Mendoza is Sonoma County, California, wine country 30 years ago if it were in the Southern California desert - discovered but not yet overrun or over-developed, populated but with a small-town feel, manageable, and focused on wine and food in a beautiful desert-like setting. The streets are wide and covered with trees. Many small squares surround the center of town. Restaurants and wine bars line the central streets along with some attractive, mid-century modern feeling houses here and there.

The wineries are quite spread out across 3 valleys and wine tasting is not like Napa Valley where you can stop by a tasting room and taste. Generally, you need to book a tour of the property and wine making process with tasting at the end. The whole thing takes a couple hours. Many wineries also have restaurants. Don’t plan on getting to more than a couple of wineries in a day. If you want to taste more wines, stop by one of the wine tasting stores in town. NAOKI Wine Garden is a fun, funky space with a peaceful outdoor patio in the back.

The new wine frontier is the Uco Valley. Over an hour from Mendoza, it is framed by the Andes and populated with modern, stylish new wineries fueled by foreign investment. We did the wine tour and tasting at Clos de los Siete. The tour included 3 of the 7 wineries that make up the label. As it turned out, it was a private tour - just the two of us - so the lovely young woman tailored it to our specific requests. Bodega DiamAndes was one of the architectural wonders with an enormous central light shaft dominated by an abstract diamond shape made of steel bars.

Another impressive winery is Bodega Salentien which produces a rarity in Argentinian, a good Sauvignon Blanc. The glass walls in the restaurant provide a panoramic view over the vineyard and surrounding mountains. Lunch was excellent.

The most amazing meal we had was at Bodega Lagarde in the Lujon de Cuyo region. The outdoor garden seating next to the vineyard was spectacular. It’s a set menu (we did all 7 courses with wine pairings). Every course was excellent and the service was superb. The pourings are generous (unlimited actually) and the wines are first rate. Since they are one of the oldest wineries in the area (1897) the quality is perhaps not surprising. It was the best meal I’ve had in Argentina.

For a good, simple parrilla meal with friendly service in town, stop by El Patio and try the Colita de Cuadril [tri tip in California; not a common cut in the rest on the US or Argentina]. It was delicious and a nice change from the standard beef cuts.

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