Tim Foolery

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Wine Tasting in Mendoza – Uco Valley

Planning the Tasting

The main reason we decided to visit Mendoza was for the wine.  We wanted a full day of tasting and we didn’t want to end up at the big producers – we wanted to see smaller operations.  Two months before our trip, I started reaching out to various wine tour operators and was very disappointed.  Of the six groups, only one ever responded to my several emails.  I found these tour guides through general internet searches and through TripAdvisor.  The one who did respond offered us a tour option that wasn’t a good fit.  Their suggested tour included a large 45+ person tour bus.  We wanted a more curated experience.

I then reached out to the Park Hyatt Mendoza for guidance. Within the hour I had received a quick questionnaire to help tailor my experience.  The following day I had received a proper quote for a private tour including driver/guide and vehicle.  The tastings and meals were separate and would be paid at each stop.

The price for this experience was AR5270 or 137USD.  Considering the alternatives, this was a really great option. A much better fit than the massive tour bus option.

The Tour

The day of the tour arrived and we met our guide in the lobby of the Park Hyatt.  Our guide was a retired energy consultant who spent most of his career acting as a mining consultant in Argentina, Peru and Bolivia.  He was a round and jovial man, who laughed with nearly every sentence he spoke.  He was welcoming and very knowledgeable about the region, its history and the people.  Like many people we interacted with in Argentina, their dislike of Bolivians wasn’t hidden.  I was taken aback by the near immediate and frequent racist comments about Bolivians.  It was awful.

Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
The breathtaking views of the Andes

As we left Mendoza, our guide told us of the history of the region, including the original Spanish settlers and the more recent Italian and German immigrants.  Our first stop was a gas station about 20 minutes outside of town – we needed to get water, lots of water for the day.  Because of the altitude, the temperature and the relative dryness of the area, we were quite parched.  Plus an entire day of drinking wine wouldn’t help us in that regard.

We continued on to our first destination in the Uco Valley.  We chose Uco as we really wanted to step outside of the city and being only an hour away, it wouldn’t eat up a large portion of our day just getting there. 

La Azul – Tasting

Our first stop was La Azul.  A small family producer that greeted us very warmly upon our arrival.  This wasn’t a tiny producer – there were several other tasting tourists there.  We sat down with a group of Americans, who were also staying at the Park Hyatt Mendoza.  It is such a small world. The guy who sat in front of my on the flight from Buenos Aires to Mendoza was part of this group.  He was much nicer today, when he wasn’t slamming his seat into my knees.

We worked our way through a couple of tasting with a member of the winemaker’s family. She was a bit robotic and on autopilot, but she was able to provide us some fun details on the wine, the vineyard and production. 

After tasting a few bottles we moved on to their production facility where we were able to do a barrel tasting.  This was definitely more for show and offered no real substance, but it was fun nonetheless.

We enjoyed the wine at La Azul and picked up a few bottles to take home.

Gimenez Riili – Tasting and Lunch

Our next stop was Gimenez Riili.  It took us about 40 minutes to travel between the vineyards.  Again, like at La Azul we were greeted very warmly – like old friends.  Perhaps it’s because our guide did indeed know everyone we were meeting with.  By extension we were family.  As with any proper family visit, you should be greeted with some sparkling wine, right?

Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
Enjoying the sun while we wait for lunch.

The views at Gimenez Riili were utterly spectacular.  The Andes Mountains looming like giants in the distance.  Purple mountains majesty never felt so real than in this moment.

Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
Bottles all prepped for our lunch tastings
Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
Prepping plates for lunch at Gimenez Riili.

Our tasting was also our lunch for the day.  We dine alfresco at small tables under trees in the vineyard.  This meal reminded me so much of our time at IPNC.  Honestly, even the Argentine weather in November reminded me much of Oregon in July.  The sun baking down on our skin, dry, but not drying.  It was one of those battery recharging moments for me.

Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
Enjoying bubbles while the beef ribs cook

The Meal

The meal was spectacular. Not surprising, but it was a very meat centric meal.  Our slow and casual lunch was filled with beautiful wines, stellar views and such warm and welcoming service.  The food was no slouch either.  We ate and ate. 

Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
The alfresco table setting at Gimenez Riili
Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
Starter spreads for our lunch tasting
Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
River Trout ceviche with mustard
Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
Bring on the meat!
Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
A simple, yet flavorful pot de creme for dessert

The one complaint I do have was the timing. I do love a slow and casual meal, but this was a bit extreme.  The service fell off a bit and at one point our dessert was delivered before our entrée.  We had another vineyard to visit before the day ended and the slowdown here was starting to impact our plans.  A quick reminder of timing and plating helped get us back on track.  Honestly, I could have stayed here all day, eating, drinking, relaxing, but not if we’ve got another vineyard to visit.  Chop Chop.

Corazon del Sol – Tasting and Tango

We picked up a couple of bottles at Gimenez Riili as well and quickly headed off to our final stop of the day.  As we arrived at Corazon del Sol, the sun was hovering over the Andes and providing such a warm embrace, I couldn’t have been happier.  We sat outside and listened to a local tango group.  Tango. Spanish Guitar. Flamenco.  I loved it.  As we lounged outside we were given some rosé.  This part of the tasting was purely entertainment. We were given no guidance on the wine. We were to site back, bask in the glory of the Andes and let the music flow.  It was so relaxing.

Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
The sun blazes down upon the vines.
Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
Tango performance at our final tasting

After the concert we made our way into the tasting room.  Our friends from the flight, and the first winery ended their tour at the same winery as we did.  We ended up chatting with them a bit more during the proper tasting.  There wasn’t much of a program at Corazon del Sol.  It seemed more like a mad rush for them to pour wine and make sales.  We didn’t end up buying anything at this stop.  There were a couple of items that we really did want to buy, but nothing was available at that time.  The next vintage would be released soon and we could order and have it shipped home.  We opted not to do that.

End of Day

We hopped back into our guide’s Jeep and made our way back to the Park Hyatt.  Our tour of the Uco Valley took about 7-8 hours and was absolutely worth every penny we spent.  Not only was the landscape breathtaking, the wine stellar and the winemakers so welcoming, the weather was perfect.  Closing out November in the southern hemisphere allows us to kick winter down the road a little bit. 

While the initial planning of this day was quite frustrating – I guess these tour companies have so much business they can turn down customers – I’m so pleased with the help that the Park Hyatt gave us.  Our guide – despite his blatant racism – was a generous and welcoming host.  The price was perfect for what we received – we would have HATED to been on a tour bus with 40 other people, making our way through the factory style wine tasting rooms.

Have you visited the Uco Valley before?  Which wineries are your favorite?  When we return – and we shall – where do you recommend we visit?