As soon as you touch down at the Mendoza airport, it's vineyards as far as the eye can see. Even though Argentina's untamed western province specializes in vino, that's not the only reason why Mendoza deserves a place at the top of your travel wish list.The picturesque vineyards of Mendoza enjoy the snowy Andes as their backdrop. — Photo courtesy of Hemera/Thinkstock
Wine, Wine, Wine
Mendoza is a destination best tackled with tasting glass in hand. Whether you're a long-time oenophile or can't tell the difference between a Malbec and a Merlot, you'll be tasting wine during your stay, and lots of it. The Argentine wine industry specializes in Malbec, a French grape that thrives in the sun-drenched deserts of western Argentina. A lesser known grape varietal – and the only truly Argentine grape – is Torrontés. This white grape, often called the liar grape, has a floral, sweet nose with a dry, tart finish.Many wine tastings in Mendoza involve sipping from the tank and the bottle. — Photo courtesy of moodboard/Thinkstock
With more than 800 wineries in the region, you'll have plenty of tasting rooms to choose from. Small, family-run affairs - like the boutique winery MonteQuieto - let you taste directly from the tank, allowing you to see, smell and taste the progression of a wine from grape to bottle. Others walk you through professional tastings in grand tasting rooms.
As of mid-2013, it's easier than ever to taste wines from a variety of Mendoza bodegas, even those located further outside of Mendoza City. Bus Vitivinícola, a new hop-on-hop-off tour company, picks visitors up at several major hotels and meeting points in town before making a circuit of six to seven wineries – varying in size from boutique ones like MonteQuieto to international operations like Chandon, one of the world's largest champagne producers.
Beyond the Tasting
If you think that the Mendoza wine experience ends after the tasting, you're wrong. Ketek, a member of the Great Wine Capitals Travel Network and tour operator in Mendoza, builds custom experiences to help visitors dig deeper into the world of Argentine wine.
Fancy yourself a winemaker? Ketek's Blend tour takes you to an area winery where you'll learn a little about the chemistry behind winemaking before being set loose with an empty wine bottle, several varietals of wine and some lab equipment to create your own blend, label and all.Let the color palette of a vineyard inspire your artisitc creations during a wine painting class. — Photo courtesy of iStock/Thinkstock
Those with a more visual artistic tendencies can take a painting class by a local artist right in the middle of a vineyard or mountain estancia. What about the wine? It's not only the inspiration, but the material as well. Purples, reds, burgundies and yellows will be your palette as you create a work of art.
Nothing complements a good glass of wine like a quality meal, and Mendoza is earning a reputation as one of South America's premier foodie destinations. Put your finger to the pulse of the culinary scene here, and you'll quickly learn of Francis Mallmann, a porteño celebrity chef and owner of 1884, a meat-centric restaurant housed in an old winery that specialized in traditional Argentine asado cooked with Mallmann's own "siete fuegos" or "seven fires" methods.
For picadas, Argentina's answer to the Italian meat and cheese plate, it's hard to beat Azafrán just off Mendoza's Plaza Independencia. Even vegetarians will eat well in the middle of this steak-loving nation. Pan y Oliva, the newest offering at the Familia Zucchardi winery, departs from the heavy fare favored in Argentine restaurants in favor of light dishes made from fresh, seasonal ingredients.Lunch at Dominio del Plata winery — Photo courtesy of Biju Sukumaran
Feeling peckish during a winery tour? Many of Mendoza's bodegas now have their own restaurants, where an up-and-coming generation of chefs are elevating the local cuisine to Michelin-quality heights.
casadelvisitante.com (Pan y Oliva)
High Andes Vistas
One thing that sets Mendoza apart from other wine-growing regions is the view – flat expanses of green vines backed by the snow-capped Andes Mountains, all beneath a big, blue sky. While this South American mountain chain certainly makes an attractive backdrop for a wine tasting, it's even more beautiful up close.In summer, you can take a chair lift to the top of an Andes peak for stunning views. — Photo courtesy of Biju Sukumaran
From Mendoza City, it's possible to take a day trip into the high Andes, passing charming mountain towns and historic monuments as you approach the border between Argentina and Chile. Just before you get there, you'll find yourself at the base of Aconcagua, the tallest peak in the Americas at 22,837 feet.
Adventure Sports Galore
There exists a breed of travelers who pass through Mendoza without ever stepping foot in a vineyard. Adventure travelers have been coming to Mendoza for decades to summit Aconcagua, but the region has begun offering other types of adventures as well – activities that are accessible to a broader range of visitors.
