By Anna Fitzpatrick, Contributing Reporter
MENDOZA, ARGENTINA – Today, vineyards to Mendoza are like the Sugarloaf to Rio: synonymous. The city has successfully positioned itself as a wine tourism destination with plenty of other activities thrown into the mix, making it an enjoyable holiday destination for both wine lovers and outdoor adventure enthusiasts.
Originally a dry and arid landscape, grape growing was not native to the locale; it was brought to the area through waves of European immigration. After an earthquake in 1861, in which much of the town was destroyed, further immigration was encouraged in the area with the local government giving away small plots of land to attract the Europeans who were arriving in Buenos Aires.
The influence of European immigrants in the region is clearly seen today, particularly through the introduction of European grape varietals particularly the grape that would bring fame to the region: Malbec but also Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and a whole host of others.
Visiting the region is a must for wine lovers. Most of the large and medium sized wineries and a handful of small, more boutique wineries open their doors for tourists and tastings. The best way to visit the wineries is through an organized tour for which you can expect to pay anything from ARS$60 to ARS$660 (US$160). The price includes transport and tastings at various wineries, with the wine quality varying depending on the price.
Trout and Wine are a tour agency specializing in visits to higher end wineries. The agency also organizes fishing trips. An English speaking guide will accompany you on the tours which include lunch with one of the tastings.
Try the Uco Valley tour, one of the newest wine areas in the region, where the Andes rise above: tall and majestic. Starting out at 9AM the first stop is the Pulenta Estate, where a Cabernet Franc is the premium line rather than the more traditional Malbec.
Next stop, a much smaller outfit: Bodega de Azul where carefully thought out questions can be fired at a bona fide winemaker named Miguel. Lunch and final stop is at Bodega Salentein, a futuristic, sci-fi-esque place with incredible views of the Andes and a great Malbec. You can expect to pay around US$165 for a tour similar to this, Ampora is another company with excellent tours.
For the more adventurous and active, biking between wineries is a popular choice. Bikes and Wine provide bike hire for around $60 (Argentine Pesos). Mendoza itself is relatively flat though careful planning is advised to ensure there are not too long a distances between wineries.
If a wine tour sounds all too demanding, then there are a host of other options to fill the time. The most relaxing being a trip to the Termas Cacheuta a natural hot spring and spa on the outskirts of the city, where it is possible to spend the entire day in the pools. Lunch and transfers are also included for a full day price of ARS$200 (US$50).
If the spa sounds a little too sedate, yet a break from wine is still required there are plenty of other activities to pass the time. Tour operators offer the option of white water rafting, horseback-riding, trekking and abseiling trips in the foothills of the Andes. There are plenty of them in the town center all offering a variety of packages.