14 December 2013

The Vines of Mendoza

9 - 12 November.

Mendoza, Argentina, is a place I added to my list back in Kyrgyzstan, based on recommendations from a lot of the people I was travelling with at the time - a few days of excellent wine sounded good. Having spent a few days in Mendoza, it is good.

The journey here from Santiago, a place I'd stayed overnight having left San Pedro, was a simple 8 hour bus ride over the Andes, which makes for some stunning views - it is well worth doing during the day if you like mountain scenery.

Mendoza itself is a fairly small city, but one with a nice feel about the place. A pleasant place to spend a few hours walking around, although having arrived on a Sunday I found that it, like a lot of the rest of South America, is closed on Sundays. It is also likes a siesta - so everything is closed in the afternoon too. As with the rest of South America - do stuff early, nap in the afternoon and then go out again. Or, if you are like me, forget this on a regular basis - have a lazy morning, "discover" that everything is closed mid-afternoon and then have a lazy afternoon too (I've read a lot in South America, which is no bad thing) and then cram too much in to the afternoons and evenings.

Whilst there are many things to do in and around Mendoza (rafting appealed, but I was saving that for Pucon), the main reason for visiting the area is wine. Lots and lots of amazing wine.

The two traditional methods of touring the wine region is either with some form of organised wine tour (driven from place to place, look around the site, try wines, etc) or a self-propelled tour, by bike.

I had wanted to do a nice wine tour, such as Trout & Wine which has an amazing reputation, visiting some of the better vineyards and trying some of the nicer wines, but it was only when I was in Mendoza did I discover just how expensive they were (the wrong side of $150 for a 1 day tour). I could have coped with about $100, but $150 is just too much for tasting a few (very nice) wines and having (what the reviews all say is) a very nice lunch
If I were in Argentina for a short break (a few weeks) - and given how little I've seen of the place, how much I've enjoyed what I have seen and what I've been told by others, I want to return - I'd happily budget for doing a couple of nice tours; not an option for me at the moment.

Part of me fancied the bike & wine option, but having not ridden a bike for the best part of 20 years drink-cycling my way around Mendoza seemed a little "interesting".
(side note: I actually tried a bike for the first time in about 20 years in San Pedro - I borrowed the one Petra had hired for the afternoon for a few min - and much to my surprise you really don't forget how to ride, even if I was a little wobbly.) 

I found reference to The Vines of Mendoza and it looked interesting - it gives you the ability to sample various wines at various prices from many different vineyards, without having to travel very far, and whilst being educated by staff who really know there stuff. Their online reputation is excellent (see this, for example).

I spent Monday night there, sampling 4 good wines and 1 which was absolutely stunning - it is up there with Diemersfontein Pinotage, which is no faint praise from me. I wanted to be able to afford to import a case or three, but the total cost of doing it ended-up at around £50 per bottle - totally unaffordable. I'll be doing my best to track it down  at home - it is stunning.
For those interested... Pulenta, 100% Gran Cabernet Franc, 2010. The irony of going to the home of Malbec and falling for a Cab Franc isn't lost on me.

Tuesday, my last day in Mendoza, was an easy day of another Meat Coma and a return to The Vines of Mendoza for a sample of another 5 great wines, which thanks to Ezequiel (the guy who runs the tastings) being a nice guy turned in to 7 great wines. Whilst the 7 were good and some were very good, none touched the Cab Franc.

As much as I would like to ship many cases of the Cab Franc home, I just can't. I can, and did, take one bottle with me back to Chile; something to enjoy whilst in Pucon with Gil. Buying the wine also allowed me the opportunity to do something I get a slightly odd kick from - mess with people.

There is a certain stereotype of people who go to nice wine tastings and it would be fair to say I'm not it; when in full backpacker mode I certainly don't look like it, not that I look any more like it most of the time anyway.

So picture the scene... you are sat in a nice wine tasting place, looking like the type of person who goes there, when in walks a dirty backpacker - it would be fair to say my shirt was probably a day past when it should have been in the laundry - who is carrying two bags with him (see this picture, although the hat is now lost :-() who has just had a warm greeting from the guy on the door and an even warmer greeting from the guy who runs the place and one of the other staff.

Imagine your further surprise when the guy who runs it grabs you some water (I'd just walked with my packs from the hostel and was obviously a bit hot & sweaty) whilst the waitress thanks you for her present (it's her birthday and she joked on Monday night that I should bring her cake - so I did) and offers you a drink, on the house.
Imagine your shock, being the person I sat next to, the type that looks like sitting next to backpackers happens to someone else, when a glass of wine is brought to me before I can even ask for what I want and it is very obviously my favourite - the wine I'd gone to buy.

I then proceeded to sit there, enjoy my wine, chat with the waitress. Sadly the wine ended and I had to find a cab - one was called as it is a lot easier. The taxi arrives and there is a round of warm goodbyes from all.

I do wonder what those sat around though as the whirlwind of oddness passed through. Based on their looks, bewilderment I suspect.

I do get a rather twisted kick from watching the reactions from those around me when I do stuff like this - see Sushi in Cape Town, for example.