Five-star luxury meets uncommon comfort at The Vines of Mendoza

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The extraordinary, ever-changing views of the Andes at The Vines of Mendoza

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It was uncanny.

Walking alongside the Andes Mountains on the way to breakfast, every single employee – housekeeper, room service waiter, gardener – greeted me with:

“Hola, Stephen.”

They knew my first name. All of them.

How is that possible?  But it’s only one of the very human aspects of this highly-reviewed 5 star resort in Argentina’s Uco Valley, the Vines Resort and Spa.

Combine world-class accommodations with uncommon privacy and an unrivaled, ever-changing view of the Andes, in the heart of the country’s most sought-after winelands, and you have the makings of a relaxing visit like no other.
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To be sure, this place isn’t cheap. I had to blow my budget to stay two nights here. But it was oh sooo worth it. Unlike so many other luxury options, here you actually get what you pay for. Luxury isn’t pretense and pomp. There’s a relaxed, genuine, anything-is-possible vibe that allows you to leave your cares behind.

img_3365The Vines is the result of a unique partnership between an American political visionary and a talented Argentine. Before Michael Evans rocked the world of Argentine wine, he was COO of Rock The Vote, and worked on American political campaigns. Pablo Gimenez Rilli was a partner with his brothers in the family winery in Maipu. Add the talents of Santiago Archival, consulting winemaker, who is the owner of acclaimed Mendoza winery Achaval-Ferrer, and you have all the elements of a unique winemaking opportunity.

Together, they acquired a vast piece of land within the suddenly acclaimed Uco Valley, with some of the highest altitude vineyards in the world that are fast becoming the new frontier of Argentine winemaking. They envisioned a resort with vineyards and world-class luxury, that would give owners the chance to cultivate, create and market their own labels of wine. Families return, year after year, to help pick the grapes and blend the wine, while the professional staff at the Vines helps them with marketing and distribution.

The resulting feel is a cross between the most exotic destination you’ve ever seen, and the warmth and familiarity of a country club. Families who own vineyards here cross paths year after year, and develop lasting bonds. Meanwhile, tourists like myself become part of the family while visiting.

And how are the wines? Well, they’re… promising. I’m not going to say that I tasted the best bottles of my trip here, but the experimentation and enthusiasm made for a unique experience. And I am certain that as owners get to know their vineyards, and Achaval continues to refine their techniques, the resulting wines are only going to get better. After all, just a few fields away are some of the most exciting new winemakers in the world. Some vineyard owners hope for fortune and fame with their wine; some only share with a few friends. I hear that acclaimed chef Sean Brock has his own brand that he only serves at his beloved restaurant Husk, in Charleston and Nashville.

The villas are spacious, unabaimg_3301shedly contemporary – and stunning. One the nicest places I have ever stayed in a lifetime of world travel.

Every detail was thought of, from the fully-stocked refrigerator to the frequently-appearing snacks to the Nespresso machine. A custom-programmed iPad for every unit provided the ultimate in responsiveness, paired with privacy. I can easily envision this as the perfect place for a movie star to get away from the world without being bothered.img_3304

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To top it all off, there is the restaurant, Siete Fuegos, led by Argentina’s most acclaimed master of the fire, Frances Mallmann. I had nothing but the most perfect, inspired cuisine here – yes, there was meat, but there was so much more. My only regret: I at the resort on a quiet night when they weren’t having their big communal feast. There was a salad with grilled pears that I am still remembering now, one year later.mallmann

I may just have to drop back by next week for one more bite.

 

Watch our entire tasting at Viña Cobos.

One of the highlights of last season’s trip to Mendoza was our personal tasting at Paul Hobbs’ partnership in Argentina, Viña Cobos. Our host, Victoria Bravo, could not have been any more welcoming. She offered details about the entire line of wines, from Felino (approx $20 US) to Bramare ($40-80+ US) to Cobos Malbec and Cobos Volturno ($200+). We were able to taste the whole range of wines with the exception of, understandably, Cobos! We’re not going to win any awards for iPhone cinematography, but you’ll get an authentic feel for what it’s like taste the wines at one of Argentina’s greatest wineries.

