Viva Los Vino Pioneers
Wine acolytes, take note — this is the year to visit (or revisit) two of South America’s most ambitious wine regions
Yes, we’re big believers in the idea that Buenos Aires can easily be done in a long weekend (if you hop a Friday overnight flight—11 hours from New York—you’ll get a full night’s sleep mid-air and wake up just one time zone away from where you left). But if you’re a fan of radically tasty albarinos and grenache blends, definitely tack on a few tannin-soaked days in Argentina’s Uco Valley or Garzon over in Uruguay. These two areas are not new tasting trails, as they’ve been on food-and-wine obsessives’ radar for the last couple years, but this year some revelatory openings make them easier to navigate and all around more plush for those who want a great spa treatment in between bottles of sauvignon blanc.
Anyone who knows Argentinian malbec knows Mendoza’s Uco Valley, where Francis Mallmann’s open-flame restaurant at multi-villa, ranch- style Vines resort has been drawing vino tinto lovers looking to eat local rib eye in gaucho country since its opening in 2014. Now it’s the unofficial anchor of Winemakers Village, a collective of privately owned vineyards, wine estates, and high-end lodgings across 80 acres that will eventually include 12 wineries, from the boutique to the positively micro. (And unlike at the miles-apart wineries common in Mendoza, the idea is that you’ll easily be able to vineyard hop by foot or bike.) Four vineyards, each helmed by vintners who’ve earned reputations from their years in the field, are already holding tastings: Super Uco, a biodynamic winery from the maverick Michelini brothers, known for getting creative with their aging techniques; Corazon Del Sol, where winemaker German Paez produces blends of grenache, syrah, and mourvedre; and SoloContigo, which launched in May with ten acres, standout torrontes, and outdoor tasting patios that look out on the Andes.
For a decade or so, Garzon, across the border in Uruguay, has developed a quiet following for its scores of small, under-the-radar (and, regrettably, under-visited) vineyards. But that could all change now that billionaire Argentine vintner Alejandro Bulgheroni has launched the latest in high-tech agro-tourism: Bodega Garzon, a 205,000-square-foot winery powered by renewable energy that’s on track to become the region’s first LEED certified vineyard (and has made this sleepy region catch up quickly with the high-priced bottles out of Mendoza). You’re coming here to taste tannat, Uruguay’s signature grape that somms will argue pairs even better than malbec with all that steak you’re eating.
Less than ten miles away is the tiny village of Garzon, where there are more sheep than cars on the streets, as well as Mallmann’s El Garzon Hotel and Restaurant, the most low- key of the ubiquitous chef’s ventures, which made the wine world pay attention to this town in 2004. Earlier this year, a few of the five guest rooms got wood-burning stoves and bigger bathrooms but retained the humble estancia aesthetic of wood floors and brick walls. Thankfully, the signature meals of pampas beef and fresh octopus haven’t changed a bit—nor have the views of the untrammeled yellows and greens of the Uruguayan countryside.
MAKE IT HAPPEN
When to Go
Most people visit during the harvest, from late February through April, but come in November/ early December to avoid the crowds and enjoy the warm South American spring.
Bodega Garzon: A swift two-hour Buquebus ferry takes you from Buenos Aires to Montevideo; then it’s an hour and a half to the bodega’s estates. (A detour toward the high-end beach town of Jose Ignacio takes less than an hour, and will let you cross
Laguna Garzon on native architect Rafael Vinoly’s futuristic ring-shaped bridge, completed in late 2015.) Winemakers Village: Take the two-hour flight from Buenos Aires to Mendoza, then drive an hour and a half south.