Route 94, kilometer 14.5, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina
This sophisticated wine-centric choice offers an unexpectedly top-notch restaurant, style to spare, and plenty of the vines and views that have made this part of Argentina famous.
Within five minutes of my arrival at Casa de Uco I had a glass of wine in my hand (a refreshing Pinot Gris) along with a warm lavender-scented towel and the distinct impression that I was going to like it at Casa de Uco.
As the name implies, a homelike atmosphere was the goal at this relative newcomer in Argentina's most famous grape growing and wine making region around Mendoza. The angular, 3-level, stone and concrete structure, which opened in 2014, was designed by Argentinean architect Alberto Tonconogy. The wave-like roofline mimics the random nature of the Andean peaks which rise up behind the hotel. A plunge pool and Jacuzzi jut out of the building and are flanked by two manmade ponds that attract migratory birds.
All of the 16 original rooms are in one half of the structure. Common areas, including the restaurant, a spa, a bar, and a reading and games room, are in the other half. The talents of another Tonconogy family member, designer and hotel creative director Julia Tonconogy Pfeiffer, give these spaces a tactile, modern, and organic look. It mixes polished concrete, wood, leather, stone, metal, bamboo, and lots and lots of glass to ensure that views of vineyards and mountains are available at almost every turn.
Touches like individually selected and placed coffee table books add a sense of personal style. When Mr. Tonconogy is at the hotel, it's not uncommon to find him shifting design details around to better perfect his vision of homey ease.
My room at Casa de Uco Resort was one of six Laguna Suites. These 450 square-foot suites have nearly floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the ponds. They include a small separate sitting area, a large tub with a view, a heated floor in the bathroom, a terrific bed, and a small furnished patio. Robes and slippers, a mini fridge with soft drinks and coffee pods, and a small wine refrigerator (contents not included) are standard.
The three Master Suites are even bigger. At 645 square feet they have room for a living room and two bathrooms (one with a bathtub and the other with shower), plus a larger and more private balcony also overlooking the ponds. Master Suites are the only rooms that can accommodate three people.
The seven Cordón del Plata rooms face the entrance side of the hotel and are the smallest. They lack a separate sitting room and there is no bathtub. However, all other amenities are the same and some of these rooms have a walk-in closet.
No matter which room you book at Casa de Uco Wine Resort, you'll find a bottle of house-made wine waiting for you. Mine was a lovely blend of Malbec and Cabernet Franc which was perfect for sipping on my patio at sunset. Nightly turndown includes a homemade sweet treat and housekeeping is provided twice a day.
In 2018, three standalone villas were added, including two one-bedroom units that are larger than the master suites and one 1,600 square-foot two-bedroom, two-bathroom duplex.
These concrete cubes, on the pond side of the hotel, are all angles and minimalism. Some of the furnishings, including a wonderful coffee table, came from Mr. Tonconogy's own home.
The largest villa has a private heated plunge pool and the two smaller villas each have Jacuzzis on the roof. All of the villas were constructed with solar panels and German technology that helps the walls maintain the most comfortable interior temperature. Guests in the villas get a larger room service menu and the option of having the chef cook for you in your villa's fully equipped kitchen. The real benefit of booking a villa, however, is the stunning view each one has of the imposing main hotel building with the ponds in the foreground and the Andes Mountains in the background.
The biggest surprise at Casa de Uco came in the restaurant where Chef Juan Ignacio Perez, who worked with Francis Mallmann at his 7 Fuegos restaurant in the Uco Valley, focuses on local and organic ingredients. These include fish from a trout farm across the road from the hotel and produce from the hotel's kitchen garden, herb garden, and beehives.
Breakfast is a vast buffet with freshly baked breads and pastries (including a legit croissant), French press coffee, eggs to order, fresh juices, sliced meats and cheeses, and much more. Keep your eyes on the vines and ponds in front of the restaurant and you might see small local foxes on the hunt for their own morning meal.
Dinner occurs during set seatings at 8 pm and 9:15 pm (reservations recommended). My meals included a truly satisfying salad (not always easy to find in Latin America) of endive, grilled radicchio, fresh green apple, artisanal salami, zucchini, and buckwheat with a wonderful house made dressing. The local trout was used to make a moist, mild, and fresh dish with lentils and burned lemon which was a lively and light respite from Argentina's nearly steady diet of beef.
The informed and English-speaking staff did a great job of describing the menu and the young sommelier was enthusiastic and creative in his wine pairings. The restaurant's wine list, which earned the hotel a Wine Spectator award, features the full line of Casa de Uco's own wines as well as a tight selection of other local wines.
All guests can use the sauna and steam room in the hotel spa and there's also a full roster of spa treatments and packages that can be booked, some incorporating grape extracts or wine. A very small gym offers a step machine, a treadmill, a stationary bike, free weights, and balance balls.
All guests also have access to bicycles for touring the property. A 30-minutes horseback ride around the vines is also included, as is a short archery class. The archery seemed random to me until I learned that Tonconogy family members are avid archers and they wanted to share the sport with guests.
A guided vineyard and winery tour is also included for guests. It starts with a brief walk through the vines and a visit to two pits dug in adjacent plots that demonstrate the diversity of terroir here. The tour ends with a quick winery tour and a tasting of Casa de Uco's three lines of wine (El Salvaje, El Salvaje Organico, and Casa de Uco) in a light-filled room with floor to ceiling windows opening onto the Andes.
Many other activities, including longer horseback rides, cooking classes, trekking, and more, are also offered for a fee. The Argentine Barbecue in the Vineyard is a splurge-worthy lunch for anyone who wants to experience a classic Argentinean asado including many different cuts of beef and pork, sausages, and salads. It's all cooked in the open air and the wine flows freely around a shaded table surrounded by vines. Allow at least four hours and don't plan to do much more than nap afterward.
Speaking of wine, if you want to live the Argentinean wine lifestyle on a deeper level, you can buy a plot of vines on Casa de Uco's 860-acre property and make your own wine (or have the onsite winemaker do it for you). At the time of writing, Casa de Uco had more than 20 vineyard owners and some of their wines were on the hotel restaurant wine list, including the Pinot Gris that was poured for me when I arrived.
The future holds even more developments at Casa de Uco. A small distillery was scheduled to open soon after this review went to press and it will be the new home of Apostle Gin. The hotel's owners are also looking for a way to ecologically heat the plunge pool so that it's usable year-round and there are plans afoot to build six more villas in more private areas of the property.
Web Address: CasadeUco.com
Total Number of Rooms: 19
Published rates: $390-$1,390 double occupancy with breakfast (half-board and full-board rates are available too)
Review by Karen Catchpole and photos by Eric Mohl