Wineries in Luján de Cuyo
South of Mendoza proper, Luján de Cuyo is one of two key wine districts in the greater metropolitan area. It’s possible to get around by public transportation, but the best option would be to contract a tour or to assemble a small group and hire a remise—thus reducing the risk of becoming a drunk-driving accident victim. Because several wineries are close to Chacras de Coria’s gourmet ghetto, a lunch break there is an attractive prospect. It’s worth verifying hours before visiting any winery, especially if you need an English-speaking guide, but drop-ins are often welcome.
Bodega y Cavas de Weinert
In Chacras de Coria, owned by Brazilians of German descent since 1975, Weinert is a premium industrial winery producing 3 million liters per annum. While the production facilities are state-of-the-art, the historic subterranean cavas, with their classic French oak casks, date from the 1890s. A tasting (US$2.50 for 3 wines) can include cabernet, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, rosé, and some blends, from an ample selection in the bodega shop.
Bodega y Cavas de Weinert (Avenida San Martín 5923, Chacras de Coria, tel. 0261/496-0409, www.bodegaweinert.com) is open 9 a.m.–12:30 p.m. and 2:30–4:30 p.m. Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–12:30 p.m. and 2:30–3:30 p.m. Saturday. Guides speak English, German, and French. Bus No. 19 (Grupo 1) passes nearby.
Bodega Nieto Senetiner
In the Vistalba area just south of Chacras de Coria, entered by an alameda of ancient olive trees with the Andean front range as a backdrop, Nieto Senetiner’s immaculate grounds surround one of the area’s most pleasant wineries. The bodega dates from 1904, but the production facilities have undergone modernization; the informative tours conclude with a tasting of malbec, the main varietal produced here.
Tours at Bodega Nieto Senetiner (Guardia Vieja s/n, Vistalba, tel. 0261/498-0315, www.nietosenetiner.com.ar) take place daily at 10 and 11 a.m. and 12:30 and 4 p.m. (3 p.m. in winter), but if guides are available, other times are possible. Some guides speak English. With 24 hours’ notice, garden lunches are also possible, and there are many other activities, including evening tastings with cheeses as well as horseback riding. From downtown Mendoza, colectivo No. 206 (Grupo 1) goes directly to the portal.
One of Mendoza’s most imposing wineries, on 53 hectares planted with bonarda, cabernet sauvignon, malbec, and merlot, Vistalba produces fine wines in an almost intimidating atmosphere that includes a luxurious two-room guesthouse and a landmark French restaurant. The exception is the casual subterranean tasting room, where visitors can sample its Tomero line of varietals (including a torrontés from Salta grapes), and the more sophisticated Vistalba line of red blends.
Tours and a surprisingly generous tasting (US$6.50, including chocolates and snacks) at Bodega Vistalba (Sáenz Peña 3531, Vistalba, tel. 0261/498-9400, www.carlospulentawines.com) are by appointment only. Those for whom money is no issue can lodge at Pulenta’s La Posada (US$194 s, US$363 d), one of whose 70-square-meter suites faces the Andes; the other faces the bodega. Anybody with the cash (or credit) can lunch at celebrity chef Jean-Paul Bondoux’s La Bourgogne (tel. 0261/498-9421), which has a pretentious menu in French followed by Spanish and imperfect English; it also has branches at Mendoza’s Diplomatic Park Suites and at Buenos Aires’s Alvear Palace Hotel.
Ideally combined with a visit to the nearby Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes Emiliano Guiñazú, the Lagarde winery comprises 250 hectares of vineyards with an annual production capacity of about 1.6 million liters. Its diverse varietals, for both domestic consumption and export, include chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, malbec, merlot, and Syrah.
Dating from 1897, its original bodega and big house intact, Bodega Lagarde (San Martín 1745, Mayor Drummond, tel. 0261/498-3330, ext. 27, www.lagarde.com.ar) offers guided tours (US$5 pp with tasting) from 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–noon Saturday, by reservation. There are English- and Portuguese-speaking guides. Its restaurant is open for lunch, also by reservation, Monday–Saturday.
