With the economic problems the United States is facing, many Americans are modifying their lifestyles, including the kind of wine they drink and where they travel for vacation.
Fortunately for people who love viticulture and trips abroad, the U.S. dollar still goes far in Argentina's Mendoza wine country.
Set against the foothills of the Andes mountains, the location can be both rugged and luxurious.
It's best to first orient yourself in the city of Mendoza. The town gathering place is Plaza Independencia, where craft vendors sell everything from gourds to the herbal drink yerba mate to silver jewelry.
Street performers stage shows, and young couples can be seen whispering and kissing on the benches. The elegant Park Hyatt Mendoza flanks one side of the square, and on the other is the main street, Sarmiento, where the smell of meat grilling wafts over the people gathered at outdoor tables drinking shots of strong café cortado. Along this road are the outfitters for river rafting and mountaineering guides for the nearby towering peak, Aconcagua.
Start your introduction to Argentinean wines at the centrally located Vines of Mendoza Tasting Room. The owners have selected the best wines from the region and offer flights from the 120 varieties.
"Argentina, and Mendoza in particular, is the most exciting and dynamic wine region in the world today. In many respects, it's a lot like the Napa Valley was 30 years ago," said San Francisco Bay-area transplant Matt Hobbs, the vice president of marketing and sales at Vines of Mendoza,. "Thanks to a wine-making renaissance over the last 15 years, Argentina now crafts wines of tremendous quality and value across an entire spectrum of prices."
Mendoza is known for the Malbec, a grape originally brought to Argentina from France, where it was used mostly to blend with other reds.
In this climate, the grape thrived. The mountains protect the vines from the Pacific Ocean moisture, and this desert region gets more than 300 days of sun each year. Many of the vines are planted at high altitudes, so the grapes are robust and have thick skins, which makes for a deep colors and rich flavors.
When sampling red wines, you often hear the word "backbone" in regards to Malbec, which means it's a full-bodied wine. This is due in part to tannins.
Tannic wines are generally paired with fattier cuts of meat, so go ahead and order the ojo de bife, or ribeye, at Grill Q Parrilla at the Park Hyatt Mendoza. But don't forget to have it with an Argentinean Malbec.
Argentina faced an economic crisis in 2001 when the peso devalued, causing a run on the banks an an subsequent boom for the local win industry. Prior to the crisis, the country pegged its peso one-to-one to the U.S. dollar, which resulted in affluence in the 1980s and '90s. Money was invested in vineyards and state of the art equipment was purchased. Then, during the financial crisis, investors and wine lovers from around the world arrived in Mendoza to invest in the wineries at a bargain rate.
There are several options for venturing out into the wine regions. You could negotiate the city buses, rent a bicycle, drive yourself or custom design your tour with companies like Uncorking Argentina that can also schedule a polo match or golfing excursion. Almost all of the wineries require reservations for tours and tastings and are a short trip from Mendoza.