If you look at my map for Mendoza you’ll notice that two of the major wine districts, Maipu and Lujan de Cuyo, are easily reachable from town. The third is the Valle de Uco which may look near on the map but remember the distances in Argentina are huge so you’re looking at over an hours drive. If you don’t have a car, I recommend taking an Uber going there but, most likely, you’ll need a local driver coming back. For me, the latter was twice the price of the former, about $100 US.
In the Uco Valley I stayed at Finca Ogawa fincaogawa.com, a working farm and orchard with over eighty years of heritage, now a boutique hotel set in a vineyard. There are six rooms located in their own self-catering cottages arranged around a central building which has a bar and a shop. It’s a lovely spot (video here), run and owned by John Ecklund, a gruff but friendly American ex-military man.
My original plan was to borrow one of John’s mountain bikes and cycle around a few wineries, just as I had in Margaret River earlier in the year (posts here). However, it turns out that you can’t just rock up at the cellar door, as you would in Australia, and instead you have to book ahead, presumably because they get fewer visitors out here. I hadn’t had time to do this as I’d pulled the weekend together at the last moment and wasn’t sure about the logistics. If you go though, John will certainly be able to help you out with suggestions. The finca has a vintage Renault 2CV which they use to run tours to various wineries around the valley (although unfortuntely not to the ones I wanted to visit, often for the architecture as well as the wine) and horse treks are available too. None of this will be particularly cheap though I’m guessing.
I stuck with the bike plan as I had also come to exercise but changed from visiting vineyards to visiting restaurants instead, more of which in the next post. Which brings me to my other reason for staying at Finca Ogawa…
Siete Fuegos (Advanced A), Tunuyán, www.vinesresortandspa.com
This is Argentina’s most famous restaurant, located in the luxurious Vines Mendoza hotel and resort which is about a twenty minute drive from Finca Ogawa.
On my first night, John arranged for a driver to take me and bring me back. The restaurant is located in the middle of a huge vineyard and as we were driving through, we passed a glass-walled gym standing by itself with no other buildings around. I remember thinking how amazing it would be to be jogging in that futuristic glass box, surrounded by vines, with the Andes right in front of you.
Siete Fuegos is the brainchild of Francis Mallmann, one of Argentina’s most highly regarded chefs. The name comes from the seven techniques he uses for grilling fruit, vegetables, fish, and meat; in particular world-class Argentine beef. When I arrived I was a little disappointed that all seven fires weren’t raging away in the field outside the restaurant, cooking whole carcasses crucified on sticks as I’d seen them on the telly, but I supposed they were having a quiet night. There were only a handful of other tables in the big, modern space but then we were in the middle of nowhere. I began with a Negroni at the bar.
The food and service were immaculate. I stuck with the classics, beginning with the Provoleta, Tomates Frecos, Oregano y Albahaca (baked Provolone with cherry tomatoes, oregano and basil) (B+)…
…followed by the Ojo de Bife a la Parrilla, Chimichurri, Ratatouille, Ensalada de Rucula y Cebolla Colorada (grilled rib eye steak with chimichurri, ratatouille, rocket and red onion salad) which had been grilled to perfection (A+).
As you can imagine, the prices on the winelist were scary but I was happy with the reasonably priced Solocontigo Primera Amante 2015 Malbec the waiter helped me choose (B). Needless to say, there were many other top notch options available but sadly beyond my budget.
I finished off with the Panqueque con Dulce de Leche, Naranja Quemada y Helado de Crema (pancake with caramelised milk, burnt orange and ice cream), also very good (A).
I also had a taste of Reserva San Juan, which I think is the only brandy made in Argentina. It was drinkable (C) but not a patch on Spanish or French brandy.
It was a good experience that I’m glad I had although I’m sure I spent more money than I should have with the transfer and all. Note to self; make a million and come back to stay at the resort.
This was Friday night and I spent the next day cycling (see next post) but on my final day, after checking out and saying goodbye to John, I walked for an hour to this next place…
La Posada del Jamón (Intermediate B-), Ruta Provincial 92, km 13, Vista Flores, Tunuyán, www.laposadadeljamon.com.ar
This was the first restaurant to open in the entire Uco Valley. It’s a big but friendly family run place that no doubt can get very busy. I only came to try their cured ham, which was okay (B-) although their other charcuterie didn’t particularly impress me (C).
For the main course I walked ten minutes down the road to…
Atipana (High Intermediate B+), Ruta provincial 94, km 14
This is a small, fairly upmarket restaurant run my a mother and daughter team which by some accounts is one of the best places to eat in the valley. I was given a very friendly welcome by both of them and was made to feel at home. The food is good and beautifully presented. I had some deconstructed courgette raviolis and an icecream with a berry sauce (I lost the details, sorry) both of which were lovely (B+). I just wish I’d had time to do the menu more justice.
The address above, given on their Facebook page, is different to the one I went to, so they might have moved since my visit. The location I went to was at Pergolas Valle de Uco, at the intersection of RP 94 and RP 92.
The layby is the place to come when you want your photo taken with a huge bottle of wine…
My driver picked me up from here and took me back to Mendoza but my next post is about cycling in the Uco Valley countryside…