I have a couple of very memorable memories from our first visit to Mendoza a dozen years ago. One is that the city famed as the epicentre of Argentina’s wine industry was still reeling from the economic crash of a few years earlier, and poverty never seemed to be far from view. The other was getting trapped seven floors up on the roof of the Municipalidad de la Ciudad de Mendoza building, which offers views over the city to the Andes in the distance.
We arrived at the City Hall early enough for it not to be open, but we spotted a security guard who let us in. Our Spanish was pretty poor in those days, but despite the lack of communication we managed to convince him to let us visit the roof. Deciding to join us, he locked the front door and took us to the roof. The view was fabulous but without shade the Andean sun was relentless. After he’d pointed out all the sights, we made our way back to the roof door. It was then the guard realised he’d left the door key on his desk on the ground floor.
The guard called someone, but forty-five minutes later we were still on the roof and getting desperate. Finally, a man arrived at the entrance and the front door keys were dropped seven floors down so he could get in, retrieve the roof door keys, take the elevator seven floors up and liberate us. That experience has always made me very fond of Mendoza. The city feels like it hasn’t fully recovered from the economic crash, but this youthful, bustling place has much going for it, including an excellent night life and culinary scene.
We were staying at the B&B Plaza Italia, found on a corner of the leafy Plaza Italia, one of a quartet of pleasant plazas that frame the town’s main Plaza Independencia. The owners, an old Mendoza family, gave us lots of local insight into the best places to visit. Unusually, it was raining, so we postponed exploring the town in favour of a long lunch and wine tasting. A short walk brought us to one of Mendoza’s finest restaurants. The Azafrán has superb food and a bewildering array of wine from vineyards in Luján de Cuyo, Godoy Cruz, Maipú and the Uco Valley.
When we emerged some time later, the sun had replaced the rain so we made our way to the Bodega La Rural in the Maipú district. There’s something odd about vineyards so close to a big city, even one with the towering backdrop of the Andes, but this is prime wine country. Maipu’s rich, mineral soils and grape-friendly microclimate made it one of the first areas in Argentina where vines were cultivated. They’ve been making wine here since the early 1800s.
Bodega La Rural was founded in 1885 by Felipe Rutini. Today, the Rutini brand is one of the most famous in Argentina’s wine industry. The bodega has an interesting museum of wine that is home to 5,000 pieces of winemaking memorabilia. There are short tours but the informative tastings of exceptional wines really makes a visit special. Vineyards sit picturesquely just behind the bodega for added dramatic effect. If you’ve got time, visiting any of the numerous nearby vineyards is easy, and you can rent bikes to cycle between them.
Despite the changeable weather, we reckoned our first day in Mendoza was a success. We made our way back to our B&B where the landlady proudly informed us that she’d secured us a table for dinner at another top Mendoza restaurant, María Antonieta. We probably could have gone for a couple of days without eating after our extravagant lunch, but this was a good opportunity to sample more of Mendoza’s famed culinary delights. One thing is certain, you will not want for good food in this town.