space, pools, bars, sun lounges, gyms, spas, wine-tasting rooms, and many more.
There are various other hotel and lodging options both right in the specific wine regions you are wanting to visit as well as in Mendoza Center.
Other Attractions in Mendoza
Despite being the wine capital of Argentina, Mendoza is not just about wine tours. It offers a lot more. You can visit the Museo del Area Fundacional to learn about Mendoza’s history, unwind at the Cacheuta Thermal Baths, learn about winemaking and bottling at the Wine and Harvest Museum, take a guided olive oil tour in Uco Valley or Maipu, or simply hang out at Plaza Independencia.
If you enjoy outdoor activities, your choices include:
- Hiking in the General San Martin Park
- White water rafting on the Mendoza River
- Horseback riding through the vineyards of Uco Valley
- Paragliding at the Cerro Arco Mountain
If you enjoy a night at the casino, you’re in luck because casinos are legal in Mendoza and there are a few in town casinos to choose from. I stayed in City Center and had a great time at the Regency Casino Mendoza.
Lastly, if you want to explore Mendoza’s nightlife, Aristides Villanueva is the spot to be.
Significance of Mendoza in the Global Wine Landscape
The significance of Mendoza in the global wine landscape can be attributed to several reasons. These include:
Mendoza, particularly the region of Lujan de Cuyo and the Uco Valley, is credited with leading the “Malbec Renaissance.” Argentine Malbec, originally from France, found its ideal terroir in Mendoza. The region’s Malbec wines, known for their deep color, intense fruit flavors, and balanced acidity, have gained worldwide recognition and popularity. Mendoza’s Malbec put Argentina on the global wine map.
High-Quality Wine Production
Mendoza is recognized for consistently producing high-quality wines. The region’s unique combination of high-altitude vineyards, arid climate, diverse terroir, and skilled winemakers results in wines that receive acclaim and high ratings from wine critics and competitions.
Mendoza winemakers are known for their innovation and experimentation. They continually explore new techniques, blends, and winemaking styles, contributing to the region’s dynamism and ability to adapt to evolving consumer preferences.
Sustainability and Organic Practices
Many wineries in Mendoza have embraced sustainable and organic viticultural and winemaking practices. This commitment to environmentally friendly methods has gained recognition and aligns with global trends emphasizing sustainability.
Wine Tourism Hub
Mendoza has developed a thriving wine tourism industry. The region’s wineries offer a range of visitor experiences, from tours and tastings to wine-focused accommodations and dining. Tourists from around the world flock to Mendoza to immerse themselves in its wine culture.
Mendoza has a rich wine heritage, with centuries-old wineries and traditions. It is a region where wine is deeply intertwined with local culture and history. Visitors can explore the historic wineries and appreciate the cultural significance of wine in Argentine society.
Argentine wines, many of which originate from Mendoza, are exported to numerous countries worldwide. They are widely available and enjoyed by wine enthusiasts globally, contributing to Argentina’s status as one of the world’s largest wine exporters.
Mendoza – A Must-Visit Place for All Wine Enthusiasts
If you love fine wine and great food, there is no better place to be in Argentina than Mendoza. Visiting this place can help you experience the best of the Argentine wine industry and winemaking culture. I absolutely recommend visiting Mendoza, especially if you already plan to be in Buenos Aires and can fit it into your trip.