Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Mendoza Wine Tasting

As I mentioned last week, Mendoza is home to over 1,200 different wineries. So we couldn't spend 4 days here and not do a wine tasting or two.

On Monday, we went to the Luján de Cuyo wine district about 30 minutes outside of downtown Mendoza.

Obviously being WAY underage, I had to skip out on the actual tastings, but I enjoyed the wine tours through the wineries. Since my parents had nothing to do that day, I invited them to come along.

Booking a Driver
Unlike Napa Valley with 1 primary road connecting the vineyards, Mendoza is more chaotic in its city planning. There were many dirt/gravel roads that criss-crossed various paved highways. The wineries had no signs detailing where the entrances were. Plus, Argentine drivers aren't known for their safety records. And to my shock and amazement, people drink wine when they visit the vineyards! Short story - we were going to need a driver.

We had read great things about a local guide/driver named Miguel Sanz (j_miguelsanz@hotmail.com) and his "company," Driving Mendoza Wine Tours. Unfortunately, my father didn't plan ahead and emailed 1 day before (on Easter Sunday!).

Miguel was booked for Monday but quoted us $180 USD (cash) for his colleague to take us to 4 wineries from 9AM-4PM. Not a horrible price (we sure weren't in SE Asia anymore), but unfortunately we didn't have that many US dollars with us.

So when we asked how much in Argentine pesos, he quoted us the Blue Dollar exchange rate (7:1) which was 1,260 pesos. That meant we'd have to pull pesos from an ATM, which my bank would translate as a $252 US dollar withdrawl from my checking account. Now you see why you should bring US Dollars to Argentina!

I had my father call downstairs to the Hyatt Concierge to quote us a driver to take us around.  We told them we only wanted to see 2 wineries but have lunch at one of them. They came back with a driver for 1,020 Argentine pesos ($204 USD using the official dollar exchange rate). And most importantly to my points/miles obsessed father, we could charge it to the hotel room and pay at the end (with a points earning t
ravel credit card). My Asian father immediately started doing the math...Oh how nerds love math.
  • 5 Hyatt points per $ charge + 2 Chase UR points for using their Sapphire Preferred to pay for a hotel expense meant 7 points per dollar. 
  • 7 x $204 USD = 1,428 points. 
  • Each point got him 2-3 cents of value when redeemed, so that was a "rebate" of $28-42 USD. 
  • That meant he'd be getting a 14%-21% discount if he could charge it to his room. SOLD!

Wine Tours
Unfortunately, we decided to do the wine tour on Easter Sunday, so we couldn't call to make reservations for Monday until Monday morning. They don't all require reservations for wine tours, but it's always better to book one. This was crucial in our case since Tuesday April 2 was an Argentine holiday (following Good Friday and Easter Sunday), and many clever Buenos Airians (?) decided to make it an extra long weekend.

So our concierge booked us for an 11AM tour at Achaval Ferrer and a 12:30PM lunch at Belasco de Banquedano. I should have mentioned earlier that my father doesn't know anything about wine except that that there's red and white wines. My mother was a bit more sophisticated in her tastes, but was more of a wine sipper than a drinker. But when in Rome...

Our first stop was Achaval Ferrer (Calle Cobos 2601, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza). We arrived just before 11 and were introduced by our driver to the tour guides. They put us in a group of 10 adults (and 1 cute baby) and head into the winery to see how the wine was made and tried a few of their wines right from the French oak barrels. Even though the wines were only half aged in the barrrels, they already had a nice taste to them, so you'd expect them to be exceptional when they're aged fully for another 9 months in the barrel and then another year in a bottle.

As you can see, I wanted to try some of this fancy wine, but my parents didn't trust me with the glass stemware until I could stop dropping my plastic Avent bottle. The tour ended in the tasting room where we tried some finished product and got the sales pitch to buy some bottles/cases to take back home. Nice try, but my father's the guy who actually convinced a Time Share salesman that his pitch needed work!

Next on our itinerary was Belasco De Banquedano (Cobos 8260, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina) for lunch and wine pairing. When we arrived, the lobby was pretty full. There wasn't much space by the lobby bar where a dozen tourists (mostly from the US) were enjoying rather pricey tastings.

Belasco was much larger winery and more professionally run than Achaval Ferrer. They had uniformed staff and the space was clearly made to cater to a large number of visitors on wine tours.

Our driver told them we had a lunch reservation and shortly after looking around the lobby, we were escorted upstairs to the 3rd floor dining room that overlooked the Andes Mountains and the vineyards we drove past when we arrived. It was a prix-fixe menu with 5 courses paired with a different wine for each course. We didn't check prices beforehand, but our lunch ended up being 270 Argentine pesos ($54 USD) per person, but you could make the case that it was well worth the price for a 5 course lunch with wine pairings (see wine list below). Nevertheless, my parents were starving and didn't have much choice. 

I was sleeping through the 1.5 hour ordeal so I didn't get to try any of it except the dessert at the very end. But from what my parents tell me (and the photos), it looked tastier than my usual mushed bananas and soy milk.

So after the decadent lunch, it was close to 3PM and my parents had their fill of malbecs. We could have waited for the formal BdeB winery tour, but decided to just head back to the hotel and enjoy our suite for 1 more night before we checked out early the next morning.


  1. This looked like a wonderful experience. The food looks delicious. Wine Testing. And touring in Spain just sounds heavenly. We love wine tastings and one of our favorite tours are always with the smaller wineries.

  2. We highly recommend it even for people who don't love wine. We ourselves aren't big oenophiles but we had a great time.

  3. Thanks for sharing your wonderful experience. Fantastic post. Your links in this are wonderful. I went via all this and I very many thanks for your wonderful experience.

    Devon wine tour

    1. @ Andrew - thank you for the kind words.