Mendoza: What You Need to Know to Plan a Wine Trip

Matias Riccitelli Mendoza winery

Mendoza: What You Need to Know to Plan a Wine Trip

For many wine lovers, if I say Malbec and steak, you’ll immediately think “Mendoza”. But what exactly should you expect from a Mendoza wine trip?

A GLIMPSE OF MENDOZA

Mendoza is a large wine region in Argentina as well as the name of the main city in that area. The area is unique in that it is comprised of a semi-arid landscape that is able to grow grapes, olives, fruits, and other produce. This is due to a several centuries old irrigation system using reserve water gathered from Andean mountain snowmelt. We learned a lot about this irrigation system from our Airbnb host and during our tour at the Domaine St. Diego winery. The Argentina Wine Guide also expands on the history of Mendoza’s irrigation.

 

Like the European settlers that came to South America in the mid-late 1800s, Malbec too settled into Mendoza from France. Malbec vines were brought and planted nearly 150 years ago. They have thrived here due to its drier climate, altitude, and temperature range (hot, sunny days, cold nights). In fact, the vast majority of the Malbec production is now in Argentina. The sub-regions of Luján de Cuyo and Uco Valley are producing some top-rated Malbec wines.

Mendoza winery, Achaval-Ferrer's Malbecs

These top-rated Malbecs from Achaval-Ferrer are from three of their estates, or ‘fincas’, of varying altitudes. When tasting side-by-side there are very notable differences in the terroir.

 

If you’d like to learn more about Malbec wine, check out this Malbec in Mendoza article written by Wine Folly.

If you’d like to read about planning a Mendoza wine trip, please scroll down!

 

ACCOMMODATIONS IN MENDOZA

In researching this trip, I read Fodor’s Argentina as well as several blog posts. From what I gathered, most bloggers stayed in Mendoza city, which offers a range of accommodation options. And then they took a bus, tour, or hired car with a driver out to the wine routes.

I also spoke with some Chilean wine experts with knowledge of Mendoza and they highly recommended Luján de Cuyo and Uco Valley for its quality of wine and the mountain views. With only two full days to explore, we focused our trip mostly on the Luján de Cuyo and Lunlunta areas.

Because the region is spread out and the distances can be long (thirty minutes or more by car from Mendoza city to Luján de Cuyo, and 1.5 hours by car to the Uco Valley wineries), we decided to stay south of the city in the countryside to be more convenient.

While Luján de Cuyo and Uco Valley are limited in the way of typical hotels, we did see a range of accommodations on Booking.com and Airbnb, such as bed-and-breakfasts, country inns (posadas), ranches (fincas), cabins (cabañas), as well upscale lodging at high-end resorts.

We settled on the lovely ‘Finca La Omama’. It was a 100-year old Adobe that was nicely renovated and is situated on a family property that grows pinot noir grapes, olives, and fruits. We could not have had better fortune as the place was great, and the hospitality was even better! Our host not only recommended some amazing wineries and lunch spots, she even helped us to navigate the difficult reservations process.

Finca La Omama, Mendoza, Argentina

The sprawling yard of our Airbnb on the property of a finca owned by a lovely German-Argentinian family.

 

We recommend staying in the countryside. It’s very relaxing, you’re closer to the wineries you’ll want to visit, and it can be a unique experience. Although, you’ll want to pack some bug spray.

Inglesia de Lunlunta in Mendoza, Argentina

The Iglesia de Lunlunta (Lunlunta Church) is a beautiful fixture on the country road. You can find it across the street from the Domaine St. Diego winery.

 

TRANSPORTATION TO MENDOZA

Flights

For a quick trip to Mendoza, flying may be your best option. That way you have more time to enjoy the region. For this reason, we decided to fly versus drive from Santiago to Mendoza.

If you are flying SCL > MDZ, there are a few carriers making flights daily. They are LATAM, Sky Airlines, and Latin American Wings (LAW), the latter two are budget carriers offering great deals.

flight options SCL to MDZ

Daily flight options from SCL to MDZ. We flew the evening flight on Sky Airlines.

 

It’s a short flight, around 55 minutes, and most of it will be just over the Andes mountain range. Due to anticipated turbulence and the short flight time, you cannot leave your seat during the flight and there is no beverage or snack service. So use the bathroom before you board the plane!

While you’ll get views of the Andes mountains from both sides of the plane (weather and sunlight pending), we felt the views on the left side of the plane flying SCL > MDZ were a little better. If on the return, you’re flying MDZ > SCL around sunset, the left side of the plane will afford you sunset views. While the right will once again give you the best views of the mountains.

