The RP-7 follows the mighty Río Neuquen northwestwards from Neuquen across alluvial plains whose fertile lands feed the city with all manner of fruit and vegetables, while a series of reservoirs provides it with much needed water. Artificial oases have been created in the desert-like terrain just west of tiny SAN PATRICIO DEL CHAÑAR (or Chañar), 41km from Neuquén, to support some of the country’s newest and finest vineyards, producing highly palatable whites and reds, using grape varieties such as semillon and malbec.
A handful of outstanding have sprung up in the region and four can be visited, in some cases free of charge, as part of the local Ruta del Vino, or wine route. After leaving Chañar in the direction of Añelo, heading along the RP-7, watch out on the right-hand side for the numbered lanes (picadas). Number 6 leads off towards Bodega Valle Perdido, a state-of-the-art winery that is also a luxury hotel (t011/6091-7777, wwww.valleperdido.com.ar; $251-300), in a majestic building. The rooms are spacious and extremely comfortable, while the impressive public areas are decorated and furnished with panache. In addition to checking out the fabulous cellars and tasting a variety of wines (visits Mon, Wed and Fri, 11am and 7pm; US$40 includes a free bottle of wine), you can make use of the wine spa and pool (with water, not wine), or lunch or dine at the top-rate restaurant, drinking the house wines, of course.
The next picada, no. 7, strikes off in the direction of Bodega Familia Schroeder (t0299/4435917, wwww.familiaschroeder.com), where one-hour tours with tastings (hourly; Mon–Fri 9am–5pm, Sat & Sun 10.30am–5.30pm; $15) include a visit to the “dinosaur cellar”. The vineyard also has a reputed restaurant-bar, open daily for lunch.
Picada 12 leads to the dramatically named Bodega del Fin del Mundo (“Winery at the end of the world”) – so called because these wineries are in close competition with one or two in New Zealand for the title of the world’s most southerly vineyard. For the hourly tours (Tues–Fri 10am–4pm, Sat & hols 10am–5pm; free) it is best to reserve ahead (t0299/4424040, wwww.bodegadelfindelmundo.com), which can also be done at the winery’s Neuquén office at Juan B Alberdi 87, 1st floor.
Finally, Picada 15 is the approach to Bodega NQN (t0299/4897500, wwww.bodeganqn.com.ar), which also has an excellent if pricey restaurant-bar on the premises, Malma (t0299/4897600); there is a set menu on weekdays and à la carte lunch at weekends. “Malma”, meaning “pride” in Mapudungun, is also the name of the winery’s flagship range of red and white varietals, such as pinot noir and sauvignon blanc. The bodega also offers hour-long tours (Mon–Fri 9am–1pm & 2–4pm; Sat, Sun & hols 10.30am-4.30pm; free) with a tasting and, of course, a chance to buy.Read More