Dating from 1918, under four generations of the same family, Cabrini is a small unpretentious Italo-Argentine winery that produces quantities of vino licoroso, a blend of malbec, tempranillo, lambrusco, and bonarda grapes, in demijohns for Catholic masses. Commercially it produces malbec, merlot, Syrah, bonarda, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, and chenin from its own Perdriel and Agrelo vineyards and farther south at Ugarteche and Tupungato. It also makes a rosé — not too good, in all honesty — out of malbec grapes.
Tours, which include a generous tasting, are a low-key pleasure. Bodega Cabrini (RP 15 Km 22, Perdriel, tel. 0261/488-0218, www.cabrini.com.ar) is open 9 a.m.–noon and 2–6 p.m. Monday–Friday and 9 a.m.–noon Saturday. Phone ahead for English-language guides.
Bodega Luigi Bosca
One of Argentina’s best-known industrial bodegas, Luigi Bosca has just one small vineyard in the Mayor Drummond suburb of Luján de Cuyo, where it has converted its oldest facilities into a stylish visitors center where guided tours of the production process conclude with a generous tasting in relaxing surroundings. One distinctive feature is the portrait-sized series of three-dimensional murals, created from cement, by local artist and winemaker Hugo Leytes, that depict the winemaking process.
Bosca’s varietals comprise a wide range of reds that include malbec, pinot noir, and Syrah, and whites that include chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and gewürztraminer.
Luigi Bosca (San Martín 2044, Mayor Drummond, Luján de Cuyo, tel. 0261/498-0347, www.luigibosca.com.ar) offers tours at 10 a.m., noon, and 2 p.m. Monday–Friday, and at noon on Saturday. Make reservations and confirm whether the tour is in Spanish or English.
El Lagar Carmelo Patti
One of Mendoza’s least pretentious wineries, this is a boutique facility not in terms of technology but in terms of quality wines produced with minute attention from the winemaker, a local legend. It’s so unpretentious, in fact, that it’s easy to miss — there’s no sign, and Carmelo Patti seems to lack the ego to promote himself. That may be unnecessary, though, given the word-of-mouth reputation that the wines of this family-run business — his son also works here — enjoy. The production is only 65,000 bottles per annum of malbec and cabernet sauvignon, sometimes blended with cabernet franc and/or merlot, and a sparkling wine based on chardonnay and pinot noir.
Tours of El Lagar Carmelo Patti (San Martín 2614, Mayor Drummond, Luján de Cuyo, tel. 0261/498-1379) take place on request (phone ahead) 10 a.m.–5 p.m. weekdays only.
Like other nearby wineries along the international highway to Chile, including Séptima and Ruca Malén, Melipal is a state-of-the-art facility, with stainless steel vats and gleaming presses, on 62 hectares of drip-fed vines of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc. It has another 25 hectares of malbec (used also for a rosé) in the Valle de Uco, an hour-plus to the south. It makes no whites.
New in 2005, though some of the vines are nearly a century old, Bodega Melipal (RN 7 Km 1056, Agrelo, Luján de Cuyo, tel. 0261/524-8040, www.bodegamelipal.com) offers tours and tasting by reservation only. Its luminous modern restaurant, facing the vineyards and the Andes, offers a four-course menu, paired with Melipal wines, for US$48 pp. Both the food and service are excellent.
Also on the highway to Chile, set among 300 hectares of vineyards with unobstructed Andean views, Séptima’s imposing winery resembles a pre-Columbian Huarpe-style pirca (fortress) of stones set one atop another. Modern seismic safety concerns, though, led the architects of this high-tech facility to reinforce the walls to avoid the fate of most Huarpe fortresses, which lie in ruins throughout the central Argentine Andes.
Dating from 1999, built by the Spanish Codorniu group, Séptima produces a limited assortment of white and red varietals, as well as a notable cabernet-malbec blend. About 60 percent is exported, while the rest goes to the Argentine market.
