Mendoza – Argentina’s biggest wine region

From Cachi, I was thinking of driving along a large loop around to the south to visit the wine growing area of Cayafate, but after the long drive through the desert, I realised that I did not have time. So instead I retraced my steps to Salta airport along the same road I used when I came. It was another chance to absorb some brilliant mountain and desert scenery.

More mountain scenery

My flight left on time and I arrived in Mendoza in the early evening. I stayed in a quirky house that was 100-years old and still partially occupied by its friendly owner, who bombarded me with information about what to do in the city. Mendoza is a pleasant, rather laid-back city laid out along a grid with several pleasant parks and with lots of outdoor cafes and restaurants.

Mendoza Street Scene
One of Mendoza’s pleasant squares

In itself, it would be a nice place but not a major tourist destination. People come here for two things – the vineyards around the city and Aconagua National Park, a three-hour drive towards Chile into the mountains.

On my first day, I decided to check out the wine growing area. There are several to choose from. The closest to the city are Maipu (very close to the centre) or Luyan de Cuyo, where wine has been made for a hundred years. I chose to make a one hour drive to the Valle de Uco, where production only started in the 1990s.  The road first went along the busy and boring RN40, before turning off onto smaller provincial roads lined with trees and surrounded by vineyards and mountains.

Driving through the Uco Valley

I decided to visit the Salentein estate, which was founded by a Dutch expat who fell in love with the area – the owners claimed he was the very first wine producer in Uco, although others also claim this title.The estate had a visitor centre with restaurant and art gallery (it seems many of the estates invest in art), where I spend time before my tour started.

Many of the Estates have Art Collections

Outside of the visitor centre we were surrounded by vines and, in the distance, the Andean foothills.

Salentein Estate’s vineyards

The guide explained that the valley offered many different climates depending upon the altitude, with each area having its own types of grapes and styles of wine. We walked through the fields to a large, low, modern building where wines are fermented, then stored in oak barrels and bottled.

It was an interesting construction, designed to resemble a cathedral, with four wings leading off from a central area where wine-tasting concerts are performed. Most of the structure was underground, and the total volume was much bigger than its looked from the outside.

Inside the “wine cathedral”

It was hot outside – maybe 30C – but inside, the temperature was pleasantly cool. This was achieved naturally through clever ventilation and without air-conditioning. There was a very pleasant, almost overpowering smell of wine permeating the cool air.

Fermentation in Steel Vats….
First maturation in wooden barrels
Further maturation in smaller barrels
Storage of bottles…

After visiting the various steps in the wine-producing process it was the time everyone had been waiting for – tasting! The estate offered some of their best wines showing the different styles they could produce.

Tasting! Before….

I am very happy that I had invited my editorial assistant to join me on the tour; it meant that I could drink, whilst my driver-assistant had to taste and spit. After the tasting, we were of course invited to visit the shop. I chose to buy a bottle of Petit Verdot, a grape usually found in blends but here offered on its own. Back in my house in Mendoza I enjoyed my purchase with some sausage and cheese in my private patio. A nice way to end a day devoted to wine.

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