Winedoza...emphasis on the wine; less on dozing...

Trip Start Oct 05, 2012
Trip End Apr 01, 2013

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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Visiting the wine capital of Argentina (and perhaps arguably South America) was always high on my list of things to do whilst traveling through the country. The fact my time in Mendoza happened to be in the days leading up to the Rio Carnaval was a 'well-planned' coincidence, but one which served well as a warm-up...!!

My arrival was once again in the early am after an overnight bus from Bariloche. Great service as always on the Argentinian buses, with an attendant called Christian who did everything with such flourish and flair, even the game of bingo. Yes, I kid you not we played bingo on the bus!! Best part though was when the prize - a bottle of wine - was won by a 10 year old kid. And they actually gave it to him, something which would never have happened in the UK obviously...

I had high hopes for my hostel in Mendoza, top rated and with what sounded like great facilities (pool) and lots of sociable events. I wasn't disappointed either, although I will say that air-conditioning would have been a welcome addition in the rooms. The temperature never dropped below 28 degrees the whole time I was there, even at night...!! Just as well there was enough going on to distract me from the lack of shut eye.

Wine & Bikes
First up was the obligatory wine tour. Mentioning bikes and wine tasting in the same sentence might seem a little disconcerting (especially to the parentals!!) but this is actually one of the most common ways to tour the wine districts of Mendoza. I was really keen to do this and was lucky enough to find 2 others - Jez (Swiss/UK) and Matthias (German) who also wanted to do it on the same day as me. Of the 2 options we were given, we eventually decided on the guided tour as opposed to hiring our own bikes and finding our own way to the various vineyards. Idiot-proof was the very apt description used by Jez in finally swinging the decision!! And so it definitely proved to be...

We were picked up by Diego from Martin's Bikes and driven about 20 mins to Luján, one of the area's 2 main winemaking districts, and more specifically, the town of Chacras de Coria. There was a group of 8 of us doing the tour, and after being kitted out with bikes/helmets and given the 'if you get too drunk, you will be sent in a taxi back to Mendoza' safety spiel we were off!!

First stop - a spirit factory specialising in absinthe. Yes, this is no joke and it seemed to contravene the safety speech given it was only turned out that this was normally the last stop...which would appear to be a much more sensible way to do it!! It wasn't all about hard-core spirits though. We also got to try many types of relish/chutneys and jams, all delicious and most importantly providing a much required lining to our stomachs. We were then offered 2 shots of spirits, ranging from the sweet and easy 'dulce de leche' licquer right through to the hardcore absinthe. My first was based on an old family recipe of something called 'muerte russa' - translated to Russian death - which consisted of something peppery along with a hint of sweetness. Nice, but perhaps better around 11pm rather than in the morning!! This was then followed by the infamous absinthe, although I have to confess to shying away from a full shot and opting instead to share one with another of the girls. It still felt like it was burning the back of my eyeballs though, especially as the last time I drank absinthe was probably in second year of uni - of course, a very long time ago...!!

Next stop - after a very short, and not too wobbly cycle along a beautiful road surrounded by grapevines and set against the backdrop of the Andes - was a very small bodega called Carmelo Patti. Carmello himself met us and took us through the process before we went into the tasting room. He had 3 wines for us to try: 1) 2007 Malbec - 2012 top rated in Argentina; 2) Cabernet Sauvignon; 3) Gran Assemblage. The cheapest of these would retail in Argentina for P/100 (apx. $20) and the most expensive somewhere around the P/350 (apx. $70). All of them were great, although my favourite was the Cabernet Sauvignon. This bodega was so nice to visit, it really felt like such a friendly place and the fact that we were met and shown around by the owner made it extra special. He is very proud of the fact that all his marketing is done 'boca a boca' - 'word of mouth' - and I'm definitely going to look up the UK importer (Pampas Wines) when I return.

Our 2nd bodega - Weinert - was very different. Although there are larger in the Mendoza area, it does operate at the opposite end of the spectrum to Carmelo. We came through heavy security into a very formal courtyard and were then led through very grand doors where our tour began, which took us through a variety of different fermentation tanks and cellar areas. The best one being the giant oak barrel that can fill 60000 bottles!! 3 wines were again offered for tasting: 1) 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon 2) 2008 Malbec 3) 2011 Sauvignon Blanc. These averaged apx P/30-45 (apx. $6-10) a bottle. The price difference being much lower than the previous because of the mass production which this bodega is capable of.

3 hours of cycling and wine tasting (although definitely more of the latter!!) in temperatures over 32 degrees meant we were all pretty tired by the time we reached our final bodega of the day - a boutique winery called Clos de Chacras. Luckily, this was also our lunch stop, and proved to be something completely unexpected. We had only been told lunch was included, and my expectations were of a packed lunch or something similar. Not so, in fact it couldn't have been more different!! Lunch was at the bodega's restaurant and included starter and choice of main course. Most of us opted for the ribeye, which easily has to have been the best piece of steak I have had in Argentina. It was also accompanied by 2 glasses of their wine, chosen from the menu to suit whichever meal you had selected. Delicious!! Lunch was a relaxed and fairly long affair, and was followed by the actual tour. This included eating the grapes from the vines (more like blueberries than grapes!!) and then heading into the cellars where we got to stand inside one of the huge concrete vats traditionally used for the fermentation process. All in all a beautiful location and a great end to our wine tasting in Luján.

