In the last five years, Argentina has emerged as a top vacation destination. The Argentinean peso, which was pegged to the US dollar throughout the 1990’s, was sharply devalued in 2001, overnight making South America’s most expensive destination one of the most affordable. For years the milongas and parillas of Buenos Aires had been closed to all but the most high end of travelers. However, they are now accessible, as is the rest of the country. Argentina’s secrets are being discovered, and one of the best is the wine country of western Argentina.
Mendoza is the capital city of the province of the same name. Bordered by the Andes to the west and the rolling pampas, or plains, to the east it is sunny nearly year round. The dry, sun soaked climate lends itself naturally to grape production, which was introduced by Jesuit Missionaries in the 17th century. And in the four hundred years since, the art of viticulture has been perfected here. Mendoza is arguably the wine capital of South America.
The success of Argentinean wine can be traced to the malbec, a grape introduced in the 19th century by Michel Pouget, a French agricultural engineer. The grape had been grown in France and used as an ingredient for blended wines. However, the climate of Mendoza seemed to suit it, and it took on a new character in the New World. Malbec wines from Mendoza are softer and less bitter than their French cousins.
The ideal wine tour will start in Mendoza proper. The tree lined streets of this city of 110,000 people are shady and delightful, a contrast to the dust and heat of much of the surrounding area. Wine tours of nearby vineyards are easily arrange able, both in Spanish and English, as are tours of the olive oil presses that neighbor many vineyards. A fantastic option is to rent a bicycle in the city and follow a paved bike trail that passes several vineyards, stopping for tours and samples along the way. And there’s no better finish to a hard day’s touring than a meal at a sidewalk cafÃ?Â©, with of course, a bottle of malbec.
Argentina offers some of the planet’s finest wines, something that Argentineans have known for quite a long time but the rest of the wine sipping world is just now discovering. With wines that rival California, France and Australia, and impossible to beat prices, Mendoza should be on the top of every wine enthusiast’s short list.