During the summer months, snow melt from the mountains fill Mendoza's four main rafting rivers and churning up rapids running the gamut of difficulty. Even when the waters are less than thrilling, floating down the river surrounding by the Andes is exhilarating in itself. Those who prefer to stay dry can choose from ziplining, mountain biking, horseback riding, trekking or paragliding to get their thrills.Paragliding in Mendoza — Photo courtesy of iStock/Thinkstock
When winter rolls around, adventure sports enthusiasts head into the Andes to hit the slopes at one of the ski resorts in the province. Located at 7,350 feet above sea level, Las Leñas Resort is considered by some to be the best ski resort on the continent, with 28 runs serviced by 13 lifts and enough off-piste area to satisfy extreme and cross country skiers.
Olive Oil, a Different Kind of Tasting
Some Mendoza wineries are branching out beyond just grapes. It turns out olive trees are well adapted to Mendoza's desert climate, and olive oil is becoming all the rage. Unlike grapes, which can take years to transform into a finished bottle of wine, olives need only a couple hours to go from tree to bottle.Olive oil tasting at Familia Zuccardi — Photo courtesy of Biju Sukumaran
At Familia Zuccardi, a family-run winery most famous for its innovative wines, Miguel Zuccardi decided to go a different direction than his parents and siblings by diving headfirst into the world of olive oil, and he's convinced it's just as complex and diverse as wine.
After touring the olive mill and learning about the process of producing olive oil, guests can partake in an olive oil tasting to sample three varietals grown at Zuccardi: Frantoio, Manzanillo and Arauco. If you're lucky enough to visit during the olive harvest – typically in late April or early May – you can harvest olives, take them to the mill and produce a bottle of oil to take with you, all in a single afternoon.
Instead of waking up to the sound of honking horns and city buses, stay the night at one of Mendoza's many vineyard resorts, and awaken to bird calls and gentle breezes instead. A stay in a bodega – like Club Tapiz housed in a historic estancia – offers you time to bike through the grapevines or crack open a bottle to enjoy by the pool while gazing at the snow-capped Andes.Club Tapiz invites visitors to stay in a restored estancia in the middle of the vineyards. — Photo courtesy of Club Tapiz
The staff at Club Tapiz even offer complimentary wine tastings in their welcoming living room each evening. By the time you head to dinner in the onsite restaurant, you'll already know what you want to drink.
If you think sipping wine is relaxing, wait until you try a wine-inspired spa treatment. Polyphenols found in grapes are thought to eliminate free radicals from the skin, helping to improve skin tone and elasticity. At the Park Hyatt Mendoza Kaua Spa in the heart of the provincial capital, indulge in a 60-minute Mendoza Wine Body Glow treatment with a red grape body wrap.Wine therepy at Entre Cielos — Photo courtesy of Small Luxury Hotels of the World
Entre Cielos, another bodega hotel, offers a 2-hour Bacchus package that includes a grape seed body exfoliation, wine bath, grape extract body wrap and facial mask, and a 50-minute massage to polish it off. At the Vines Resort & Spa, guests can find their inner bliss with yoga classes out among the vines.
Cook Up a Storm
It's no surprise that wine is the most popular souvenir brought back from Mendoza, but even that special bottle that you plan to age for awhile will eventually get consumed. For a more lasting "souvenir," some of the region's bodega restaurants are inviting visitors into the kitchen to learn about traditional Argentine cooking techniques.Learn to cook in a Mendoza bodega. — Photo courtesy of J.K. Califf
At Norton, a large winery dating back to 1895, the chefs at La Vid restaurant teach dishes like empanadas, grilled meats and a local casserole-style dish meant to be enjoyed with family and friends around a table. The 3-hour cooking class includes a welcome glass of wine and lunch afterward.
Familia Zuccardi offers three cooking class options. Learn to prepare versions of favorite regional dishes at the Casa del Visitante, pick your own vegetables from the organic garden and prepare a fresh , olive oil-inspired lunch at Pan y Oliva, or, if you're traveling with little ones, introduce them to the world of cooking with a kid-friendly pizza- and bread-making program.
A History Lesson
To learn about the history of Argentina, you first must understand the history of Mendoza. Instead of making a beeline for the nearest winery, take a few hours to tour Mendoza City and learn about its history and wine-making heritage, starting with the Incas who constructed the irrigation system responsible for the artificial oasis you see today in an otherwise unforgiving desert.Flag of the Army of the Andes — Photo courtesy of Biju Sukumaran
One of South America's great heroes, José de San Martín, led his army across the Andes from Mendoza to liberate Chile from Spanish rule. You can see the original flag carried by the Army of the Andes on display in front of the government house, and San Martín has been immortalized in a spectacular bronze statue at the top of a hill in the beautiful General San Martín Park.