A Luxury Vacation In Argentina's Wine Country

Connoisseurs of travel guides will definitely appreciate how beautifully bound and geographically evocative Laura Catena's multi-tasking Vino Argentino: An Insider's Guide to the Wines and Wine Country of Argentina proves to be. Armchair travel at its best, it's the type of book you'd pick up wistfully when you still have four months of work before the next chance to get away. 

As much as it inspires a flight check on Kayak.com, Catena's guide scours Argentina inch by inch and turns up a useful regional breakdown of the wine country generally pegged as Mendoza – plus lesser known wine-producing regions like Salta and Patagonia's Rio Negro.

It seems that Catena is somewhat of an overachiever – she includes nine recipes for Argentinean favorites, like a rib-eye with chimichurri and empanadas salteñas. Plus there are tips for smart traveling and what not to miss in Buenos Aires, a city that combines the best of Europe and South America, somehow full of both luster and patina. As always, so much to see, so little time.

To that end, the book lays out a straightforward itinerary for an upscale version of the Argentinean backpacking trip I once barreled through Mendoza on, unwittingly in the middle of some of the world's most dramatic vineyard scenery. An excerpt from Vino Argentino follows...

Days  1 and 2: Fly into Buenos Aires. Stay in a hotel that fits your budget or rent an apartment. I would recommend staying in Palermo (trendy), Recoleta (traditional and safest), or Centro (downtown). Have an asado at Las Lilas in Puerto Madero. Dine on Fernando Trocca's fabulous New Argentine cuisine at Sucre, which has an extensive wine list full of old vintages. Visit the colorful port town of La Boca and dine at Francis Mallmann's Patagonia Sur. Stroll leisurely through the Recoleta cemetery, the Bellas Artes museum and the trendy Palermo Soho (keep an eye on your wallet or purse).

Days 3 and 4: Take the early flight to Mendoza, and spend two nights at one of the downtown hotels while visiting nearby wineries in Maipú and Luján de Cuyo. I recommend hiring a car with a driver, which costs about the same as renting your own car and makes winetasting safer and a lot more fun. Your hotel can help you with the arrangements.

Days 5 and 6: Move to the Cavas Wine Lodge in Luján de Cuyo, or to one of the posadas or lodges in the Uco Valley, and spend two days visiting wineries in the Uco Valley.

Days 7, 8, and 9: Take the Andesmar bus (ideally, in first class) from Mendoza City to Salta, or fly back to Buenos Aires and catch a transfer to Salta and spend two days at Colomé or Cafayate, Salta. You can also take an Andesmar bus to Neuquén City from Mendoza on your way to Patagonia.

Days 10, 11, and 12: Fly back from Salta to Buenos Aires and catch the two-hour flight to Bariloche, Patagonia, and if you can, stay at the Llao Llao Hotel. Enjoy the mountains and forests for a day or two, then rent a car and head to the wine country in Neuquén and Rio Negro (a five-hour drive from Bariloche).

Days 13 and 14: Fly back to Buenos Aires from Neuquén city and rest in the capital city before heading home.