HE and SHE both say: Wine tasting in Argentina is very different than here in California. In Napa/Sonoma, Lake County, Santa Barbara or Temecula you can belly up to the bar and visit 8 – 10 different wineries in one day – depending on the strength of your liver, the ease of the traffic and the accuracy of your maps. In Mendoza, at the smaller bodegas (wineries) each Tasting & Tour is an event and a special occasion between you and the beautiful staff who will become your new friends. Your new mantra? Reservations, Reservations and Reservations. Here are a few things to know before you go tasting in Mendoza, Argentina.
WHAT IS THE BEST TIME OF YEAR TO VISIT?: This is a personal decision, of course. We chose late October as it is their spring, it is not peak season and we wanted the freedom to be able to ask a lot of questions (and take an annoying number of pictures.) We have chosen wisely. Often we were the only people on the tour and most of the experiences were very unique and tailored just to us. Mid November things begin to get busier with “high season” considered to be January through April. Harvest season happens during those months and from what we heard, that can be another great time to visit. More on harvest season later.
WHERE DO I BEGIN? If you are going to Mendoza to taste wine, your first stop as you plan your trip will be Vines of Mendoza.
www.vinesofmendoza.com We also suggest you make Vines of Mendoza Tasting Room (their beautiful tasting room in the heart of the city of Mendoza) your very first stop when you arrive. They were open on a Sunday and their staff are some of the most elegant and knowledgeable people you’ll ever meet. They will give you the overall perspective of Mendoza and her wine regions and you will be more prepared to have a great time. Start here for the overview of the regions. Enjoy a flight while you are at Vines of Mendoza, and your trip will have a perfect start. You can even begin with a “Sensory Lesson” before your first tasting so your senses are awakened and appreciative. Most wine tastings at Mendoza wineries are a Tasting & Tour and require a reservation. You may want to choose your bodegas (wineries) or fincas (estates) in advance of your flight to Argentina. If so, you can still begin at www.vinesofmendoza.com and email them with any questions. They are so happy to hear from you and happy to assist you.
Once the staff at Vines of Mendoza assists you in choosing your top wineries for your tasting pleasure, if you like, they can call and make reservations for you. There is no charge for this service. If you’re feeling plucky with your Spanish, you can make the reservations yourself, but Vines of Mendoza knows all of the wineries and the subtleties of each situation, so if this is your first trip, why not let them make the reservations for you? Tours have a time schedule in Mendoza so you will always want to call in advance for your Tour & Tasting. Even if the winery descriptions state that you can visit the winery without a reservation, always call first, just to be sure.
If you’d like to follow along with a map while your driver makes his way through the wine country, we suggest the Official Wine Maps of Argentina Graphically, it is a work of art – just beautiful. The map is actually 3 maps/directories and covers 6 different regions and dozens of bodegas. It does not contain all of the wineries, but no worries… between Vines of Mendoza and this map, you’ll be a pro in no time. We wrote in the missing wineries with a pen – and so can you.
IT’S AN EVENT: In Mendoza region, each tasting is a Tour & Tasting and it is an event. The wineries are expecting you as a true guest and they will treat you with a great deal of love. Your guide will invite you into the heart of their winery and walk you through the intimate details of their own winemaking process. You’ll sit with either a winemaker or the designated knowledgeable professional of the day for your tasting and you will be transported to a little heaven. I promise. You’ll spend more than an hour at each winery and depending on your wine itinerary, you will have a bit of drive time between each location. Three wineries a day is a perfect schedule. You can try for four wineries in a day if the wineries are very close to each other, but even the ones that appear right next to each other on the map, can take a 30-40 minute drive. Only silly people try to do four wineries in one day and they don’t try it twice. (Yes, we would be those silly people.)
HOTELS: Another entirely personal decision. We’ve stayed in enough 4 & 5 star hotels in our travels – each one begins to feel just like another no matter which country you’re in. So this time, we chose something that would feel more culturally authentic. We chose to stay in the town of Chacras (20 minute taxi ride / 30 minute bumpy bus ride) from Mendoza. There are many small lodges in the smaller towns that are made just for you to feel the real Argentina. Authentic Argentine building traditions, small number of rooms (8 – 12 rooms), staff that will spoil you rotten, and outdoor pizza ovens and grills. When dinner time arrives and you smell the grill & oven fired up, you’ll want to stay there forever. Take a peek: http://www.postalesdelplata.com/chacras.htm
So, those are the basics. Pack your flexibility, your patience, your curiosity and a deep appreciation for the opportunity to experience the differences of your Southern Cousins. A note to remember – You’re in a completely different hemisphere, so there are bound to be things that happen that will confuse you. The people of Mendoza and the surrounding towns are lovely and are more than willing to help you. Have your cell phone turned on for international use – or rent a local cell phone from your hotel for the duration of your trip as you may need to contact your hotel while you are out. Be sure your hotel has someway to reach you while you are out (your itinerary, a copy of your Remise’s business card or your cell phone number) in case there are changes to your “vinetinerary” for the next day.