(Throwback Thursdays are a new feature here at asthejoeflies. They are stories from my travel experiences with zero regard to miles and points. Hopefully they inspire you, either to these destinations or beyond! As a bonus, there is no reciprocity fee to Argentina right now – hopefully this article convinces you to get out of Buenos Aires and even Mendoza!)
It would be easy to just visit the vineyards near the city of Mendoza and be satisfied. We took a one day van tour of the wineries close in to the city and were happy. With wine from Mendel, Dante Robino, and Bodega Benegas, you can’t really go wrong.
Still, if you’re willing to take a drive and you love wine, you should really consider driving further out (an hour or two) into the heart of the Uco Valley. The two nights we spent in the Uco Valley in 2011 mark one of the highlights of all of our travels through the years.
We rented a tiny car in Mendoza that we affectionally called Tres Puertas (it was a 2 door hatchback). Driving around the Uco Valley is beautiful – the land is very flat but the Andes rise up in the distance so you always have an amazing view.
We stayed at a little place called Tupungato Divino. There are apartments scattered in a couple of beautiful little houses (they were constructing a new one while we were there) and there is a cute little restaurant on the premises. By day, Tupangato Divino was beautiful, with the aforementioned Andes setting the perfect backdrop.
By night Tupungato Divino lived up to its name – the view of endless stars was simply divine. They even cooked us a light tapas style dinner for a very moderate price – we had the restaurant all to ourselves (it doesn’t open at night). Much cheaper than manufacturing Diamond status and much more romantic.
During the day, we toured various vineyards in the area. We hit up big ones, like Salentein and Andeluna, the type of wineries that produce hundreds of thousands of bottles of wine per year. We also hit up small ones, like La Azul, which if I’m remembering correctly produces 40,000 bottles of wine per year.
La Azul was a pretty special visit. At the time, it was run by two guys, both wine makers. I remember meeting Luis, the secondary wine maker, who couldn’t have been more friendly. After trying the La Azul wines, he asked us if we’d be willing to try out some of his own personal wines that he was making. He explained to us how since it was his personal collection, he put oak pieces in the wine as it aged in plastic barrels. It was as homebrew as homebrew gets. Except he was a pro and his wine was awesome.
He let us try his Malbec and his Syrah. That Syrah is one of the finest tasting Syrahs I’ve ever had, although admittedly it’s not a varietal I normally drink. But Luis’ vibe was just so friendly and he shared his personal wine with us like we were old friends.
All the wines in the Uco Valley and Mendoza are great, especially if you like Malbecs. The distinguishing feature of Uco Valley Malbecs, to my unrefined palate at least, are a dusty smell and a bit of tar in the finish. While that might not sound great, I assure you the wines can hold their own against any region I’ve tasted. It is just one of those quirks of the wine that is unique to this region. The wines we bought went great with steak and other heavy red meats.
One more winery deserves special mention. We had an amazing lunch one day at O. Fournier, which looks like a spaceship landed in the middle of the desert. It was a much longer drive than the others we visited, but it was worth it. Our lunch was paired with wines for every course and I’d be lying if I said I could remember much of what happened. All I remember is the food was amazing and the wine was even better.
We could have stayed in Mendoza for four nights and been none the wiser. Now that I’m in the points game, we could stay at the Park Hyatt Mendoza as Hyatt Diamonds and think we had an amazing trip. But we would never have seen what was a mere two hours away. Tupungato Divino cost us $120/night, the car maybe $40/day, and the wine tours maybe $20/person or something. But the experiences we had in the Uco Valley stick with me way more than Mendoza did, even though Mendoza was wonderful in its own right. Getting off the beaten path, especially the path beaten by miles and points aficionados, can reap some great rewards.
We did get from Mendoza to Buenos Aires in first class in the end. On a 14 hour redeye lie flat bus. In that case, miles and points might have been the correct answer. For the rest – I’ll gladly pay with cash.
Previously on TBT…