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ARGENTINA WINE TOUR

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If you are planning a wine tasting tour in Argentina, it's important to understand that Argentina has four major wine regions. Argentina's wine routes zig-zag from north to south, along the western side of the country, parallel to the Andes Mountains.

Harvesting grapes. Bodega Familia Zuccardi, Mendoza.
Harvesting grapes. Bodega Familia Zuccardi, Mendoza.
Credit: Argentina National Institute of Tourism Promotion

"Argentina has a 400-year history of making wine," says Carina Valicati, wine tourism coordinator, Argentina National Institute of Tourism Promotion. "Argentina is a country which produces, consumes and exports wine."

According to the Instituto Nacional de Vitivinicultura, Argentina is the fifth largest producer of wine in the world, the seventh largest wine exporter in the world and the eighth largest wine consumer in the world (eight gallons per capita per year).

Winery tours

There are more than 1,330 wineries in Argentina. "Wineries used to be only producers of wine. Now, about 180 wineries in Argentina offer tours and wine tastings," says Carina Valicati.

You can find information on Argentina wineries, by region, on the Wines of Argentina website.

The Argentina Tourist Office website and Wine Tourism brochure also list wineries open for tours in each region. Wine route (ruta del vino) maps pinpoint winery locations.

For each bodega (Argentina winery), a chart shows if winery visits require prior reservations, if tours are bilingual (Spanish and English), if the winery has restaurants and lodging and if the bodega is open on weekends or only on Saturdays. Codes specify the size of the bodega and the type of wine it produces (e.g., premium, export, organic or regional wine).

Besides offering wine tastings, many wineries encourage you to tour the vineyards on foot, horseback, bicycle or horse-drawn carriage.

Touring vineyards in Mendoza wine country by bicycle
Touring vineyards in Mendoza wine country by bicycle
Credit: Argentina National Institute of Tourism Promotion

Malbec wine

The main grape variety in Argentina red wine is Malbec. Originally grown in the Cahors region of France, Malbec is cultivated in all Argentina wine regions, but especially in Mendoza.

Malbec red wines pair wonderfully with barbecued meat, pasta and cheese. You can drink Malbec wine when it's young and fresh or after it has aged in barrels.

Torrontes wine

The main grape variety for Argentina white wines is the Torrontes. It is cultivated primarily in the Norte wine regions of Salta and La Rioja.

Torrontes white wines are fruity and floral, light to medium-bodied, but dry with a long finish. For wine pairing, Torrontes wines go well with spicy food and Argentina food specialties like empanadas (meat or cheese turnovers) and tamales (meat or cheese-stuffed masa corn dough steamed in corn husks).

Mendoza wine

Eighty per cent of Argentina wines are produced in the Cuyo region, according to Carina Valicati. "Mendoza is one of the Great Wine Capitals of the World, like Napa and Bordeaux. It's a cradle of Malbec wine production."

Eastern Mendoza, with its desert landscapes, has the most vineyards and the highest wine production. The high zone of Mendoza, with the most wineries, is the Malbec wine region, especially in Maipu and Lujan de Cuyo.

La Rioja zone of the Cuyo region produces 40% of the Torrontes Riojano wines. Wineries, like Chanarmuyo Estate, offer tours, wine country lodging and a restaurant.

The San Juan zone of the Cuyo wine region is known for its Syrah wines.

Bodega Chanarmuyo in La Rioja, Cuyo.
Bodega Chanarmuyo in La Rioja, Cuyo.
Credit: Argentina National Institute of Tourism Promotion

Getting to Mendoza from Buenos Aires

"Mendoza is 1,100 kilometers from Buenos Aires (BA)," says Ariel Menniti, area manager with Wines of Argentina, in Mendoza. "Flights cost about $200. Instead of flying or driving between BA and Mendoza, most people take the bus."

He explains that the less expensive overnight business class buses have flat beds and include dinner in their bus fares. The bus trip from Buenos Aires to Mendoza takes 13 hours.

High altitude wine

The Norte wine region of Argentina is famous for high altitude wines (vinos de altura). Most high altitude wine is produced in the Calchaqui valleys, at 1,700 meters above sea level, especially in Cafayate.

"The higher vineyards receive more intensive sun exposure," says Carina Valicate. "The wide range, between day and night temperatures, stresses the grapes, so they work harder to develop excellent aromas and color."

In the Salta wine region, Colome, Tacuil and Payogasta have some of the highest vineyards in the world, between 2,200 and 3,015 meters above sea level. Wineries, such as Bodegas El Porvenir in Cafayate, offer wine tasting.

Bodega El Porvenir de los Andes. Cafayate, Salta.
Bodega El Porvenir de los Andes. Cafayate, Salta.
Credit: Argentina National Institute of Tourism Promotion

Patagonia Argentina

"Patagonia is a new Argentina wine region," says Carina Valicati. "There was nothing here 10 years ago, but now this southern region of Argentina has state-of-the-art wineries."

Neuquen and Rio Negro, along the 39th parallel, are known for pinot noir wines. You can see the luscious purple grapes in vineyards, like those at Bodega del Fin del Mundo in San Patricio del Chanar, about 70 km from Neuquen city.

The southernmost vineyards in the world are at El Hoyo, Chubut, on the 42nd parallel.

Grapes in Bodega Del Fin del Mundo vineyard. Neuquen, Patagonia.
Grapes in Bodega Del Fin del Mundo vineyard. Neuquen, Patagonia.
Credit: Argentina National Institute of Tourism Promotion

Cordoba Argentina

Wines from the central Cordoba wine region, along with salami and cheeses brought in by Italian immigrants, are popular with Argentineans.