This clip is long – 43 minutes! (Follow the captions to get to the sections you’re most interested in.) If you like what you see on this blog, be sure to like us on Facebook for frequent updates on Argentinian wine.

 

 

Angelica Zapata – the wine that started my love affair with a country.

 

It was 2008, and we had the good fortune to be shooting a television campaign in Argentina. I had visited once before as a tourist and had the time of my life.

But this time, we were hosted by a production company who was truly knowledgable about the country. And one member of our production team happened to be an experienced wine guy.

He took me to Winery in Recoleta. As I marveled at the different bottles in all price range, he walked over to an oak case and pulled out a bottle in an elegant, gray felt bag, tied with a red string:

“This is the one you want.”

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It was Angelica Zapata, from Catena. Distributed only in Argentina and virtually impossible to find in the U.S.

Angelica Zapata Malbec Alta represents grapes from some of the Catena family’s very best lots in their best vineyards, at altitudes ranging from 3000 to 4500 feet. Combining grapes from different lots at different altitudes contributes to the wine’s elegance and complexity. For the 2008 vintage, here were the sources:

Lot 18, “Angelica” Vineyard, 3018 ft elevation.
Lot 4, “La Pirámide” Vineyard, 3117 ft elevation.
Lot 2, “Altamira” Vineyard, 3642 ft elevation.
Lot 3, “Adrianna” Vineyard, 4757 ft elevation.
Lot 9, “Adrianna” Vineyard, 4757 ft elevation.

 

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If you want a point of comparison from the American Catena lineup, you might consider Catena Alta Malbec ($50) as the most comparable wine. I am told it has a more oak-forward California style profile, while the domestic Angelica Zapata has a bit more European balance.

My first taste of Angelica Zapata was the beginning of a love affair with Argentinean wine that will last the rest of my life. We opened a bottle last night to mark a family occasion, and this 12 year old bottle was as elegant and smooth as I had hoped.

If anyone you know is headed southward to Argentina soon, be extra nice – and maybe they’ll bring you back a bottle of this.

Interview: Miguel Sanz, Driving Mendoza Wine Tours

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All you have to do is spend a few minutes on the Argentina forums of FlyerTalk or TripAdvisor before you see all the kudos for Miguel Sanz, a driver and personal tour guide for visitors to Mendoza. To call Miguel a “driver” hardly does his role justice. He’s more like a concierge or chaperone. He can make appointments with the wineries, arrange a memorable lunch, and make just about anything happen. Since practically everyone’s heard about Miguel, we thought it would be interesting for people to get to know him better.

 

Where is your hometown? Tell me about it.
I live about 15′ from downtown in a great city called La Heras. My house is in a calm residential area, where the kids are still playing outside without a problem.

 

How long have you lived in Mendoza?
I was born in Mendoza City and grew up there until I was 22 years old; then I moved to Canada for a period of 7 years. Than I came back to Mendoza for the holidays and decided to stay.

 

You have quite the fan base on TripAdvisor. Why do you think you’ve become so popular with Americans?
I guess because I understand the needs of the visitors and probably because I had great training working in the Park Hyatt and Cavas Wine Lodge hotel the first three years as a driver.

 

You worked in the wine business before you began Driving Mendoza, correct? Where did you work, and what did you do?
I have a degree in Export Marketing and Logistics and I did work in the wine industry. I worked for Familia Zuccardi as a Logistics Manager and also for Wines of Argentina too.

 

How did you get started driving visitors?
In February 2007 I had a full month off. My brother was a driver of a tourist agency and the owner needed to replace a couple drivers so they offered me to work for him 15 days. In those 15 days I drove many people and three of them wrote the manager of Park Hyatt a letter about my great service and knowledge, so the manager call my brother’s boss and asked him to do what ever it took to keep me in the hotel. That’s how I started.

