Argentina is rightly famous for producing several high quality items for export: beef, soccer players, dance moves, and, increasingly, wine. But when it comes to the land of asado, Messi, Tango and Malbec, there’s no substitute for a visit to the source. Fortunately for wine lovers, there’s a new way to get to Mendoza, the hub of the region whence comes almost two-thirds of the wine made in Argentina, and this high-altitude province of sunshine and epic vistas at the foothills of the Andes mountains is begging to be explored.
Copa Airlines’ new route from Panama City is Mendoza’s first direct connection to a country that doesn’t share a land border with Argentina, meaning getting from the northern hemisphere to “the Napa Valley of Argentina,” as the region around Mendoza is inevitably called, is that much easier. When you make the trip, here are four wineries—or bodegas as the Argentine’s call them—you won’t want to miss.
1. The new route makes accessible some truly unique experiences, like the winery Casa El Enemigo, located in Maipú just outside of Mendoza. And no, that is not a grammatical error—the winery truly is an experience in and of itself. Beyond the vineyards and fermentation tanks typical of any wine-making operation, the people at El Enemigo have turned the grounds of the winery into an art gallery. There’s art absolutely everywhere—hanging on the walls, embedded in the walls, hanging from above or sitting on the lawn—much of it organized in homage to Dante’s Divine Comedy. A tour of the space will take you from sunny, organic gardens with stone benches, olive trees and rose bushes among grape vines, into a candlelit wine cellar with aging barrels and macabre images drawn right into an old ledger book, before you emerge out of the inferno and back into the world on the expansive, manicured lawn. With a fabulous, high-end restaurant on site and spaces for relaxing on the lawn—perhaps over a bottle of the outstanding cabernet franc blend “Gran Enemigo”—Casa El Enemigo is a destination in its own right and one worth an entire afternoon.
2. Just south of Mendoza is Bodega Septima, a winery that specializes in sparkling wines, though I preferred the reds myself, especially their Malbec-Gewürztraminer blend in the Confiado series (the bottles of which are all graced with lovely whimsical labels). The operation is housed in a building meant to evoke the ancient architectural style of the local indigenous people, and has an expansive raised patio surrounded by vineyards on three sides with the Andes in the distance.
3. To the west of Mendoza is Gran Hotel Potrerillos, a classic and sprawling hotel dating to 1940. The place was closed during the economic crisis of 2000 and only recently reopened, and thank goodness for that. The 45 acre grounds are stunning. Situated on on a hill, the hotel’s swimming pool overlooks its Malbec vineyard. Behind that is a seasonal reservoir of glassy water coming straight off the Andes, which begin at the far bank.
4. Entre Cielos is a vineyard, a hotel and more—a yoga retreat, a series of playful, interconnected gardens including a pool and a fire pit where empanada-making classes are held, and a an Argentine-cuisine restaurant. The real star, though, is the traditional hammam, where guests can indulge in “vinotherapy,” including such extravagant spa treatments as a “wine bath” and “grape seed body exfoliation.”
BONUS: Other adventures in the area abound. The region around Mendoza is also known for its olive oil industry, especially of the Arauco variety, a bolder olive oil typical of Argentina that’s hard to find elsewhere. The city of Mendoza itself is home to an expansive city park, and streets lined with Jacaranda trees, which bloom once a year in an explosion of magnificent purple.
Due to its much drier climate, Jacaranda bloom in Mendoza lasts for significantly longer than the more well known bloom in Buenos Aires. This being Argentina, a long strip of hopping nightlife, from clubs to outdoor restaurants to Irish-style pubs, can be found along Aristides Villanueva, but with a population just over 100,000 Mendoza is, at heart, a hub for the agricultural region surrounding it. And out there—in the mountains, the vineyards, the olive groves—is where the real adventures await.