Andes mountains from overhead

Enjoying our close up views of the Andes peaks on our flight Santiago > Mendoza

 

If you are flying from Buenos Aires to Mendoza, you will have a range of times and options daily from Aerolineas Argentinas, LATAM, and Andes Lineas Aereas. To see your options, type “flights to Mendoza Argentina from Buenos Aires Argentina” into Google search. Your results will show a long list of times and days operating. The flight is about two hours.

Ground Transportation

Traveling by road (bus or car) from Santiago to Mendoza is also a popular means of travel. It includes a very exciting climb up-and-over the Andes mountains and a not-so-exciting immigration process. Additionally, there is special paperwork required if you are driving a rental car across the border. If you want to know more about this option, we found a great blog post that details the drive from Santiago to Mendoza.

 

TRANSPORTATION IN MENDOZA

Once in Mendoza, you’ll have a few options for transportation around the area.

Many travelers stay in Mendoza city and use buses, taxis, hired car and driver, a rental car, or group tours to get to the wine routes. For this reason, they tend to visit Maipú, which is the closest wine route to the city. Maipú also offers the option to take a bus and rent a bike to get around to the wineries. While that sounded like fun, it can be quite sunny and hot in the late spring/summer. We were looking at temperature highs in the late 80s/low 90s F (~31/32 C).

In addition to focusing on the Luján de Cuyo and Lunlunta areas, we preferred to be independent (not on a scheduled bus or tour) and have the freedom to shape our itinerary. Therefore, we booked a rental car.

Rental Cars

We had a very easy-breezy rental car experience in Mendoza. We used Kayak/Priceline to reserve an affordable, compact, 4-door, manual car with Hertz for pickup on-site at the airport. Hertz had a kiosk with friendly attendants and a quick paperwork process. It was also straightforward with insurance already included in the quoted reservation price (USD $43.50/day). Now unless you’re paying for it, don’t expect anything fancy.

Lastly, after two full days of driving, we were pleased to find that our gas refill was AR $360 (USD ~$20.58). The gas station conveniently accepted both credit cards or AR Pesos in cash.

Hertz rental car in Mendoza

Our rental wheels

 

DRIVING YOURSELF

Here’s the hard part… it’s not that easy to get around on your own.

The streets and highway exits are confusing. Drivers are not always uniform in lanes. There are plenty of potholes, streets and places that are not well-marked, and awkward rotaries. Many of the roads on the wine routes are made of dirt and pebbles. Lastly, 3G signals can be weak or nonexistent.

So, if you are driving yourself around the region and wine routes, here is our advice:

1) Determine whether you are confident driving a manual (stick-shift) vehicle. If so, are you also comfortable driving on rougher roads, along with traffic that can be more erratic, with merge lanes and road exits that can be abrupt, and mediocre signage?

If you have a lot of experience with this, then you should do okay if you’re vigilant and have a passenger helping you navigate. Otherwise, I’d recommend an alternative means of transportation. There’s no need to stress yourself out on vacation.

2) In advance of your trip, take screen grabs of map directions for each destination you are heading to and save offline. For instance, I determined the routes and length of drive time for all of our destinations. I plugged that into my itinerary in Evernote and then saved as a PDF offline in my iBooks. Then, we reviewed the maps before getting on the road. And we would still try to plug our destination into Google maps to follow along as 3G permitted. (warning it eats up lots of data).

Alternatively, a friend just told us about Maps.Me. It’s a mobile app with offline maps and navigation that he uses while traveling. We’ve now downloaded and will try it on our next road trip.

example of our Mendoza itinerary with map images

A snapshot of our itinerary with map images to help guide us offline.

 

3) Allow plenty of time because you will still inevitably get lost.

4) Practice/have knowledge of some relevant Spanish (how to ask for help, specific directions, etc.)

5) (Obviously) do not drink more than the legal limit and drive. According to Wikipedia, the legal limit for blood alcohol in Argentina is 50mg per 100ml of blood (0.05%) and 20mg or 0.02% for motorcyclists.

 

TOURS + TASTINGS IN MENDOZA

We’ve been fortunate to have experienced various wineries, tours, and tastings in different regions. And we have determined that our interest lies in visiting boutique wineries when able. In Luján de Cuyo and surrounding area, there are plenty of boutique wineries that will excite you!

The Tour Experience

We went on four boutique winery tour/tastings and were delighted to discover that each one was a private experience. Just the three of us with our knowledgeable guides.

They also shake it up! Not one of our tours/tastings was the same. While one focused on the history of the winery and a full description of each wine, another focused on the difference of the wine from fermentation (tasting in the barrel) to tasting it matured in the bottle. A third focused on the winemaking process. How it varied for the different grape varieties, and then for the entry-level versus the iconic brands. The last winery focused on the viticulture. The training of the vines, growing of the grapes, the unique irrigation of the region and the harvest process.

For this reason, we encourage doing the tours as you will learn a great deal which will enhance your tasting experience. Best of all, the tour/tastings will not break the bank! The costs we encountered were between USD $9-15 (AR $160-$250) per person for the tour and tasting — a very good value.