 

How many days is a good visit to Mendoza, that gives people enough time to get to know the wineries and the region?
Well, there are three different regions to visit in Mendoza, so I would say at least three days.

 

Some people think renting their own car is a good idea. What do you think of that?
First of all, the rentals agencies don’t have automatic transmissions. So if you don’t know how to drive manual transmission, that is the first reason. We have zero tolerance in drinking and driving. And besides that, there are no good signs. GPS can help a little, but if the one you get isn’t updated to the very latest version, you’re still getting lost.

 

What are some of the less-discovered wineries that you think visitors should take more time get to know?
Well if I tell you all my secrets, my competitors will start to copy me.
Okay, I’ll give you some: Altocedro, D’Angeles 1928, Sin Fin.

 

What if one of the member of a group is not a wine drinker? What other places and activities in the region do you enjoy taking visitors to?
There’s many options, mountain trips all the way to the Aconcagua Park, outdoor activities like horseback riding, rafting, zip lining, trekking, 4-wheel drive tours on a road through the mountains, shopping tours. Night tours, etc. You ask and I provide.

 

What is the biggest mistake foreign tourists make when traveling to Mendoza?
Try to arrange the winery appointment by themselves. It’s not impossible, but sometimes they make appointments each hour to try to get most of their day and they forget that some wineries are 30km apart and hidden.

 

What’s your favorite story of something that has happened when you were leading a tour?
I was in La Azul restaurant and this guy told me that he was going to propose to his girlfriend. He did it with the surprise that I told everybody in the restaurant and we filmed all the proposal.

 

What are some differences to consider when you are choosing a driver or tour company in Argentina?
First, my tour is totally private and if you decide to come back after lunch to the hotel you can do it. You can choose your wineries, or at least share the names of the wineries that you like to visit. Sometimes it isn’t possible because availability from them, but normally, we work it out. On a group tour you have fixed tours and you don’t know what kind of people you will sharing the tour with.

 

How has the wine industry in Mendoza changed since you began giving tours?
A lot, because many wineries are open for tourists, so now we have more than 150 wineries to visit.

 

What do you see as the biggest change that will come in the next five years?
Well Argentina is just beginning. New investors will come and now with the new government that just started, I think this type of service will grow.

 

You can learn more about Miguel on Trip Advisor or request his services at DrivingMendozaWineTours.com. You can also email Miguel directly here.

 

Amalaya Gran Corte 2012

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4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)
Amalaya Gran Corte 2012

Most of the time in this space we talk about wines from Mendoza, but some of the most exciting wines in Argentina are being grown in other areas.

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The desert region of Salta, in the The Calchaqui Valley, is home to several properties from the well known Hess Estate, which has properties in California and around the world.
In Argentina both their wineries, Colomé and Amalaya, are located in Salta.
You’ve seen us talk about Colomé Estate before, and it remains one of our very favorite malbecs in the $25 range. This region is home to some of the highest vineyards, anywhere in the world. Grown at more than 5,200 feet, Amalaya is a celebration of this desert micro-climate. It’s less expensive than Colomé Estate from the same owners, but a delicious celebration of the same region.
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Amalaya Red Blend

Amalaya is widely distributed in the U.S. – in fact, it’s one of the most common mid-priced wines in better liquor stores. More than likely, you’ve seen their red blend in the blue bottle for around $15, and they also make a very good for the price Torrontés.
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Amalaya Torrontés

On this rare occasion we got to enjoy a different bottle we got as a gift – a wine that is typically available only available in South America, the Amalaya Gran Corte. (You can find it at a few select U.S. merchants on Wine-Searcher.) The Amalaya Gran Corte is a red blend of Malbec, Tannat and Cabernet Franc, grown at about 5,400 feet.
On first opening, I got just a hint of a barnyard scent, but after five minutes this wine began to come alive. An aerator or decanter would be a nice idea for this one. If I could get it at my local store, it would definitely be in my regular rotation. There’s a nice combination of fruit, spice, and minerality – it’s not an oak bomb like some lower-priced Argentine reds… there’s an elegance and subtlety going on here that is to be appreciated, especially in the $20 range.
You know, I was originally going to give this wine 3.5 stars – but then I tasted it on the second night. How often can you say a bottle of wine tastes better on the second night than the first night you opened it? Tonight, it’s 4 stars.