It was then a short cycle back to the offices before we headed back to Mendoza. This was by far the end of the day though!! First off, the whole of our group enjoyed a few more drinks at the hostel where the others were staying. Our hostel were supposed to be taking us out that night and we eventually made it back there just in time to join the others heading to another hostel. Although we had been told to be there by 11.30pm, it was closer to 2am when we actually left their garden. There then followed a rather bizarre taxi journey through the almost deserted streets of Mendoza - the drivers were living out some sort of F1 fantasy as they raced each other from traffic light to traffic light!! Our destination turned out to be a rather odd club called Por Acá, which played a succession of rock ballads whilst using strobe lighting that made it almost impossible to see anything. Despite this, it turned into quite a good night and there were a handful of us there until the closing of the club, meaning we just about managed to beat the rising sun as we walked back to the hostel...

Argentinian Asado
The majority of the day which ended in the early morning was rendered pretty useless. Mendoza is HOT, and I don't mean balmy mid-20s...I mean mid-30s, which hardly seems to drop even in the night. Needless to say, I didn't make it much further than the supermarket and the hostel courtyard!!

Luckily I didn't even have to think about food for the evening though as there was a traditional BBQ prepared for us that evening. As expected this turned out to be very meat heavy. No complaints though from any of us as the meat was excellent - very tender, cooked to perfection in terms of how rare it was, and with simple salt as flavouring. Salad was kept to a minimum and the meat just kept coming from the BBQ. And the wine just kept flowing...

Termas Chaceuta
This was planned for my 3rd day in Mendoza, and I did try to go with one of the girls from the hostel. Unfortunately, it turned out that the public bus only had 13 seats (seriously!!) and it was full, so we lost out on our full day of pampering in an outdoor spa set at the foot of the Andes. Gutted...

Second best - although, really very far from the first option - was some city exploration. This involved going from shade to shade and eventually finding myself in Parque San Martin. It slightly reminded me of parts of Hyde Park, but on a much grander scale. And slightly less well maintained - the lake was filthy!!

Interesting (or boring?) architectural fact I also found out along the way. Mendoza was destroyed by an earthquake in the C19. When it was being replanned, each neighbourhood was conceived around a square, which is where all the people would have gone for safety and supplies. Interesting, huh...and may account for the 'catastro' manhole covers which are on most streets.

Making Empanada's
I've eaten many an empanada since arriving in South America, and the variety is almost as diverse as the locations which claim to have created them. Mendoza also likes to lay claim to being a 'home of the empanada' and on my final night the hostel had a cooking evening for all of us to try to make these. It was led by a lovely local lady who took us through the seasoning of the meat and how to make pastry, before showing us how to fill and then fold/roll our own empanadas. Great fun as there was a huge group of us all sitting doing this whilst washing the fruits of our labour down with yet more of Mendoza's finest wines. During this, I also learnt that the word 'empanada' can also be used as a rude, slang word...I don't want to explain further, but girls, be warned and wary if ever using it in a context which men can twist!!

All was going well, and I looked on track for a sensibly early night and much rucksack sorting...that was until one of our Argentinian wine guides suggested another night out in Mendoza. My inner devil clearly wanted to start Carnaval early, and hence I ended up back at the same club, drinking Fernet (Argentinian drink) and Coke until the early hours of the morning. If I'm honest, it was a lot of fun, that was until I remembered that I was flying overnight the next day and therefore had 2 nights without proper sleep just ahead of arriving in the middle of the largest party in the world...very, very silly of me!!
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dishy on

Absinthe.............M'mmmmm.........That doth remind me of a nite in the 'Drouthy Neebors' in Causewayside back in the gud old days prior 2 going out on the town!!

irene henry on

Cheers! after all the wine tasting. sounds lush!! Belated Happy Pancake Day and Happy Valentine's Day. Enjoy Carnival. Lots of love xxx

Ma on

Doesn't the night at" Drouthy Neighbours" involve Dad, I have a recollection that both you and Alison enticed him to participate in Absinthe!!
So pleased you enjoyed the Mendozian wine always bee one of my favourites

Stay safe, love you

curlsandtales on

It wasn't was aftershock...and I do believe he revealed it wasn't the first time he had had it, so who knows what other occasion he may have indulged in absinthe. Less known the best me thinks ;-)
Have survived Carnival and am now relaxing on the beaches of Buzios. Life is very tough here... Xx

Pigwig on

Bikes, wine and steak, sounds like heaven to me. I'll chip in on an order of wine for DCC ; )

curlsandtales on

Oh yes to a wine order. Wine will make everything better... ;-) xx

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