I headed to the Santiago Graffigna wine museum, which is adjacent to the city’s oldest and largest winery dating to 1870. The facility details the history of the Graffigna family and wine-making in the region.
The hot, dry climate makes the region perfect for red varietals, such as Syrah and Charbono, as well as sherry-style wines, brandy and vermouth. Fully briefed, I sipped Graffigna’s Malbec with a more appreciative palate.
Later, I discovered several other favorites wineries, located just outside this small city of about 112,000 people.
At Bodegas Callia, the winemaker is on a mission to develop the best Shiraz, or Syrah, in Argentina. Many experts think they’re onto something here. You can consider the merits of the wine while strolling or biking around this gorgeous, sprawling property.
Another worthwhile wine stop is Merced del Estero Bodega. This 35-acre estate has been growing grapes since the late 1800’s, but the family-owned vineyard didn’t open until 2004. The winery’s cutting-edge techniques have already produced award-winning bottles in Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Tannat.
Back in San Juan, I continued my local education at the Franklin Rawson Museum of Fine Arts/Agustín Gnecco Historical Provincial Museum, which offers paintings, sculpture and other pieces by Argentinean artists.
For some local history, I went to the Casa Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, the home of a local educator who was president of the country from 1868 to 1874.
Dinner is all about the grill at Parrilla Remolacha, a neighborhood eatery with a cozy dining room and spacious terrace dotted with bright yellow umbrellas.
Grilled meats, including beef, lamb and goat, are the specialty, but there is also lighter fare, including empanadas, pasta, seafood and salads.
I couldn’t visit the region without making a side trip to the Ischigualasto National Park, located about 200 miles away in the Valle de la Luna, a prehistoric dessert valley that was named for its rugged lunar landscape.
This UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site is home to the world’s oldest dinosaur remains, and is the only place on the globe where nearly all of the Triassic period — some 225 million years ago — is represented in an undisturbed sequence of rock deposits.
The 25-mile loop along bumpy dirt roads provides close ups of the many massive and surprising geological rock formations, including ones shaped like a submarine and a sphinx.
Ending your Ischigualasto tour at sunset is a must. The dinosaurs may be gone forever, but the stunning golden light on the rocks will long remain in your memory.