Mendoza, Argentina

Mendoza is one of the largest producers of Malbec in the world, and produces two-thirds of all Argentinian wine. As our plane came in to land, you could tell, as row upon row of millions of grapevines stretched towards the horizon.

We hailed a cab outside the airport and headed to our hotel. It was already autumn in Mendoza, and the sun was setting, making the orange and red leaves even more vivid in the evening light. The journey to our hotel went alongside the many canals and irrigation systems on which the vineyards rely.

We were staying in a hotel called Lares de Chacras, a little boutique place on the edge of the suburb of Chacras de Coria and a short distance from some of the finest Malbec vineyards in the world, in areas I’d actually heard of, like Maipú and Luján de Cuyo.

View to the Andes at Casarena winery, Mendoza, Argentina
The view across the vineyards at Casarena winery

The hotel was a cosy little haven, with thick stone walls, dark wood furniture, roaring log fires and a little restaurant. The few rooms centred on a little lawn and pool, and ours had a little fireplace. Every night, as the temperature dropped, we collected some firewood and made a small fire. The staff offered to do it for us, but it was far more fun to do it ourselves.

The lovely people at reception of our hotel had made a rough itinerary for our first day of wine tasting, which started, rather alarmingly, at 10.30am. The first stop was Bodega CarinaE (sic), a fairly small operation run by a French couple who make wines named after celestial objects and constellations. We drank some wine, made some appreciative noises, and didn’t once use the spittoon bucket.

Next stop, via a short taxi ride, was Bodega Viña el Cerno, where the daughter of the owner initiated a deep philosophical discussion about the meaning of life, which was cleverly woven into a sales pitch recommending all of their wines. She wasn’t aware of our 22kg luggage limit, clearly.

Nicola with barrels at Carinae winery, Mendoza
Nicola among some barrels
Wine making equipment at the Carinae winery, Mendoza, Argentina
Winemaking equipment at CarinaE
Sign at the Carinae winery, Mendoza, Argentina
A lovely old sign at CarinaE

For lunch, we had been booked in for a table at Trapiche Winery. While most of the vineyards we had encountered so far were small, one-family operations in rustic barns, Trapiche was different. Huge automatic gates opened silently to reveal a long gravel drive, flanked by cypresses, leading to a building not entirely unlike a Bond villain’s lair. Vines fanned out in every direction from the sleek glass building, and we stepped inside to see what awaited us for lunch.

Already fairly merry from CarinaE and Viña el Cerno, we meandered over to our table, which was furnished with 14 separate wine glasses. It turned out we were signed up for a tasting menu, with seven courses of local cuisine, each paired with a glass of Trapiche wine. We sat there for three or four hours, working our way through the menu, and making ever-more enthusiastic sniffs of the wine, nodding sagely every time the waitress said anything in Spanish. Nicola then announced that it was actually our honeymoon, an additional bottle of complimentary dessert wine appeared. Just what we needed.

Fuzzy at Trapiche Winery, Mendoza, Argentina
Nicola is definitely not drunk in this photo.
Nicola at Trapiche Winery, Mendoza, Argentina
Just some of the wine and food we ate at Trapiche.

 

It was about 6pm before a taxi arrived to take use home, and we stumbled back, walking in a perfectly straight line past the receptionist, giving what we hoped was a casual nod of the head, but was probably a flamboyant bow. We then did what anyone else would do on their honeymoon: lay on top of the bed watching the entire two hour set of Elbow: Live at Jodrell Bank on YouTube.

Nicola in the vines at Altavista Winery, Mendoza, Argentina
Nicola exploring the vineyards
Fermentation vats at Altavista Winery, Mendoza, Argentina
The winemaking rooms at Alta Vista winery
Galileos at Altavista Winery, Mendoza, Argentina
These things are called Galileo tanks and they’re very heavy
Fermentation at Altavista Winery, Mendoza, Argentina
Millions of litres of wine are behind those walls

The next day we got up and had a very similar day, with a guided tour and tasting at a new winery, Alta Vista, before heading to Casarena for a lunchtime tasting menu. Although this time we were more careful to pace ourselves. At Casarena, the food was also delicious, but bizarre. We don’t tend to do much Michelin-style dining, partly due to budget, and partly because you’re bound to leave hungry. One example was the broccoli starter in photo below. Look at that. Ridiculous.

