The Next Napa: Food, Wine, & Mountains in Mendoza

As we’re getting off the plane, a stewardess announces that it is the International Day of Malbec, the wine Argentina–and Mendoza in particular–is known for. She tells the passengers aboard the plane that we will receive one small bottle of wine free-of-charge. As if we were going to need more wine, it is  the biggest reason we came to Mendoza.

Needless to say we’re pumped. Not only do we get free vino, we get one of the free half-sized bottles each. It is the equivalent of one standard size bottle. We get to our hotel, which is an unassuming guesthouse called Casa Azul right near the Plaza de Independencia, the main square of the laid-back city.

Thyme at the park with our free wine.

Immediately we know what we are going to do. We walk over to the park in the square and begin drinking before lunch. We are excited to see a Museum of Modern Art there, but are disappointed when we find out its closed.

We get buzzed off the wine and walk to get some food. Since Argentina is famous for its beef, we want to try a burger. Walking to Jack House, we realize it is closed until dinner. Resolving to come back later, we go for an Argentine favorite, pizza. We talk to a nearby pizza joint and get a delicious spicy shredded chicken and sausage pie ,with the ubiquitous green olives.

Full from lunch, we think about going to the aquarium but read bad reviews online and instead choose to go to Parque General San Martin. It is a sleepy Sunday, and, as it turns out, this is where everyone is.

Pizza from a spot we stumbled upon.

Families play soccer, swim in the lake, drink beers, and eat snacks. We plan to drink the other bottle of wine but instead read a bit, fall asleep, and wake up periodically. Finally the wind wakes us up, and it’s time to freshen up before dinner.

We’re taking it easy as far as sight-seeing goes, but since we’ve been in Argentina for a few days already and, in the spirit of Mendoza, we play on eating, drinking, and relaxing.

Parque General San Martin. 

After showers, we take Uber to Jack House. Owned by an American and dressed up in American pop culture, we have high hopes that this chef will take Argentine beef and make it with American techniques and style.

He doesn’t disappoint, the food is incredible. I have grilled onions and tomato confit, and it is the perfect burger. Thyme, since she doesn’t usually eat meat, goes all out with the bacon burger. We drink happy hour-priced craft beers and get thoroughly buzzed before we walk back to the hotel. It has been a relaxing day, but we must go to bed early. For tomorrow, we begin drinking at 10AM.

Awesome burgers at Jack House.

We wake up the next morning, eat the extremely sweet pastries and drink the coffee at our hotel. We want to make sure to have something in our stomachs, we will be drinking loads of wine today.

Picked up by our indie-rock listening driver and our blonde Argentine-Italian guide from Trout & Wine, we are in a good mood. The Newfoundlanders who join us are equally as agreeable. Add a quiet Moscovite and a Texan-California named Scott, who we will become friends with, we have met our drinking partners for the day. We are a motley crew.

We drive out to the Uco Valley, and are told about the region’s infamous wine and vineyards. Called “the next Napa” on the internet, Uco has been inculcated with foreign wine investment and serious winemakers. We feel lucky to getting to experience the region ahead of the curve. And make no mistake, it is gorgeous here and the wine is magnificent.

Barrels in the cellar at Bousquet.

The weather is sunny and clear. You can see for miles, into every crevasse of the mountains and between every line of grapes. We start off at a lower-production winery and work our way up.

It is 10AM, and we walk up to Atamisque and find a barrel topped with white wine. We drink our first glass while hearing all about the winery. We see every process of the production, get to smash up grapes with long metal tools, and drink a variety of wines in a wooden tasting room. It’s before noon and we’re on our way to drunkeness.

The next vineyard is idyllic, with a cabin production area and a small pond where the farm dogs swim. We go down to the cellar to taste a white wine, a rose, and two reds. This winery, Bousquet, is owned by a French wine mogul and has sharp, memorable wines.

Vegetable pasta at Monteviejo.
View at Monteviejo.

At this point we open up with our fellow wine tasters and staff. We talk about how Radiohead was just in Argentina and speak of our homes and our plans. When we get to the Monteviejo for a lunch paired with wines, everyone is thrilled. The three course meal is fantastic, fresh, and delicious. Beginning with grapes smothered in goat cheese and truffles, our palettes open up. In this case, for vegetable pasta in tomato sauce and Argentine filet mignon. For being a fancy restaurant, we get full easily. Smashed from the day of drinking , we walk out onto the balcony, where there is a great view of the Andes in all their glory.

We take naps on the car ride back, everyone tired from a hard day of wine tasting. After resting for a while, we walk to Mendoza’s central market and try some choripan sandwiches, a beloved meal in Argentina. Chorizo with lettuce, tomato, and multiple sauces, it is immediately clear why the country loves it so much. It reminds me of a chorizo hamburger. We buy some chocolate at a nearby shop and head back to the hotel. Tomorrow our adventure continues, but for now we are perfectly content.

Beautiful views of the Andes.


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