Mendoza, Argentina Wine Tasting?
My wife and I are visiting Mendoza for four days this March. it will be our first time in Argentina.
For the majority of our time in Mendoza we would like to focus on wine tasting. I have the info on two well-reviewed drivers, who I'm sure know what they are doing, but I would also like some independent advice.
I visit Napa and Sonoma regularly (sample tasting report here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/813883) and have been to tastings in many other places. So, our real focus is the wine - not the tourist experience of a "tour" or a high-end property. We want to try the best wines, ideally by smaller producers who don't export much, from the best producers. If that means a lovely property, great, but that is not the focus.
I can't admit to having very deep knowledge of Argentine wine at all. I could name a handful of bottles I buy regularly and a few of the big producers like Catena, but I really don't know much.
If anyone has been and has particular producers they'd recommend, or other ideas, your help would be most appreciated.
I am probably not the wine expert you are, but I have been to a number of wine tours/vineyards both in the US and outside of the US. When I went to Mendoza, I used Medoza Wine Tours and I had an incredible time.
I did both the Uco Valley Wine Experience and the Lujan de Cuyo Tasting Experience. I thought the guides were very knowledgable and interesting. Both had worked in the wine industry and were fully of all sorts of information. I don't have list of wineries we visited with me, but it was well organized, with generous pours, great food, etc.
They offer private tours but I just wanted to give you an example of how great they were: there was a guy on our tour of 6 people who wanted to go to Catena Zapata and have the 2006 Angelica. The arranged for us to go there, taste that specific wine plus 5 others, and we got to finish all of the bottles. And that was just at 1 place. It wasn't my favorite spot of all of them, but I thought it was pretty great that the were able to arrange for us to go, sit in the cellar room, and drink a bunch of wine! (note: I remember paying closer to $110 for my tours but I could be wrong - still a great deal based on the food and the wine!)
It has been a few years, but my wife and I spent 4 days in Mendoza to do exactly what you are planning. We stayed at Cavas Wine Lodge, which I cannot recommend enough! We travel all over the world on wine trips, and typically I make all of my own appointments, but Cavas organized all of our visits in Mendoza. After our first 2 days of tasting, the owner of the hotel added a winery, Mendel, based on our preference for small boutique producers, and it was our favorite visit of the trip. We also enjoyed Cobos (barrel tasting), Achaval Ferrer (also barrel tasting), and VistAlba, which is Carlos Pulenta's winery - the Corte A is amazing! There is also a fantastic restaurant at VistAlba called La Bourgogne for a fancy dinner. Catena Zapata gives your typical Napa tour, and you can pay to taste premium wines, but we were disappointed with the visit. You should also plan to visit Dominio del Plata (Susana Balbo's winery) and Kaiken - the people there are the best! If Cavas makes your arrangements for you, ask if you can have lunch at Lagarde winery - the wines are not the best, but this was possibly the most memorable meal of our entire week in Argentina. Have a great time! Argentina is one of our favorite wine trips ever!
Did your tour several years ago, and decided to visit Achaval- Ferrer, Bressia, Luca, and Escorihuela-Gascon (the latter to eat at Francis Mallman's 1884 for lunch, where he was manning the huge grill). We booked a driver (Pedro Queroga (sp?) thru The Vines of Mendoza. He was very knowledgeable, and had a big new car. I forget the cost (?$100), but he was worth it. Told him where we wanted to go, and in what order. These vineyards were great choices. The best Malbec, to our surprise, was the Luca ($70), followed by Bressia's Conjuro. Achaval- Ferrer's Finca Altamira was excellent, but not at twice the price, and the Gascon was quite serviceable at $10.
With your experience, you may not need the high end tasting at Vines of Mendoza, which didn't include these vineyards, and wasn't as good quality as these wines, but is worthwhile for a novice.
Mendoza is much closer to Stellenbosch quality than Pomerol/ St. Emilion, but worth the visit.
Argentina's a great country to visit. Hope you'll have time for Iguazu Falls, Bariloche, Perito Moreno glacier, and maybe even Ushuaia, for a Beagle dark beer. The tango palaces of BsAs are fun, and after a steak at Las Lilas, you must try the molecular Vineria de Gualtiero Bolivar. My only disappointment was the Teatro Colon, after a 10 year renovation.
We were in Mendoza last year about this time and frankly went to so many wineries that they are all a bit of a blur to me.
What I strongly recommend is a vist to Francis Mallman's 1854 restaurant. It was one of the very best I have been to EVER. Expensive by Argentinian standards, very reasonable to us. The mushroom risotto was.....well, let's just say I will likely never order this again anywhere else as I have reached the apex of flavor. You will not regret going there-promise.