Jesuit priests first planted vineyards near Colonia Caroya in the early 17th century. Today, you can see UNESCO Jesuit Estates, built between 1616 and 1725 in Cordoba. The oldest is Caroya Estate.

Wine museum

Jesuits also planted vineyards in the northern Salta wine region in the 18th century. You can learn about the history of wine making in Argentina at several wine museums.

Santiago Graffigna Wine Museum is located in the city of San Juan, in the Cuyo wine region. Built in a traditional winery, it uses films, photos, old wine-making equipment and tools to demonstrate 19th-century wine making in Argentina.

San Felipe Wine Museum is also in the Cuyo wine region. It houses 5,000 original wine presses, books and wine-making tools.

In the Norte wine region, The Wine and Vine Museum, in Cafayate, documents wine making in Salta. It displays large earthen jars, once used for fermenting wines, old barrels, winemaking equipment and photos of the region's early winemakers.

Wine therapy

Some hotels, spas and lodgings on Argentina wine routes offer wine therapy, such as Malbec or Torrontes wine baths. Spa therapists give anti-aging facials and massages, using spa products derived from grapes.

Wine spa in Patios de Cafayate, Bodega El Esteco, Norte.
Wine spa in Patios de Cafayate, Bodega El Esteco, Norte.
Credit: Argentina National Institute of Tourism Promotion

Argentina wine spas include Patios de Cafayate Hotel & Spa at Bodega El Esteco in Cafayate (Norte region) and Bodega Valle Perdido & Wine Spa in San Patricio del Chanar (Neuquen, Patagonia).

Wine festival

In Mendoza, the Fiesta de la Vendimia, or Grape Harvest Festival, is held on the first weekend in March, annually. Thousands of people come to Mendoza to watch performances in the Fray Romero Day amphitheater, parades, tributes to the patron saint of vineyards (Carrodilla Virgin) and the crowning of the Grape Harvest Queen.

Argentina grape harvest dates range from January to April, depending on the location and altitude of the wine region. You can visit wineries year-round, not just during the grape harvest.

Wine country lodging

"Some Argentina wineries now have boutique hotels next to their vineyards," says Carina Valicate. "These winery hotels offer cooking classes and activities like tango in the vineyards at Easter time.

"The lodging infrastructure is very good, with three- and four-star hotels. Many boutique hotels and wineries have unique architecture, ranging from colonial mansions to modern designs."

Winery hotels in Argentina include Bodega y Estancia Colomé, in Molinos, which is in the Norte Salta wine region. Guests can go horseback riding, hiking and mountain biking. Estancia Colomé restaurant serves fruit and vegetables grown on the ranch and Argentinean food specialties, like suckling pig and Andean potatoes roasted in an earth oven.

Bodega Colome. Salta, Norte.
Bodega Colome. Salta, Norte.
Credit: Argentina National Institute of Tourism Promotion

Culinary vacations

"Argentina is a gourmet destination," says Carina Valicati. "We are developing culinary tours. Besides amazing winery restaurants and cooking classes, you can follow the olive route."

The olive season in Argentina is in June. San Rafael and Maipu, in Mendoza, and San Juan have the best developed olive routes. Visitors can participate in the olive harvest and olive oil production and enjoy olive oil-based spa treatments.

Visitors can also sample goat cheeses, especially in the north, and tour factories that make sun-dried raisins, tomatoes and peppers. La Rioja produces delicious nuts, while San Juan fields grow aromatic herbs.

Pairing the regional wines of Argentina with local foods in restaurants and wine bars is a highlight of any Argentina food and wine tour. Don't miss empanadas (baked or fried turnovers), locro (a thick corn soup made with dried beef, potatoes and pumpkin) and carbonades (beef stew with vegetables).

You will likely discover some memorable Argentinean wine and food pairings, such as Cafayate Reserve Torrontes with tamal norteno (northern-style tamales). Another perfect wine and food match is the sweet citrus and peach flavors of Estchart Torrontes Late Harvest wine with the creaminess of dulce de leche (caramelized milk) desserts.

Locro, an Argentinean food specialty.
Locro, an Argentinean food specialty.
Credit: Ministerio de Turismo de Salta

Argentina sightseeing

Carina Valicate recommends combining wine tours with other Argentina attractions, like art museums (e.g., Complejo Cultural Kilka at Salentein Winery in Valle de Uco, Mendoza). Wineries and vineyards are also the setting for cultural programs, such as Classical Music through the Wine Trails in Eastern Mendoza.

Along Argentina wine routes, you can enjoy fishing, golf and adventure tours, including rafting, mountain biking and trekking. Tournaments, such as the antique car Rally of the Wineries, the Marathon of the Wineries and the Mendoza Polo Tournament of the Wineries, also take place in vineyard locations.

Driving tour

One of the most important driving routes through Argentina wine country is Route 40. The 5,000-km road brings you from north to south, along the Andes, through 11 provinces and the Norte, Cuyo and Patagonia wine regions.

Route 40 crosses 236 bridges and 27 Andean passes. The drive accesses 20 Argentina National Parks and Reserves, reaches 13 large lakes and salt flats and crosses 18 major rivers.

In Northern Argentina, part of Route 40 overlaps the Adobe Route, which brings you through Catamarca wine country and past historic adobe buildings and ruins.

"Tourists, who visit Argentina and tour the wine routes, will find affordable hotel options," says Carina Valicati. "Argentina also offers tourists a 21% VAT tax refund program."


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Argentina Tourist Information: www.argentina.travel

Wines of Argentina: www.winesofargentina.com

More things to see & do in Argentina:

Buenos Aires

On a Hoof and a Prayer - Exploring Argentina at a Gallop

Iguazú Falls