You’re driving down a dusty, dirt road. You pass orchards full of quinces, pears, and cherries. A slow-moving river is on your left. High mountains, the tops of which are obscured by low-hanging clouds, are in front of you. Everywhere else, there are bright, green vines. Your guess is probably Spain, Germany, or even Austria. But this time, you’re in the Southern Hemisphere. Argentina’s Uco Valley, to be exact.
You’re probably familiar with the Malbecs of Mendoza. You may have even tasted them in Luján de Cuyo or the Maipu Valley. But if you want to experience even tastier wines and more beautiful scenery, you have to get out of Mendoza.
Head south on Ruta Nacional 40, one of the longest roads in the world. Don’t worry, you’re only traveling 55 miles of it. It’s a quiet road with little traffic, horse farms along the side, and righthand views of the Andes. The tallest peak, Aconcagua, is the highest mountain in the world outside of the Himalayas. The area’s vineyards are fed by melting snow that runs down the mountains into the Tunuyán River. The mountain water, combined with the clay-and-rock soil and the vast temperatures differences, create an ideal wine-growing region.
Start your wine tour at O. Fournier, a Spanish-owned winery outside of San Carlos. As you drive through the vines, you start to see a spaceship-like building. In an area known for its sleek, modern wineries, this is the most impressive of them all. During the harvest, trucks drive up the ramp to the top of the building and deposit the grapes, which eventually work their way through the building to the underground French oak barrels for aging. The result is tasty, complex wine. Malbecs, Syrahs, and Syrah-based blends. Don’t miss the art throughout the winery and the tasting room.
You have more delicious reds, as well as a Torrontés and even a Méthode Traditionnelle Brut at Domaine Bousquet Winery. The more traditional winery produces organic wines, and it’s owned by a French family. Tour the expansive, barn-like winery. Take photos in front of the vines–the winery’s 500 acres are located at the base of the Andes. And do a horizontal Malbec tasting from their premium, reserve, and grand reserve lines.
After all the wine, you need some food before you drive back to Mendoza. Follow another dirt road to Tupungato Divino, a small hotel and winery surrounded by vines. A fireplace keeps the restaurant toasty, but since it’s a gorgeous day, grab an outdoor table with an umbrella–you’ll need the shade due to the high-altitude sun. Order a bottle of local wine–preferably from a winery you won’t make it to on this trip, like Bodegas Salentein. The food starts coming. Homemade bread, an assortment of appetizers, freshly caught trout, and more desserts than you could ever eat. By the time you finish, the sun is starting to dip behind the mountains.
As you drive back to Mendoza, you’re already planning your return trip to the Uco Valley. Stay at each winery longer. Go hiking in the Andes. Raft down one of the icy rivers. And plan to stay at one of the wine lodges. You may have a new favorite wine region.