Our time in Mendoza gets a bit of a mixed review, mostly because we made a few big mistakes.
Mistake number one: Mendoza is famous for producing Malbec, a rich red wine. But we don’t drink reds because Alex gets really bad red wine headaches. So it was slightly odd to go wine tasting in Mendoza and only ask for whites! I’m pretty sure they were laughing at us!
Mistake number two: the timing of our visit. Most of the wineries are closed on Sundays, and have limited hours on Saturdays. And of course we were there over a weekend! We also wanted to go olive oil tasting, which is also a big product of the region, but we couldn’t find any places that were open.
Mistake number three: independence. We almost always choose the independent option when traveling, but Mendoza is the one place when I think going on an arranged tour would have been preferable. Many of the wineries only arrange tastings for larger groups – it’s not like Napa or Sonoma where you can just pull up and go into the tasting room. If we had gone on an arranged tour, we would have been guaranteed tasting, instead of driving around (slightly aimlessly), hoping to find a place where we could drink. (A side benefit of the organized group tour is that you don’t have to worry about drinking and driving!)
Aside from these three issues, we liked Mendoza. As the British would say, “It was a bit of all right.” The city was founded in 1561 in the foothills of the Andes. The climate seems to be really dry, but they have an excellent irrigation system that makes the region excellent for grape growing and wine making. You can still see the wide ditches dug next to almost every street, where water flows about 2-3 feet below street level. Wikipedia says these are called “acequias, popularly known as ‘yanqi traps'” – although your guess is as good as mine if that means “yankee” – it seems likely! I almost fell in several times!
Mendoza is memorable for many of the large plazas in the central urban area. They make for a wonderful place to walk, relax, and people-watch. We particularly liked the tiles in the Plaza Espana. The weather was lovely – not too hot, not too cold, and nice and dry! After the sticky heat of Buenos Aires it was a pleasant change.
The highlight of our time in Mendoza was undoubtedly Ocho Cepas, one of the best restaurants in which I’ve had the pleasure of dining. It was so good, we went back two nights in a row! The empanadas were so fresh and warm and buttery – and the steak was out of this world. Everyone told us that the steak in Argentina would be amazing, and that prophecy finally came true in Mendoza.
Overall I think our time in Mendoza was one of the things we wold have changed, in highsight. I would have still gone, because it’s the starting point for the driver over the Andes, but one day would have sufficed, especially had we joined an organized tour.
We did splurge a little on our hotel, which turned out to be a good call. We stayed at the Park Hyatt Mendoza, which is a gorgeous building right on the Plaza Independencia in the center of town. They were really great at helping us the next morning, when we realized we were stranded because of the bus strike. And their shampoos/conditioners were all wine flavored, which sounds strange, but was actually amazing. I never thought I would wash my hair with red wine, but it was pretty neat!