 

PLANNING ALL THIS FUN

A word of warning, you will need advance reservations at each winery and sit down restaurant.

Making reservations is not always the most straight-forward process. If your accommodations have a host or concierge that is offering assistance, we suggest you take them up on their offer. If you will be handling the planning yourself, no worries, here are some tips to help…

As mentioned, the Mendoza region is large and spread out. There are some wineries very close to others and some that are outliers. As we planned our days, we worked to schedule those nearby to one another to minimize time on the road. If you’re driving yourself, you’ll also want to factor in plenty of time between destinations (see related section above).

From our experience, each tour/tasting took around 1.5 hours. Maybe factor 2 hours to have some breathing room, or even a little more if you want some leisure time at the facilities to enjoy the views.

Note that not all wine areas are open on Sundays. Luján de Cuyo wineries are not. Although apparently, Uco Valley wineries are open on Sunday.

To make a reservation, you will most likely need to reach out to the wineries using their contact form. Tell them about your group (size, language, days available to visit, preferred times) and they will try to work with you.

Visit our article on Recommended Boutique Wineries in Luján de Cuyo for more details and help with reaching out for reservations.

 

MEALS IN MENDOZA

Breakfast

Start with a good base. Eat a hearty breakfast because you need something in your tummy if you’re going wine tasting. Especially if you’re beginning the tastings at 9:30a, 10a or 11a!

Lunch

Lunch is the big meal! When in South America, lunch is typically the main meal of the day. In Mendoza wine region, lunch is offered by many wineries and hotels as a  2-, 3-, 5-, or 6-course meal. Many times the meal package comes with water, and the choice to add a wine-pairing and coffee or tea.

This typically costs between USD $32 – $70 depending on the restaurant and the level of courses you choose. For instance, our first lunch, between the three of us, we choose 2- and 3- course meals and bought a bottle of red wine and a glass of white wine by the glass. Our total was USD $47 per person including 10% tip. Our second day, we each did a 3-course meal with wine pairing and it came to USD $45 per person including 10% tip.

beef entree at Club Tapiz in Mendoza

Mendoza beef lives up to all expectations at Club Tapiz in Maipú!

 

Dinner

Save some money and have an early, relaxing evening by preparing a light dinner in. If you have an apartment with a kitchen, you can cook a quick meal. Or you can pick up some hot empanadas and fruit to nibble on.

Some of the big supermarkets in the area are Carrefour, Hipermercado Jumbo, Vea Cencosud, and Walmart. If you’re driving south from Mendoza to Luján de Cuyo and want to avoid the city, visit the Quick Point Araoz shopping plaza just off the highway. It offers a mini market, fruit shop, fresh prepared pasta-to-go and bread shop, pizza and empanada shop, wine shop, and butcher shop.

 

PAYMENT

Forms of payment

We were able to get by using our Visa credit card for all of our purchases. Even the small, boutique wineries accepted Visa and MasterCard.

While a few places accepted USD, it was at the official exchange rate. We did not get at any sort of special ‘blue dollar’ rate. The only time we absolutely needed cash was for a tip at one of the restaurants that would not put it on a credit card. We used a combo of USD and a little AR Pesos we had on hand.

Trip costs

For 2 full days/2 nights, we spent USD ~$385/per person (for 3 people). This included:

round trip transportation to/from SCL airport = USD ~$19/per person

a round trip flight SCL – MDZ = USD ~$99/per person

a rental car in Mendoza = USD ~$29/per person

gas = USD ~$7/per person

a nice 3-bedroom Airbnb accommodation in Lunlunta (a town in Mendoza region) = USD ~$66/per person

4 winery tours/tastings = USD ~$44/per person

2 high-end restaurant lunches = USD ~$91/per person

groceries for 2 days of home-cooked breakfasts and light dinners, plus water and snacks = USD ~$14/per person

4 bottles of wine as gifts = USD ~$16/per person

If that’s more than you want to spend, you can certainly scale back your costs. You can dine at more modest places. You can choose not to purchase bottles of wine. Or, you can reduce the number of tours/tastings to one winery a day.

 

NOW I’M THIRSTY FOR MALBEC!!

If you can’t wait to travel to Mendoza and just want to sip on some great Malbecs, we HIGHLY recommend the following wine producers. These may (or may not) be available in your local (U.S.) store or via online delivery.

Matias Riccitelli
Achaval-Ferrer
El Enemigo
Punto Final
Melipal
Family Bressia Sylvestra

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Read Next: check out our article on visiting boutique wineries in Luján de Cuyo and Lunlunta, Mendoza.

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Have you been to Mendoza? What was your experience like? Leave a comment!

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Lauren Martins
lauren@modernodyssey.co
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