The Mendoza wine region: a land of amazing contrasts

There are two ways to get to the Mendoza wine region. Either you fly in, from Buenos Aires or Santiago (or from somewhere else).

Or you come by road. The “easiest” road to take is over the Andes from Chile. Not that there is anything particularly easy about driving across the Andes.

I have done both on two different occasions.

There are 27 hairpin bends in a row on one segment of the road going to Mendoza over the Andes Mountains.

The winding road across the Andes between Chile and Argentina

The winding road across the Andes between Chile and Argentina, copyright BKWine Photography

The highest mountain peak is the Aconcagua at 6959 metres (22 831 feet). You can see it in the distance from the road. The road reaches “only” 3500 metres (almost 12 000 feet). It is still definitely high enough to make you catch your breath. Literally. No, you do not need oxygen mask but you do notice that the air is thinner.

When you cross the mountains you drive through an arid desert landscape. It looks almost like a moon landscape. Then all of a sudden you arrive in the Mendoza wine regions and it is a lush green all around you. It is actually quite flat land when you reach the wine region. It takes you by surprise.

Amazing contrasts. Between the stunning mountain range and the green vineyard fields.

There are vineyards and wineries all around you in the Mendoza region. I have visited quite a few wineries in Mendoza but I never tire of it since there is so much diversity and variation.

Take for instance the Carinae Winery, the creation of Philippe Subra who came to Argentina in 1998 to run an electricity business for a French company. When it was time to retire from the business he just could not bring himself to leave Mendoza. So instead of retiring he started the Carinae winery that now has some 18 hectares of vineyards. In Mendoza terms a boutique winery. They make some lovely wines. When I was there for our latest wine tour to Argentina and Chile we tasted most of their range of wines which is a manageable dozen.

Tasting wines at Carinae in Mendoza

Tasting wines at Carinae in Mendoza, copyright BKWine Photography

At the other end of the scale in Mendoza you have Trapiche. They were founded more than a hundred years ago and manage more than one thousand hectares. I do not even want to think of how many different wines they make. We probably only skimmed the surface of what they make when we were there in late summer. We tasted “only” seventeen wines. (That was after skipping a few so that we would not be late for dinner.)

Amazing contrasts. Between tiny family vineyards and huge multi-facetted wine enterprises.

The vat hall at the Trapiche winery in Mendoza

The vat hall at the Trapiche winery in Mendoza, copyright BKWine Photography

Day-life is very different from night-life in Mendoza, especially in summer. At least that is my impression from when I have visited Mendoza.

I am not really thinking of night clubs or other night-life entertainment, just simply of the normal day-to-day life.

In the day-time in summer it is very hot with a scorching sun. People seem to try to be outside as little as possible during the day. I went for a walk in the city and it looked almost empty. Almost as if abandoned.

But at night, the streets of Mendoza are full of life. There are plenty of restaurants and cafés with people enjoying a glass or a meal on the sidewalks. People everywhere. Where did they all come from? On the main square there was an arts and craft market. I do not know how long it continued. Perhaps until midnight.

A traditional asado barbecue at a vineyard in Argentina

A traditional asado barbecue at a vineyard in Argentina, copyright BKWine Photography

I guess it makes sense. In the evening there is a wonderful warm breeze. It is a pleasure to sit down at a table and drink a glass of Argentinean wine. Or two. But in daytime you keep away from that same place. It is too hot.

Better then to use the day for some other purpose. Like for visiting some vineyards. As we did. It is always cool in the wine cellar!

Amazing contrasts. Between the heat of the day and the lively cool evenings.

All in all we tasted some 114 wines on our latest wine tour to the region.

In Mendoza you can find a wide variety of wines. A very large part of the production is for local every-day drinking, rosado wines made from the cereza and the criolla grande grape varieties. Criolla grande is actually the most planted variety in Mendoza (and cereza number 3). But as a wine-loving visitor you do not really need to think too much about that. I did not taste a single wine made from criolla grande when I was there. Perhaps I should have.

On the other hand, there are so many other things to taste so why should you? Malbec is a must. It is what has made Mendoza famous, sometimes in powerful block-buster style but today more and more with excellent structure. But there is so much more! The lighter and more easy-drinking bonarda. The far too little known whites from torrontes, that can have a wonderful aromatic character, a bit like a viognier. Full-bodied semillons, cabernets and syrahs, of course. But also stylish and very elegant pinot noirs (yes!) and sauvignon blancs.

Amazing contrasts. Between the (let’s be honest) uninteresting jug wines and the great wines of Mendoza.

A view over a winery and the Andes in Mendoza

A view over a winery and the Andes in Mendoza, copyright BKWine Photography

But somehow all this comes together in a very friendly and welcoming whole. Everywhere I went, at each and every winery, big or small, I felt almost as if I was a guest of a family (which I was not). From the first asado barbecue, directly after my very (!) early morning flight to Mendoza, at the Kaiken winery, to the last marathon tasting at Trapiche.

So even if there are amazing contrasts it is not a negative thing. Quite on the contrary. It is part of the big charm of Mendoza. It is one of the big reasons why I will soon be going back to Mendoza.

Read more on travelling in the wine region of Mendoza and Argentina.

Mendoza is a must to include in a wine tour to Chile and Argentina. Join us at BKWine on a wine tour to Chile and Argentina and you will get an insider’s view of the Mendoza wine region.

Travel to the world’s wine regions with the experts on wine and the specialist on wine tours.

Tasting wine at Trapiche, Mendoza

Tasting wine at Trapiche, Mendoza, copyright BKWine Photography

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