Mendoza – A Malbec-Enhanced Abbreviated Trip
Our trip to Mendoza, given the national strike and the chaos that subsequently rained down on it, was, like some Malbecs, bittersweet.
The trip, originally slated for nearly four full days, was to include biking about town and the massive, sprawling park nearby to us, a white water rafting trek, a trip to the Andes, and finally a biking wine and vineyard tour. None was booked in advance, fortunately. All were casualties of the strike. Too bad, so sad.
We arrived at 4pm in the afternoon and after dropping our bags in our new place (a really cool apartment, not just a studio. Actual rooms. Good sized), headed off to the massive Park de General San Martin, then to a grocery store to pick up some random items and Malbecs.
We headed over to nearby Avenida Villanueva for dinner … the street is lined up and down for a couple kilometers with restaurant after restaurant. Opted for Sofia, a TA rated place with some odd décor – just a mish-mash of every religion all over. Katie had a salad with strawberries, I opted for a steak with red fruit sauce. As expected, it was strawberry and it was interesting, though most cuts of Argentinian steak are so good as not to need fancy pants sauces and other various dressings. The cut was well cooked, and the sauce was done in such as a way as to save half the steak from it. I liked the sauce bits, really loved the straight up steak and, in my horrible Spanish, did my best to convey that to the water. He grinned, so I will assume he caught my drift.
Next morning we headed into town on Emilio Civit, a larger street with a sight Andes view to the west… as you get closer to the city “center” it turns into Avenida Sarmiento and traffic is blocked off. As with Villanueva, tons of bars, restaurants, and stores with adventures for tourists to engage in. We were lucky enough that in passing the owner of a tour company came out just as we were looking at the ads on his door. He was able to book us into an “shie shie” wine tasting in progress. No bikes. All day, so we’d leave in 60-90 minutes and join them in progress just as they hit the 3rd winery for lunch. This gave us time to check out the avenue and the Plaza Independencia, and score some coffee before we headed out.
This part of the city was brilliant. The park had artisans lined up selling their wares. Trees from all freaking over providing shade. Sadly the artisan beer booth was unmanned. We enjoyed some coffee then sat and listened to a bunch of guys in the walkway playing roaring 20’s tunes – they were fantastic.
The wine tour was done last minute and not quite what we hoped. No bikes, no Andes in sight. We joined a tour in progress. Our host was French, and we toured with six Chilenos, of which only one spoke English, about as well as my Spanish. Was 40 minutes at our first winery before we actually got wine. (They were SLAMMED. It was Good Friday, so they were short staffed and had twice as many guests as anticipated. And the grapes came, so the owner spent an hour and change battling bees to process the grapes.) The wine was great, as was the company. I was seated next to the husband of the family, who had a Yankees hat. Fueled by vino, languages were destroyed in a mish-mash of Chilean-fused Spanglish as we discussed his Yankees and my beloved Red Sox over our steak and veggies – all cooked in a giant wok-like disk over a fire on the yard.
We later toured the Pulmary facilities. It is a small (think Craft/microbrewery) family run operation. The building has been around for a long time. It used to belong to a winery that used the entire wine cellar as a giant tank, with paraffin wax applied to the walls, to store the wine. Needless to say the quality sucked horribly. Now it’s properly run. The owner apologized for everything being a mess, as they processed the grapes in the show room, but I thanked him. It was brilliant to see the actual blood, sweat, and bee stings that go into his craft. You walk away with a more real appreciation of what goes into it. We tried a couple wines at the table and were treated to several more glasses of everything from fermented grape juice to actual wines as part of the tour.
The second was a garage one man (plus daughter) operation from a gentlemen that has won awards in Paris before up and moving to Argentina to make Malbecs. It was small, and oddly done – an interpreter for a several ladies from LA did all the English translation leaving Katie in the dark. We only tried two wines, but as I mentioned, it was a garage operation from a decorated wine vet. We tried a Malbec 2007 as well as another wine circa 2005. His Malbec was mentioned in a South American wine mag by at least one authority as “THE Malbec”, and likened drinking a glass of it to “an arrow in the heart”. I enjoyed it, certainly, but was a bit more peppery than others I preferred. The Chilean family bought a bottle to go with the NINE cases they purchased from the other vineyards (I should have exchanged cards, as I know who to party with the next time we go to Santiago!) … the bottle set them back $200 US. Small operation producing high quality wines indeed.
We said our goodbyes to our Chilean amigos as we were dropped off. Packed up for the am flight and enjoyed one last dinner on the town. La Lucia on Villanueva. More steak. Once again, I failed the cardinal rule… Just steak. Got one covered with veggies and even a slice of quality ham with cheese… half the veggies were canned as, well, we don’t get mushrooms in a lot of this part of the world. The steak was cooked then wrapped in foil with the veg, jamon y queso… was interesting to behold, but was cooked medium well (asked for rojo) and just not up to what I’d had elsewhere in Argentina. The wine was great.
We had a lot of fun in Mendoza, but I am still bothered, even two weeks later as I write this, as I simply cannot let go and think what could have been. SO much to do and so, with so little actually done. I’d love to go back, but not sure if our remaining time in South America will allow it. Still SO MUCH to see. Rio. Patagonia. Machu Picchu… that’s every break/vacation through the next 15 months and time to pack up for home or wherever we end up next.