As I left Córdoba to make my way to Mendoza, the principal city of western Argentina and a world-famous wine region, I tried for once to be a prudent traveler and book a hostel in advance of my arrival. I’d exchanged emails with Hostel Independencia , a recommendation I’d received from several different travelers (I’ve taken to contacting hostels directly to avoid online booking fees while in Argentina, as my cash dollas snatch a much higher exchange rate); on arrival, sleepy and coffee-deprived after a 16-hour overnight haul, I was informed that my reservation had never actually been confirmed, and they indeed did not have space for me. So much for planning ahead.
Fortunately, this little setback turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We were redirected to a hostel 4 blocks down the road called Punto Urbano, which not only offered the exact same services and commodities (one of the best free hostel breakfasts I’ve had so far, a great outdoor common area, and freeflow wine every night from 8-9pm) but also housed a friendly bunch of travelers who helped turn my grumpy mood around the moment I walked through the door (the coffee didn’t hurt either).
I’d come to Mendoza for one reason and one reason only: to drink a ton of delicious wine. Being in the heart of wine country means that not only is the wine plentiful, it’s cheap. Many set lunch menus included a glass in the price, meaning you could get a starter, a main, a dessert AND a glass of wine, sometimes for as little as 60 pesos (translation: less than $6USD). And we found some amazing steals in the supermarkets…I’m talking 2 bottles of Argentinian Malbec for…wait for it…$3USD. Uh, screw heaven, when I die I want to go to Mendoza.
An especially enjoyable way to experience the region is to rent a bicycle and tour yourself around through quaint little towns and vineyards on the outskirts of the city, stopping at wineries for tastings. I’d done my research regarding this matter (always prudent when it comes to wine) and was fully prepared to head to an area known as Maipú to rent bikes from a man known as Mr. Hugo whose company receives nothing but rave reviews online. A hostel employee threw a wrench in that plan, however, when she informed us there was another area called Luján de Cuyo; she assured us that even though the bus ride to get there was longer and the bike rentals were pricier, it was MUCH less touristy and MUCH more beautiful than Maipú. I was skeptical that there would be much of a difference, but the rest of the group seemed convinced.
So around 11am, a group of 5 of us set off to see what Luján de Cuyo had to offer. It was a bit of a late start to the day considering we first had to buy food for lunch, wait for the bus that seemingly never came (we eventually decided a bottle-of-wine-while-we’re-waiting was a good idea, only to miss the first bus we’d seen in about 45 minutes), ride the bus for an hour only to get dropped off 5km past where we were meant to go, hitchhike back to the town where we would rent the bikes, rent the bikes, then pedal our way to destination number one.
BUT we did arrive at Alta Vista winery with ample time to eat our lunch before their 1-hour tour and tasting began at 3. We had to bike quite some distance to the next winery on our itinerary however, so we took off again as soon as the tasting finished. The second winery was located on a busy commercial street, not in the middle of a beautiful vineyard like some others we passed but, well, the tasting was free. In our frantic attempt to get there before it closed, we managed to pass by the place 3 or 4 times before finally finding it tucked discreetly between a couple of warehouse buildings, but it was well worth the effort. At Bodega Carmelo Patti, we were greeted by the man himself who led us through a truly heartfelt discussion and tasting of his artisenal wines. Despite all of his humble-bragging (his wines have won several awards in Argentina–he doesn’t export) I was thoroughly charmed and was hoping to buy a bottle from him in the end. Unfortunately, at 400-700 pesos each, I couldn’t splurge.
By this point, all the wineries were closed for the day and we had to return the bikes to the rental shop, so our grand total of wineries visited reached a whopping 2.
We left Luján de Cuyo having purchased 0 bottles of wine, but we spent a day getting some exercise in the beautiful sunshine with a good group of people and lauged a lot along the way. If my dwindling budget weren’t an issue, I would have happily visited Maipú as well on another day, you know, for comparison’s sake…I guess there’s always next time.