Affordable Wine Tasting in Mendoza, Argentina On Your Own with BusVitivinicola
We have gone wine tasting in California, France, Germany, New Zealand and Australia. Each region has had its own approach to wine tourism. In all of these cases we needed our own auto. However, the problem in Argentina is that we didn’t want to rent a car because the country is extremely strict about drinking and driving, as they should be. Ironically even though Argentina is a fairly inexpensive country in which to travel, most tourists in Mendoza go on pricey group tours or private tours of the wineries. On the Internet I found the average price of a small group tour for one day of tastings and lunch was US$160-190 per person. Yikes! That’s a lot of pesos considering our entire daily budget for two is US$100 and we wanted to spend several days wine tasting.
Here is how we created an amazing affordable winetasting experience in Mendoza–3 days of tours and tastings plus a gourmet lunch for only $50 per day/per person!
Our first day, we took a half-day afternoon group tour offered by our hotel. (We stayed at the Sheraton Mendoza Hotel for free using points.) We have never taken a tour offered by a hotel, but in this case it made sense. (We have taken tours offered by hostels we have stayed in and they have been fantastic.)
The tour is actually offered by several other hotels (Park Hyatt, Intercontinental, etc.) For US$14 per person (AR$120) we got picked up at our hotel by an English-speaking guide who gave excellent background information about wine making in Mendoza as we drove outside of town to visit two wineries and one olive oil production facility for tours and tastings. There were 10 other couples along with us and several spoke some English so we had nice conversations. The entire tour was 5 hours and it included the cost of the tastings. The only negative of this tour was that the tasting pours were very small.
The second day, we did another tour by the same company but we went to two different wineries, and the guide gave us some additional new information about Mendoza. The cost was US$14 per person. (The half-day tour only has two variations offered every other day.)
The third day we took the BusVitivinicola. I had read a couple of blogger posts about this service but they all made it sound time consuming requiring a lot of waiting at each winery and I found the company’s website confusing. The company doesn’t do a very good job of marketing because our hotel didn’t even know about it but we decided to give it a try because we just couldn’t see spending US$320 for a day of wine tasting with a small private tour.
I’m so glad we tried BusVitininicola! It worked out very well. We purchased our tickets at a local tour company referred to us by the city tourism office. (The city tourism office in the center of town has all the information; our hotel did not have any information about this option.) The bus costs US$24 (AR$190) per person and you are allowed to visit 4 of 5 offered wineries on the route. There are two different routes each offering different wineries to visit, so you can use this service two days to visit completely different areas and wineries. The schedules are posted on the company’s website.
The bus picked us up at 8:45 a.m. The bus was late and the pickup was a little confusing but soon we were off to the first winery. There were five other couples on the bus for the day. The “guide” spoke fair English but what he lacked in language skills he made up for in energy, effort and personal attention. He had cold water, juice and cookies on the bus for us to eat throughout the day.
The first winery on the list was one we went to the day before, so we chose to skip this winery, but everyone else got off here. At each winery, the guide gets off the bus with you and escorts you to the winery’s English-speaking guide who is waiting to take you on the tour before the tastings. We have done winery tours in California so at first this tour “requirement” seemed like it would be a drag but actually every tour was unique and interesting.
It’s a little hard to explain how the bus works, but it does. It’s a waterfall effect–the bus drops you off at a scheduled time and picks you up approximately an hour and a half later to go to the next winery in order. All of the reservations are already arranged for you, including if you want lunch at one of the wineries, which we did. We had very little down time after the tasting and before pickup; the timing of the bus arrival was just about right for a relaxing winery visit.
Using BusVitivinicola you must buy your own tastings. The wineries we went to cost US$12.50 (AR$100) per person and some had upgrades of US$6-12 (AR$50-100) for premium wines. We only upgraded once so we could try a few wines aged 10-15 years in oak. At all but one winery, the tastings included 3-5 extremely generous pours.
The best winery we went to was Bodega Casarena. The tour guide was excellent and we were able to apply the cost of the tasting visit to a purchase of wine so we bought three bottles of wine to drink in our hotel room and to take to our next destination. LAN Airlines allows each passenger to take up to 6 bottles on board traveling within Argentina so we knew we would be able to enjoy them at our next stop in Patagonia.
The mid-afternoon lunch stop is a little longer to allow plenty of time for a relaxing lunch at a winery. We chose lunch at Clos de Chacras. The funny thing is as we were enjoying a peaceful meal outside overlooking a koi pond and gardens, a Trout & Wine group tour also came for lunch. (T&W costs US$170 per person for a day of tastings and lunch.) The winery offered a tasting menu for US$37 (AR$320) including wine parings but we chose a la carte off the menu, mainly because the dishes in the paring didn’t really appeal to us. We each got appetizers and a main course and split a dessert, plus two glasses of wine, which was much more than enough food and a little bit less expensive than the pairing menu. Our lunch for two was US$70 and was our most expensive meal on this trip so far. It was very good but it wasn’t any better than any other good meal we’ve had that cost half the price. However, the other meals have not overlooked beautiful winery gardens! To save money, we could have skipped the appetizers because the mains were quite large. To save even more money, we could have brought a picnic but we didn’t see anyone picnicking at any winery and none of the wineries we went to had picnic tables.
The bus dropped us off back at the hotel at about 5:00 p.m.
There is another popular option for independent wine tasting to go by public bus to Maipu and rent a bike. There is a lot of information on the internet on various blogs about this method of wine tasting. Maipu has several wineries nearby and a few within 10 miles of town. This was our original plan but when we discovered how affordable it was to use BusVitinicola, we decided not to bother with bikes, although we met several younger couples who had a great time wine tasting by bike.
The total cost of three days of tasting at 8 wineries plus a gourmet lunch and three bottles of wine–US$150 per person! That’s compared to private and semi-private tours that cost over US$160+ per person for just one day.
You have to follow the bus schedule and go to the selected wineries compared to mapping out your own plan with a private guide.
The bus starts very early in the day (from 8-8:30 a.m. depending on your hotel location)
A few times we had a little down time in between tasting and bus pickup. This really wasn’t a negative for us because we had time to relax.
At least a 50% discount off of other group and private options.
A very attentive semi-English speaking guide who tries very hard to please everyone.
There were several English-speaking tourists on the bus that we got to chat with and share travel stories.