Wine Tours in Argentina
We would like to thank our guest writer Verity Taylor for this descriptive article about Wine Tours to Argentina.
Sitting on the verandah of the cosy and private Posada Salentein I sipped a wonderful, warming Pinot Noir and nibbled on delicious, home-made empanadas while contemplating the view of the snow-capped Andes. I turned to our local guide (who also had a small vineyard) and asked whether I would be able to find their own beautiful Manos Negras Argentina wine in the UK. As a small producer, I guessed that the answer would be no, but the nature of the reason surprised me – I could find it, they said, in the USA but not in Europe as the import duties were simply too much. Welc0me to Wine Tours in Argentina
This has sadly been the case until very recently. Hugh Johnson’s The World Atlas of Wine has only twelve pages devoted to South America, specifically Argentina and Chile, and even the latest edition of his pocket book has ten pages on the entire continent, detailed in the contents page as “Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Other South American wines”, compared to twenty-six for the United States and eighty-two for France alone.
This is slowly changing as the gastronomic scene expands and we become accustomed to Merlot with our succulent grilled steaks, and with the rise of a few large and now recognisable names, but there are some delicious vintages yet to be sampled not only in the relatively well-known areas of Chile and Argentina, but also the small country of Uruguay.
Best-known for the sandy beaches of its coastal regions and the fashionable but busy resort of Punta del Este, Uruguay borders Argentina to the South and Brazil to the North and is subject to the cooling winds of the Atlantic ocean with its Antarctic currents. The result is a climate not unlike that of the Bordeaux, and it produces wines more akin to those of Europe than its continental neighbours.
With a comparatively small output, harvesting only around 73 thousand tonnes a year (Argentina easily exceeds 1.5 million), the 21 vineyards which have together formed the Wines of Uruguay organisation represent nearly the entire international export from this underrated country. The association gathers together producers from around the country, and alongside promoting their wines abroad also encourages them to invest in their local bodegas, with new tasting rooms, restaurants and shops where visitors can enjoy their wines.
It is possible, with a little effort, to find some of these wines such as those produced by Marichal or the De Lucca family in the UK, but there’s nothing quite like sitting at the producer’s table and savouring the flavours of the land around you.
As well as its wine, Uruguay is a country worth giving some time to with as much of a gaucho culture as Argentina and a proud African heritage which links it to its northern neighbour Brazil. This history is most evident in the candombe music of Carnival (Easter weekend) in Montevideo where the Desfile de las Llamadas (Parade of the Calls) is a major event with tickets selling well in advance for the best seats. Uruguay does, of course, also have some beautiful beaches both at Punta del Este and also the lesser-known area of Jose Ignacio where the beautiful private residence of Playa VIK offers complete relaxation with views out over the wide Atlantic ocean. For a little more action, a visit to Estancia VIK only ten minutes away combines the beach with gaucho culture, where you can learn polo even if you have never held a mallet before tasting some of the best steak in the country cooked over an open fire under the stars.
A visit to Uruguay is easily combined with the country’s southern neighbour Argentina by means of a short flight from Montevideo or even better, a boat ride from the UNESCO World Heritage town of Colonia to Buenos Aires on the other side of the River Plate (Rio de la Plata). I recommend spending a night in Colonia to soak up the atmosphere in the quiet evening streets.
Buenos Aires itself of course, has much to offer. The fantastic Faena hotel is within walking distance of the centre of the city and also boasts a wonderful spa in which to relax after a hard day’s exploring. Take in the eclectic and intimate Rojo Tango show in its basement or sample the tasting menu at the chef’s table of Buenos Aires institution the Alvear Palace. And don’t forget a night at the opera after exploring Recoleta’s cemetery – a city in miniature where you can find Evita’s grave among the marble mausoleums and tree-lined boulevards.
A short drive out of Buenos Aries and you are once again in gaucho country where you can relax and enjoy the hospitality of some of the best estancias in Argentina. Estancia Los Patos is a favourite, with its warm lodge where you can relax after an afternoon hunting or horseriding over a glass of wine and perhaps, in season, savouring the fruits of the day’s hunt.
Mendoza wine region, Argentina
Further afield the wine region of Mendoza is a delight with many vineyards to explore, from small, two-person operations to large internationally renowned names, but I would also suggest a visit to the north-west of the country and the area around Salta. Although it can be a little trickier than other areas to get around, this beautiful, unspoilt region not only has some little-known vignerons, but also a distinctly different feel, more similar in culture to Bolivia only a few hours drive to the north. Take a week and explore the unknown salt flats and desert landscapes, so similar to those of Chile and Bolivia but without the crowds, before heading back to the green vineyards of Cafayate.
On top of the wine-producing regions the country still has some gastronomic tricks up her sleeve. A flight to El Calafate in the south and you are into glacier country, and the home to some of the best lamb on the continent. Sip a whiskey on the rocks, with ice from the majestic Perito Moreno glacier, or explore a traditional estancia before heading back to the cosy Eolo for an unforgettable meal with a view over the surrounding mountains.
This is just a sample of Argentina – I haven’t even mentioned the stark but wildlife-rich areas around Puerto Madryn with its whales and elephant seals, the awe-inspiring Iguazu Falls on the border with Brazil, or Bariloche with its lush alpine terrain, sky-blue lakes and great skiing in winter.
For me Argentina is all about the landscapes and the tastes. From those empanadas with a view of the Andes in Mendoza, to succulent lamb at the foot of the world in Ushuaia, from welsh classic bara brith while watching whales in Chubut, to the taste of mate tea, drunk through a silver straw in hot, bitter sips, the landscape and the gastronomy go hand in hand. From coca leaves en route to the beautiful salt flats of Salta to chimichurri and steak in Buenos Aires or the tropical fruits of the jungles around Iguazu Falls, take the time to savour the true flavour of the place.
Argentina is a vast and varied country, and combined with its neighbours could take years to explore in depth, but every region, and every taste, is worth the time. Every meal I have ever eaten there has been a great experience, and the landscapes will take your breath away. I suggest you go – explore and taste your way into South America with an alfajor in your pocket!
Pope&Sons arrange private or group wine and gastronomy tours in Argentina , Chile and Uruguay. Please contact us to create something unique.