Wining and dining

Trip Start Sep 07, 2012
Trip End Apr 26, 2013

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Day One Hundred and Three - Tuesday 18th December 2012

The hostel breakfast was OK if you like to drink coffee and have the sickly Dulce de Leche spread on your bread. If not, it was just a miniature croissant. We headed back into the city centre to continue the search for a reasonably priced wine tour, armed with some addresses from the extensive online research we had carried out the night before. We'd read a good review of an agency called Kahuak, so we went there first and when their quote came in at about £38 each we decided to sign up for their bus tour the next day.

That sorted, we wandered around the extensive central area admiring the elegant streets. Mendoza is an attractive city full of wide tree-lined boulevards brimming with well-kept cafés, bars and shops. The centre is laid out in a grid pattern of eight blocks by eight and any of the eighteen streets that form the central grid could easily be the main high street in most other cities. Each one is like a mini Champs Elysés. They are so leafy that, in spite of the great width of the streets, the trees often meet in the middle forming a shady canopy wherever you walk, which is handy because at this time of year it's incredibly hot here. The crowning glory of the centre is the five large plazas, the massive central plaza, with a four block footprint, and four more plazas each one block away diagonally from a corner of the central plaza and each occupying a whole block. You can never walk far in Mendoza without happening upon a wide open space with a nice water feature in the middle.

Mendoza owes its modern, aesthetically pleasing layout to a large earthquake in 1861 that destroyed the old town and gave them a chance to start again. The wide streets are there for the rubble to fall into when the next earthquake strikes and the plazas can be used as evacuation points.

We walked through the city park, which is supposedly the largest urban park in South America, but opted out of climbing the hill for a view of the city as it was poorly signposted and quite a hazy day anyway. The nicest part of the park was the closest part to the city centre, where there is a rowing lake and some flower gardens. We had lunch in a restaurant on the boulevard leading back towards the centre from the park and then headed back to the hostel for an ice cream and a siesta. That evening we went for a drink in an Irish bar and the food looked nice and the music was good, so we ate there too.

Day One Hundred and Four - Wednesday 19th December 2012

We awoke early feeling pretty tired after a late night and waited patiently for the tour bus to arrive. We didn't have to wait very little long and we joined ten others on the bus to start the tour. Wine is the main reason that Mendoza has become one of Argentina's top tourist destinations, although there is also plenty of hiking, rafting and other outdoor sports to be done in the region. The Mendoza area produces 70% of Argentina's entire annual wine output, and their speciality is Malbecs. It's a common activity for tourists to rent bikes and cycle round a 40km circuit of vineyards in the Maipu area, as it's so close to the city, but we'd been warned about the dangerous roads and poor quality of some rental bikes, so we plumped for the safer (and cheaper) minibus option.

It didn't take more than fifteen minutes to reach the first vineyard, which was called Navarro Correas. It was very large and is now owned by global conglomerate Diageo. It's not in a beautiful setting like the previous vineyards we had visited across the border in Chile, although the mountains are visible in the distance, but the two wines we got to taste (a Sauvignon Blanc and a Syrah) were nice and the tour guide spoke good English.

We then headed off to our second vineyard of the day, Vistandes, which was in a more picturesque setting but again like the first vineyard the actual buildings themselves were very large and modern, which seemed to not fit with the lovely surroundings of the vineyards. After a short tour we tried another two wines (a Torrontes and a Cabernet Sauvignon) before getting back on the bus to visit our third vineyard.

There are over a thousand vineyards in Mendoza, however wine is only the second biggest industry in the region, which surprised us. It is in fact oil which takes first place and we passed a few oil wells on the way. After a short drive, the third vineyard, Cavas de Don Arturo, was definitely the prettiest we had seen. It was set off the road in an old building and was very traditional. During our tour we were lucky enough to see the giant old barrels that were used before all vineyards switched to the much more easily transportable smaller types. They were massive and it was really impressive to see them. After our tour we tried four wines (including two Malbecs), all of which were very nice.

After that visit, it was thankfully time to have lunch and we drove to a local restaurant called Cava del Cano. We were feeling hungry after our very basic breakfast and were delighted to be confronted by a huge banquet style lunch with many meats, cheeses, breads and tapas dishes. We eagerly tucked in only to discover there were also three small hot dishes on their way. Needless to say we greedily ate them all and washed the meal down with a few glasses of their own wine and an ice-cream. Feeling satisfyingly stuffed we got back on the bus and got dropped off in the centre of town.

Although we had drunk a fair amount of wine and eaten enough food for the day, we decided to visit another wine tasting venue in the city centre called Vines of Mendoza. We had a few hours to kill until our bus and we'd tried to do a wine tasting there the previous evening but it had been closing early for a Christmas party. They have various deals for tasting a flight of five wines, so we ordered different selections so that we could try each other's and taste ten each - five local Malbecs and five other wines from the region. We sat there very happily for a couple of hours drinking our wine but we thought it was a shame to be drinking delicious red wine with no cheese so we ordered a platter. Again, needless to say the cheese was good and it was washed down nicely with the wines, which were excellent.

Unfortunately it was time to leave Mendoza as we were getting the night bus at 9pm, so after a very enjoyable day we headed to the bus station and said adios to a city which captured us after just a couple of days. We plan to come back here when we retire and visit many more vineyards, although you could be on holiday here for a year and not have time to visit them all!
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