Although Mendoza, Argentina, is off the tourism map compared to Buenos Aires –– its much bigger and more visited urban counterpart –– this small city is definitely ready for its close up.
The capital of Argentina’s Mendoza province offers all the things I like about cities –– great cafes and restaurants, hip boutiques, picturesque squares and fun people-watching –– with a foodie bonus: There are hundreds of wineries located just outside the city limits.
I visited Mendoza recently for Masters of Food and Wine, a four-day culinary event sponsored by the Park Hyatt Mendoza that features local cuisine and wines.
The event pairs local chefs with professionals from around the world, and includes dinners at local wineries, cooking classes and even a polo exhibition. But really any time of the year is a good one for a food- and wine-focused visit.
Surrounding the city are rolling hills dotted with hundreds of vineyards and olive groves, with the Andes as a dramatic backdrop. Starting at the Mendoza limits, the elevation steadily rises towards the Andes, creating a series of microclimates.
Braised lamb dish at Zuccari Family Winery; by M. Alvarez
The varied weather allows winemakers to grow a wider range of complex and balanced varietals than one might find in other wine-growing regions of the country.
The result is a greater number of wines –– notably chardonnay, tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon –– beyond Argentina’s more typical Malbec. Mendoza’s thousands of acres of vines also depend not on rainfall, but on snow melting off the jagged range separating Argentina from Chile.
Among my favorite stops on my wine tour were the Zuccari Family Winery, a top exporter that’s still run by father, Jose Alberto, and his children, Sebastian, Miguel and Julia.
There, I enjoyed a fabulous lunch, as part of the Masters event, featuring braised lamb with endive, pumpkin marmalade and mushrooms, and a dessert of organic caviar with raspberry yolk and eucalyptus ice cream.
Other worthwhile stops included Rotini Wines, which dates to 1885 and is one of the county’s oldest and biggest wineries, and Terrazas de los Andes, which offers a six-room guest house for anyone who wants to have an authentic estancia experience.
Plaza Independencie; courtesy of Secretaria de Turismo de Mendoza
After sipping and tasting in the mountains all day, I returned to my hotel on the city’s main Plaza Independencia for a proper siesta, before heading out for an evening’s stroll.
The pedestrian-only Aristides Villanueva became a favorite destination for its lively all-night bars and upscale restaurants.
But even a foodie can’t live on great meals and wine alone: I also took advantage of the huge selection of handmade leather goods, and snapped up a purse that was priced to move at a trendy boutique.