Buyer’s Tip: Weekend mixed case sale at Ansley Park Kroger, Atlanta, GA

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One of the nice benefits of the grocery wars in the Southeastern U.S.: a few stores are using huge, impressive selections of great wine as a point of differentiation.

One great example is the Ansley Park Kroger in Atlanta, Georgia, which is having a 10% off mixed-cases sale this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

The Ansley Kroger arguably offers the most impressive selection of $20-40 bottles in the city, as well as some great bargain buys, so this is a great opportunity to try some things – assemble a case and enjoy a mix of malbecs you haven’t tried in different price ranges.

If you live in Georgia, this is a sale I wouldn’t miss.

Miravida Soho – A Boutique Hotel for Wine Lovers

If you look at the hotel reviews for Buenos Aires on Trip Advisor, the #1 hotel is the stunning 5-star Alvear Palace, which runs about $400 a night.

Guess what #2 is? An innocuous 6-room hotel in the fashionable Palermo Soho neighborhood, with rooms in the mid $100s.

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Having stayed there twice, I’m here to tell you: Miravida Soho is the real deal. The location is perfect. The rooms are comfortable. And the staff – maybe the best of any boutique hotel I’ve ever stayed in, worldwide. They simply can’t do enough for you.

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When I had difficulties changing a LAN Airlines flight, the front desk manager Pamela (who also served my delicious breakfasts in the morning) spent 1 HOUR on the phone with LAN, helping me get through all the Spanish language menus to make the change. We’re talking 6-star service. They were more than happy to let me store a piece of wine luggage while I spent five nights in Mendoza.

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The back courtyard, where breakfast is served on sunny mornings, is elegant and quiet.

And because the hotel has its own wine bar, the evening dynamic is much friendlier than at more soulless hotels. They’ll happily pour you a glass of first-rate vino at the end of your evening – whether that’s 10 PM or 4 am.

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And it’s wine you’d actually want to drink – from Tacuil, the highest vineyard in the world, to Bramare from Vina Cobos. It’s rare to find good wines by the glass in a hotel setting in B.A – especially at reasonable prices.

In a city with occasional security concerns like Buenos Aires, there’s much to be said for enjoying a nightcap in the safety of your very secure hotel, with fellow travelers who are eager to share stories and tips. And the hotel employees are right there in the conversation, just like your favorite bartender. I enjoyed every evening at the wine bar.

Miravida Soho’s staff quickly become newfound friends. The hotel has recently undergone a change in ownership, but the entire staff remains the same. Ale, Taunya,  Pamela, Felipe, Gabriel, Omar and Roberto – I loved them all, and look forward to returning next trip.

Patience is a virtue, yes?

Patience is a virtue, yes? Rearranging our wine coolers this morning. Here are a few favorite bottles we’ve put away for aging, all 2004-2009 vintages. Need to go back and look at Robert Parker reviews to check the recommended years for enjoying these, but in most cases they should benefit from more time in the bottle.

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What a week!

Thanks to The Vines of Mendoza, Bodega O. Fournier, Park Hyatt, Grupo Clos de los Siete, Lares de Chacras, Bodega El Enemigo, Vina Cobos, Luca Wines, Mendel Wines, Bodega La Azul – Tupungato – Valle De Uco – Mendoza, Bodega Altocedro · La Consulta Mendoza Argentina, and Miravida Soho Hotel & Wine Bar, Buenos Aires for giving their time, their hospitality and their expertise. 

In the coming weeks we’ll be sharing our trip in much greater detail, with photos, video and more. Here are just a few highlights from our trip.