Bodega Séptima (RN 7 Km 6.5, Agrelo, tel. 0261/498-5164, www.bodegaseptima.com.ar) offers guided tours with tasting (US$6 pp, with more expensive options), by reservation, at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays in English, and 11:30 and 4:30 p.m. weekdays in Spanish. In addition, there are 12:30 and 1 p.m. tours (no charge) for those who lunch at its restaurant, María, recently reopened under the former chef of Mendoza’s landmark restaurant La Sal. Séptima may accommodate drop-ins if schedules permit, but it’s better to make reservations.
Bodega Ruca Malén
Immediately east of Séptima, dating from 1998, Ruca Malén is one of Mendoza’s most hospitable wineries. Its creator, Jean-Pierre Thibaud, served 10 years as Chandon’s chairman before building this expanding boutique winery that sits on 27 hectares of chardonnay, cabernet, and malbec vines.
With Andean views from its grounds, terraces, and restaurant, it offers thorough tours with a generous tasting, accompanied by finger food and perhaps a quinoa salad, from its budget line through its more complex vintages. Many visitors opt for lunch, which includes additional wines paired with each course, before or after the tour.
Bodega Ruca Malén (RN 7 Km 1059, Agrelo, tel. 0261/410-6214, www.bodegarucamalen.com) is open for free guided tours, by reservation, at 10 and 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday–Friday, and at 10 and 11 a.m. Saturday. It’s open Sunday for tours only with lunch (US$40), also by reservation. The restaurant is also open by reservation Monday–Saturday, but if tables are available, it may be possible to eat on the spot.
Bodega Catena Zapata
Argentina’s most architecturally startling winery, Catena Zapata is a Mayan-style pyramid that rises above its Agrelo vineyards south of RN 7, the highway to Chile. With stunning views of its vineyards and the Andes, its terrace is almost unmatchable.
Inspired by California’s Napa Valley, Catena Zapata produces a diversity of white and red varietals, but its top-end specialties are chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, and malbec. One of Argentina’s most important wine conglomerates, it owns several other wine producers, including Maipú’s La Rural, but they continue to operate autonomously with their own traditions.
Led by some of the industry’s most proficient guides, Catena Zapata’s tours include a glass of white on arrival and red on departure; more elaborate tastings of premium wines are available for an additional (but reasonable) charge.
Catena Zapata (Cobos s/n, Agrelo, Luján de Cuyo, tel. 0261/490-0214, www.catenawines.com) is open for tours and tasting by reservation only.
Set in an inconspicuous vineyard not far from Melipal, Ruca Malén, and Séptima, Bressia is a tiny new winery making premium wines — primarily malbec and blends with cabernet sauvignon, merlot and Syrah — that have drawn national and international attention. There’s also a bit of sparkling wine, and a grappa from merlot and sauvignon blanc skins.
Intended to resemble a railroad station, the building itself is a modern facility with stainless steel vats and similar contemporary technology. As a business, it’s family-run — literally, as every employee is a family member.
Bodega Bressia (Cochabamba 7752, Agrelo, Luján de Cuyo, tel. 0261/439-3860, www.bressiabodega.com) is open for tours and tasting (US$18 pp, with a tabla of cheeses and cured meats) on weekdays by reservation only. Tours are for individuals or small groups and do not mix individuals who do not already know each other.
South of the RP 7 highway to Chile, Dolium is Argentina’s only totally subterranean bodega, having ramped the earth to create a naturally air-conditioned production area; only the business offices and tasting room stand above soil level. It produces the usual malbec but also a rosé from malbec as well as less common red varietals such as tempranillo and even a torrontés with grapes from La Rioja Province, several hundred kilometers north.
Less than one kilometer south of Chandon, Bodega Dolium (RP 15 Km 30, Agrelo, Luján de Cuyo, tel. 0261/490-0190, www.dolium.com) is open for guided tours and tastings 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday–Friday, but by reservations only. It’s one of few Mendoza wineries to charge (US$9 pp) for the privilege, but the staff handle English well, and visitors may even get to sample from the barrels with owner Ricardo Giadorou.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition