Argentina is one of South America’s best-known wine countries. It is also becoming known for its wine tourism. During our Las Américas trip we were most fortunate to visit Mendoza, San Juan, Salta and Neuquén wine producing provinces. This allowed us to do extensive wine tasting throughout Argentina. In general, the wines are quite good, and would measure up to most in California. In fact, Argentine wines would do quite well against any wines in the world.
San Juan Province is the second largest producer of Argentine wine. While San Juan Province is more modest about its accomplishments in the wine industry than Mendoza Province, San Juan has gotten attention in recent years. The valleys of Ullum, Tulum and Zonda surrounding the capital city of San Juan has wine bodegas that are well worth visiting. There are other promising areas throughout the province, such as Valle de Pederal that are most likely to gain in popularity in the future. While San Juan Province is best known for its Syrah, Bonarda and Cabernet Sauvignon it also produces sherry style wines, brandies and vermouth.
San Juan is about a two-hour drive north of the city of Mendoza. It was quite hot, in fact our SUV was showing outside temperatures in the 100ºF (35ºC) plus range when we visited San Juan in February. We had read that the wineries in San Juan were friendly and less touristy; so despite the high summer temperatures we still decided to visit. However, we did make one compensation, rather than drive around ourselves in the heat looking for the wineries we hired a taxi driver to take us around. This was a good decision because the guy was great. The owner of El Rocio, the apartment hotel where we stayed suggested him.
What follows are the wineries we visited on the San Juan wine route:
Bodega Cavas De Zonda
Cavas De Zonda is a “Champagne” bodega just west of the city of San Juan. This sparkling wine bodega is considered one of the best in San Juan. They also make some reds however; we did not get to taste any. Nevertheless, we bought a bottle of Merlot to taste later but would not recommend it. We would however recommend visiting this unique site. It is well worth a visit. The bodega is located in an underground tunnel. The inside temperature is cool even on the hottest summer day.
Bodegas y Viñedos Santiago Graffigna
The San Juan bodega that is most interesting in terms of tradition and size is Bodega Graffigna. It was established in 1870. Its museum, Museo Santiago Graffigna provides a one hour guided tour, which focuses on the history of wine making in San Juan Province. The reds they produce are quite good. They age their premium wines for 12 months in either French or American oak barrels. We did buy several bottles of their Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. We now look for this label when buying Argentine wine.
Bodega La Guardia
Bodegas La Guardia is a small winery that has a small production for export. They also produce some vino patero mostly for local consumption. Vino patero comes in 5 liter bottles. They offered us four different red wines and two whites to taste. This was our first taste of Argentine Bonarda. According to our host, Bonarda is unique to Argentina. It is a very smooth, fruity wine. Later we tried other Bonardas at a number of Argentine bodegas. Based on my limited research the Argentine Bonarda is quite different from the Italian Piedmont Bonarda. In fact the Argentine Bonarda has been described as similar in taste to the Italian Dolcetto.
We loved the friendliness of San Juan. We had no problems finding great food in San Juan. We also visited a day spa down the street from our hotel apartment. The San Juan Tourist Office provides online information, which is quite useful for planning a wine tour, locating accommodation and other services in San Juan. If your travels take you to Mendoza consider visiting San Juan. San Juan province is well worth a visit to check out it wines.