The Wine Region

Trip Start Jan 01, 2008
Trip End Dec 29, 2008

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The overnight bus journey from San Rafael to Mendoza was the shortest yet - only 3 hours!

We have booked ourselves into Hostel Lao for four nights. According to Hostelworld this is the number 2 hostel in the whole of Argentina. It is also one of the most expensive at $50US per night for a double room with bathroom. The hostel itself is clean and looks comfortable enough although we are a bit concerned by the average age of the guest population which seems to be about 18.5 years!

Mendoza city was rebuilt in the 1950s in a grid pattern after it was completely destroyed by a massive earthquake and consequently it is a city of wide tree lined boulevards and is really a pleasant town just to wander around with lots of shops and restaurants and, of course, many, many specialist wine shops - a Vinophile's Mecca!

We decide to walk around the city in search of a decent restaurant as Mendoza is famed, not only for its wine, but for its food. There are indeed lots of restaurants here and we eventually settle on a traditional Argentine Parrilla restaurant called Estancia del Florencia. This restaurant is recommended in a number of guide books as being old style Argentine and it does not disappoint.

We have learnt our lesson from ordering at other Parrilla restaurants and do not order the "parrillada", which as well as vast quantities of steak of varying cuts, also includes a selection of sausages and a wide variety of different parts of the cow, sweetbreads, intestines, tripe etc.   This time we ask the waiter for a recommendation.  He is a bit of a character and runs through his suggestions and also the Argentine terminology for ordering e.g. Rare = Jugoso, medium rare = a punto.   We decide upon order two "Bife de Chorizo" a punto with a tomato and onion salad and nice bottle of Malbec. The steaks arrive and are massive!   I would guess at a pound of meat a piece! They are also perfectly cooked. Without a doubt the best steaks we have ever tasted (and I include in that some of New York and Boston's best steak restaurants. The wine is also fabulous and the total bill was half what we would have paid in a chain restaurant back home.

Many shops in some towns have slightly odd looking (German/Swiss?)  gremlins sitting in the window or outside. We do not know why or what these are, but have taken a picture anyway.  Perhaps someone will tell us the significance of these?

That night we get back to the hostel and retire to our room at around 11.30 (early by Argentine standards) and only then realise the problem with our room. It is right by the front door so, in addition to the traffic noise, we have the joy of people coming back to the hostel ringing the buzzer, slamming the gate and having a little chat with the manager right outside our door. This goes on until about 4.00am when all is quiet, at least until 6.00am when some new guests arrive early from the night bus and keep ringing until the manager finally wakes up. Oh the joys of hostel life!

The next day we take this upon with the manager, German (who asks to be called G-Smooth - yes really!!!) G was not a whole lot of use but at least he gave us a bottle of wine and knocked 10% off our bill).
Apart from seeing the city, another reason for us to come here is to look at the property market, but rather than look around at any property, we visit a couple of Realtors in the city, just to get an idea of what is available, the prices and process of buying. We learn a lot more of the very complicated property buying processes here and decide that maybe we will come back if we decide on Argentina/Mendoza. 

On our last day in Mendoza we book up on a tour of the Bodegas (Vineyards) and are taken to three around the city - a large mass market commercial operation, a medium sized mid-market operation and a small family bodega.   We are shown around each of the bodegas and are given a short talk on the working of each (in Spanish and English) and each tour ends with a tasting session and of course the opportunity to buy wine. Unlike other parts of the world, New Zealand for example, you have to pay for these visits, so we were a little surprised to find that the quantity of wine provide was very small (in the case of the first bodega, this was a blessing in disguise as the quality was pretty dire too! Fortunately, at the next two bodegas, whilst the quantities did not increase, the quality did. We did buy a nice bottle of Malbec reserva at the last bodega and, having listened to the lectures we could appreciate the difference in quality and the resulting price differential.

A quick visit to a working farm/Finca was interesting as the piglets had escaped the pen and were running around to the amusement of the visitors.  They ran back through the bars into the sty when anyone approached them.  Further along was a barn where the hams were hanging.  They smelt much better than the pigs!

The day ended at a local restaurant and 20 of us sat down to a very large array of local dishes which were washed down by copious amounts of very good wine. At last! 

Enough of Mendoza. We head onwards and upwards to Salta in the far North West.  We manage to reserve the front upstairs seats because Carolyn wants to see where we are going.    Also managed to get CAMA grade -  Yippeee!
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