Gabriel Garcia’s Travel Black Book

Mendoza, Argentina: Celebrating a city of wine

The Argentinian brewmaster's special place, Mendoza, is well known for its vineyards

Who: Argentinian Gabriel Garcia, 35, brewmaster at LeVeL33 craft brewery restaurant and lounge. He and his wife Patricia, 38, have lived in Singapore for three years. They return home to visit their families and friends in Argentina once a year.

Favourite destination: Mendoza, Argentina

Why: Mendoza, my wife's hometown, is close to her heart, hence it is also very dear to me.

Almost all the streets in Mendoza are lined with trees, forming a continuous canopy, a tunnel of trees, which provides shade in the hot summer and is a spectacular sight to behold in spring and autumn. The city is also very clean and well maintained.

Favourite place to stay

The Park Hyatt Mendoza Hotel, Casino and Spa (Chile 1124; tel: +54-261-441-1234; mendoza.park.hyatt.com), formerly the Plaza Hotel, is a landmark in the city. The newly refurbished hotel dates back to the 19th century, which is evident by its historical facade.

Located in front of Plaza Independencia, the city's main square, the hotel is close to many of Mendoza's tourist spots.

It also hosts events, such as art exhibitions and wine-related functions, which are a great way for travellers to discover the local culture and arts.

Favourite restaurant

Visit Avenida Aristides Villanueva to explore great restaurants, bars and authentic Argentinian food. Lined with restaurants and bars, the street is an ideal place for a hearty lunch or a great night on the town.

My favourite restaurant there is Antares (www.facebook.com/CerveceriaAntaresOficial). The craft brewery and restaurant serves home-brewed beer and traditional Argentine fare presented in a modern way.

One of my favourite traditional dishes is empanadas. Very popular among the locals, it is a pastry turnover filled with savoury fillings such as veal, onions and olives. Each province in Argentina has its own version and Antares serves one of the best empanadas that I've tasted.

Another typical Argentinian dish is the Matambrito de Cerdo, a meat roll stuffed with vegetables, boiled egg and served with rosemary potatoes. An average meal at Antares with some side dishes and a craft beer will cost about US$20 (S$27.25) to US$40 a person.

Favourite tourist site

A must-visit is the Caminos Del Vino, or Path of Wine, to experience the different wineries Mendoza has to offer. You can sign up for a wine tour (www.mendozawinetours.com). A full tour takes you around the whole wine area of about 250km or there is a shorter one which covers about 20km as a day trip.

In January and February, the wineries organise wine-related events with lots of music, dancing and eating. The Italian heritage and culture is evident in some of the wineries owned by Argentinians whose Italian ancestors settled in Mendoza in the 19th century.

Favourite neighbourhood

Mendoza city is divided into six sections. My favourite section is the Quinta Seccion, a residential neighbourhood with many restaurants and cafes.

While it is close to the city centre, it is still very peaceful and you can enjoy some quiet time over coffee at any restaurant or cafe. It is also a great place to people-watch as the neighbourhood is situated next to a popular big park, Parque General San Martin, where you can see the locals jogging, cycling or having a picnic.

Best place to watch tango

There are a few milongas (places or events dedicated to tango events) in Mendoza and they usually start at midnight. La Interzona Bar (www.facebook.com/lainterzona bar/) opens its dance floors to milonga on Tuesday nights and it is usually accompanied by regular food and drink promotions.

Best day trip

When in Mendoza, you must not miss Aconcagua. At 6,961m tall, it is the highest mountain outside of Asia.

Located in the Andes mountain range, it is a 21/2-hour drive from the centre of Mendoza to Puenta del Inca, the entrance to Aconcagua Provincial Park. People travel to Mendoza especially to scale the mountain. Even if you're not looking for any strenuous activity, you should visit the mountain to take in the views.

Best place for breakfast

Breakfast in Argentina is generally very light. We usually have a croissant and a cup of strong coffee and the Cafe Bonafide coffee chain is a great place to go.

Must try

A popular food in Argentina is milanesa, which is breaded meat usually made with beef, chicken, veal or pork. It is at its best at the aptly named El Club de la Milanesa (www.elclubdelamilanesa.com) on Avenida Aristides Villanueva 405. It costs US$20 to US$30 for a main, side dish, dessert and drinks.

Another popular dish is asado. It usually consists of beef steaks which may be accompanied by other cuts of meat that are barbecued on a grill.

A nice restaurant for good asado at reasonable prices - between US$25 and US$40 - is La Aldea (Avenida Villanueva Aristides 495; tel:+54-261-425-0420).

Event to bookmark

A fun festival for travellers is the Fiesta De La Vendimia (Grape Harvest Festival). It is a celebration of wine and usually takes place between the end of February and March, when all the grapes are ripe.

The main events are held in a big theatre in the open-air park with lots of dancing, traditional music and a large fireworks display. The water in the big fountain at Plaza Independencia is changed to red.

Two of the festival highlights are the Carrusel Parade and the Via Blanca de las Reinas, where the prettiest women from each province parade in costumes through the streets of Mendoza.

Travel tips

If you are planning to travel to Mendoza in January, book your accommodation and flights early as it is the most popular month for travellers, when it gets very hot.

The best period for wine lovers to visit is the end of February and in March when the Fiesta De La Vendimia takes place.

Unlike Buenos Aires, in Mendoza, people have a siesta (afternoon nap) from 1 to 4pm. Except for shopping centres, most shops in Mendoza are closed during those hours, though the times will vary by establishment.

Lunch and dinner times are later in Mendoza than in other parts of the world. Lunch is around 1 to 2pm and dinner starts as late as 9pm. However, restaurants open earlier for tourists, so it will not be a problem to have a meal at 7 or 8pm.

Take the usual precautions when travelling. Pay attention to your belongings in crowded places and always avoid dark, quiet areas in the evening.

Souvenirs to take home

Wine is cheap in Mendoza. A bottle of wine, which can go for as low as US$15 from the wineries, makes a great souvenir for wine connoisseurs.

For non-drinkers, there are a number of shops throughout the city that sell handcrafted jewellery and accessories made of leather. The cost of a handcrafted accessory starts from US$7.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 20, 2016, with the headline 'Celebrating a city of wine'. Print Edition | Subscribe