Going hungry at Casarena winery, Mendoza, Argentina
Utterly ridiculous. Where’s the rest of it?!

But here’s the thing, if you’re reading this thinking ‘well, it was their honeymoon, I suppose they splashed out on all these tasting menus’; we really didn’t. The seven course menus cost less than £45 total, for two of us, with all the wine included. It’s probably cheaper than Nando’s.

Vines at Entre Cielos, Mendoza, Argentina
There’s a parrot in there, if you look carefully.
Malbec at Casarena, Mendoza, Argentina
Almost every grape grown here is a Malbec grape

With clearer heads than the previous day, we headed out to the Sunday morning antique market in the square of Chacras de Coria, and I was quietly confident that our 22kg luggage restrictions would prevent Nicola from buying too much. We had almost cleared the stalls and were heading back to the hotel, when Nicola notice a man dancing to Phil Collins and making little bits of jewellery from scrap metal. Lured in, she bought a pair of earrings which are actually perfectly nice and also very small. It could have been worse.

There’s more to Mendoza than just wine, so one day we hired a car and set off on Route 7 towards Chile. Our plan was to drive into the Andes, have a look around, and stop somewhere for some lunch and to explore the area.

Potrerillos Dam, Mendoza, Argentina
Selling corn at the Potrerillos Dam
The view from the car, Mendoza, Argentina
A standard view from the side of the road.

We headed north through winding valleys, past the vast Potrerillos Dam, and alongside thousands of vineyards. After a few hours we arrived at the small town of Uspallata and stopped at a ranch-style grill that was filled with local families. We stepped inside, took a seat and our eyes adjusted to the hazy, smoky room. Everything was being cooked over a vast BBQ built into the wall. Using my fairly rudimentary Spanish, we ordered one of the smallest options, and soon an empty BBQ grill was wheeled over to sit alongside the table, filled with white hot charcoal. A few minutes later the chef brought over a stack of meat, which he plonked unceremoniously onto the grill. We don’t tend to eat much meat at home, but it seems like there was no other option here. And, to give us our dues, we ate most of it, except a couple of curled grisly items which I suspect were sweetbreads.

El Rancho, Uspallata, Mendoza, Argentina
The entrance to El Rancho, Uspallata

Full of questionable meat and feeling ready for a bumpy road trip, we turned off the main road and headed west on into the Andes. By now the scenery was incredible. Vast mountains, some capped with snow, loomed on either side of the road. The tallest mountain outside of the Himalayas, Aconcagua, is here somewhere. The road wound through the valley alongside a mountain river, the air getting thinner and colder as we climbed. We were about ten miles from the Chilean border when we realised we didn’t actually have any reason to go into Chile. With the light fading, we turned the car around and headed back to Mendoza, tired, still full of meat, but pleased to have seen some of the beautiful Andean landscape.

Nicola and the car, Mendoza, Argentina
Hello, wife!
The road to Chile, Mendoza, Argentina
The scenery here is amazing

Due to some sort of national strike, our flight to Buenos Aires was cancelled, so we had an extra day to spend in Mendoza. But not in our hotel, as they were full. So we decamped to Entre Cielos, a hotel we’d looked at staying in but decided was too expensive. Everything is more affordable if your travel insurance is paying. The new hotel was also lovely, and had the added bonus of a pool and hot tub, in which we whiled away the evening sipping wine and watching the sun set over the vineyard. This bit felt like a proper honeymoon, especially when compared to the smoking griddle of offal from earlier in the day.

Pod at Entre Cielos, Mendoza, Argentina
The view across to the Andes from Entre Cielos

Prune-wrinkled and light-headed from the hot tub, we headed to our room for a well-deserved rest. The next morning we had an early morning rescheduled flight. Next stop: Buenos Aires.


We stayed at: Lares de Chacras (laresdechacras.com)
We did the tasting menus at: Trapiche (trapiche.com.ar) and Casarena (casarena.com)
We explored the vineyards at: CarinaE (carinaevinos.com) and Viña el Cerno (elcerno.com.ar)

 

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