Wineries in Patagonia: Worth the Trip?

E-mail Print
400400Should you go to San Patricio de Chañar and the Alto Valle del Rio Negro, the wine regions of Northern Patagonia?
If you follow the New York Times’ list of Top Places To Go in 2010, you ought to (it was ranked #2!).
But I’ve been there, and I’m not so sure.
I’ve long debated whether or not this is a worthy trip. I’ve written about the wineries of Patagonia here and there for wine magazines, mostly because the wine itself coming out of the area is very interesting.
But from a logistics viewpoint, it’s a puzzle.
Neuquen and General Roca, the jumping off points for this wine region, are about four hours from Bariloche, and three of those four are long and dreary driving. It’s about 10 hours from southern Mendoza, making it an extremely tedious side trip.
Still, take a whiff of one of the award-winning Pinot Noirs from our neck of the woods, and you’ll surely be intrigued.
With Mendoza’s Malbec exploding as the grape du jour around the planet, it was only a matter of time before people began looking for more Argentine wine. And Mendoza is a splendid place to visit.
If you are wondering if Mendoza is spoiled or overrun or overrated, it’s not. If you think it’s cooler to skip Mendoza and go somewhere ‘off the beaten path’, don’t be fooled.
And if you think these Patagonian wineries are anywhere near the other places you might want to see in Patagonia, you’d better get your map out ’cause they ain’t. They just barely squeak into Patagonia.
Here are the cons:
The scenery is flat and dry. There is nothing in any direction but that flat nothingness I’ve so often written about.  This landscape pales in comparison to the High Andes backdrop of Mendoza and the gnarly entrance through Valle de Calchaqui to Argentina’s second wine area, Cafayate.
Lodging is also an issue (which it certainly isn’t in Mendoza or Cafayate, which both have a plethora of gorgoeous wine lodges). There is one interesting wine lodge in the area, Valle Perdido Wine Lodge. Otherwise, you are stuck in the dull industrial sprawl that is Neuquen Capital, where the top hotel is a Holiday Inn-esque mid-rise next to a casino. Totalmente sin onda.
At the most, you’ll want two days of wine touring if you come to San Patricio. Stop at the modern NQN, the historic Familia Schroeder and the expansive Bodega Fin del Mundo.
Be sure to also taste the unbelievable pinot noirs made by Piero della Rocchetta at Bodega Chacra, which are only available at the winery.
Then give yourself a lazy afternoon to visit Bodega Noemia, a boutique organic and biodynamic winery owned by an Italian countess that may be the most interesting winery in Argentina right now. After finding a century-old pre-phylloxera tiny plot of Malbec in the Rio Negro Valley, some folks with money to burn have turned out some of the best Malbec and Merlots in the New World.
It was the 2008 Wine and Spirits winery of the year. The winery itself is anything but slick. It’s traditional and high-brow.
Their A Lisa is a bargain high-end wine at around US$30. I was recently given a bottle of J. Alberto that I can hardly wait to open. But of course, I will wait (wine, after all, is about patience).
If you really love pinot noir, or you happen to be into dinosaurs, then what the heck, book a flight to Neuquen and make a long weekend out of it. (The dinosaur findings around this area are some of the most celebrated in the world!)
Because of these reasons, I’d consider San Patricio and the Alto Valle of the Rio Negro to be the fourth most pleasing area for wine tasting in Argentina (after Mendoza/Valle de Uco, Cafayate and San Rafael de Mendoza).
If you want something a little off the beaten path or have already seen Mendoza, first head north to Salta’s Cafayate, where you’ve got gorgeous scenery, great culture, history and lodges. Or drive south from Mendoza to the wide lanes of San Rafael.
Only true oenophiles will find anything woth more than a day’s visit in San Patricio de Chañar. But if you find a bottle of Bodega Chacra’s pinot noir or Noemia’s A Lisa, by all means lift your glass.