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Wine Country

Napa and Loire Valley take note: It’s only a matter of time until the next bubbling wine country, Mendoza, Argentina, pops the cork off your local variety.

 

Wine novices, lovers and aficionados listen up: Better get a move on south before Mendoza’s popularity garners so much attention that there are new hotels, shopping malls and wider highways which inevitably will be needed to accommodate the herds of aspiring winos descending upon the small, quaint valleys of Mendoza.

 

But if you get there soon, within the next five years, you’ll get the chance to mosey along the quiet, charming, green tree-lined streets by bike or car and tour Mendoza’s valleys just the way it is today: with beautiful landscapes including Cerro Aconcagua, (6962 meters, 22,841 feet) and white-water rafting paradise, Río Mendoza not to mention all the peaks for skiing, quaint family-run wineries and a number of unique tasting opportunities, including artesian olive oil spreads, and dark chocolate liquor filled truffles.

 

Currently producing 70 percent of all the wine made in Argentina, (Argentina is also the fifth largest wine producer in the world), Mendoza province sees little rainfall through out the year, and remains mostly hot and dry. Such a climate is perfect for visiting, not to mention, excellent growing conditions for red grapes. While Malbec is the true bottle of choice in these parts, Pinot Noir is on the rise as well, thanks in part to the popularity of the 2004 independent movie, Sideways. White wines are not a specialty of Mendoza province.

 

The two main wine regions close to Mendoza city are Luján de Cuyo, 19 km south of Mendoza and Maipú 16 km from the city. Each area contains a concentrated number of wineries that are open to the public for touring and tastings. While all winery tours and tastings are free, some of the high-end varieties will cost to taste.

 

Olive trees are also heavily grown in this region and several wineries also produce olive oils and specialty spreads for crackers and breads, and are also available for tastings. Since homemade chocolate is another delicacy in Argentina, along the wine trail you’ll come across several chocolate shops where you can nibble on chocolates and other candies.

 

Wine making here is still an art but the sophistication level is not as high as Napa or Loire. Wine culture is still being born in Mendoza and there is still very much an artesan flavor to Argentina's wine country, but that is exactly what makes touring here different, exciting and Argentinean.

 

From Mendoza City it’s not difficult to sign-up for a wine tour. In fact, walk along Avenida Las Heras or along the pedestrian mall, Avineda Sarmiento and you’ll come across countless tour operators. Most of these companies offer a one-day tour, with the chance to visit three wineries and then a chocolate artesan too. Sometimes the tour includes lunch at a winery or famed restaurants in town. Tour guides and vineyard guides typically speak English, as well as Spanish.

 

With so many tour companies in town, marketing to certain demographics is common. For example, Campo Base Adventures, a tour operator, affiliated with Hostelling International offers a great, basic one-day wine tour, but since this is marketed towards a young backpacker crowd (and HI guests can sign-up in the lobby of their hostel), you are likely to be tasting wine alongside other backpackers.

 

 

Sometimes tours like these do not cut it if you are a connoisseur of wine and want to visit the fancy high-end vineyards. If you want to skip Introduction to Wine 101, with the basics of a tour, there are some upper-end tour companies beginning to establish themselves, and they are easily booked ahead of time through the web. Many of these operators will let you customize your itinerary, and of course this option will be on the pricier side. It might cost you more, but those who have done it say it’s worth it.

 

It is also possible to rent a car or hire a taxi (if you want to do some care free tasting). Taxis for long term rent are called telephone taxis. With wine maps readily available from the tourist office, you can plan your own trip around town and hit certain wineries that a tour doesn’t necessarily visit. This is the best economic option for making sure you reach the popular wineries, without worrying about missing any. Another option is to hop on the bus going either to Maipú or south to Luján de Cuyo and see what you can find.

 

And finally, if you don’t plan to drink or buy too much wine on your day of tasting, renting a bike (available nearly everywhere from hostels to bike rental shops) is a beautiful way to see the area and tour around, especially Maipú, which has a reputation for being the rider’s route. Stunning scenery mixed with flat valley roads for riding and warm weather make for a spectacular bike ride. Of course, getting back on the bike after having one too many is always an issue as is strapping bottles of wine to your back, but if you are just out for a romantic adventure, rent some bikes and head off into the vineyards.



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