Mendoza is one of the major wine regions of Argentina, producing many well known types with Malbec being the local variety. We spent Sunday and Monday exploring the city. It was destroyed by an earthquake in the late 1800's. When they re-built it they rather pessimistically created a low level city with big wide streets. The streets are lined with trees which give a shady retreat from the 40 degree temperatures of the summer. There is only a very little rainfall in the area and the water is supplied from the melting snows on the surrounding mountains. As you may imagine the vineyards need water but even they are rationed for their irrigation. The city is easy to navigate and mostly flat with plenty of pavement cafes. Sitting at a pavement table you can buy anything from a pack of biros to a tazer from passing sellers.
Jill and I love wine but confess to not knowing much about it other than how to consume it. We had not had time in Nappa Valley in California or Marlborough in New Zealand to fit in a wine tour so it was a 'must do' this time. These sorts of excursions are like most things. You get what you pay for. They can start from around £10 but it seems the wines are not great and lunch is sparse. While we are trying to keep costs down we had promised ourselves we would pay a bit more for the things we really wanted to do. With this in mind we booked a high end tour recommended in Lonely Planet. We were not disappointed.
We were picked up at 8.50am in a nice mini bus. There were only 6 of us on the trip (another benefit of paying more). Our guide Maco had worked extensively in the wine business and had a degree in wine production and marketing. She was also a pretty good jazz singer. We were visiting 4 vineyards/wineries with lunch at the final one.
First up was a modern medium sized winery. We were given very informative tour of the production unit with lots of detail about storage and blending etc. After the tour we went to the tasting room. This was like a small laboratory, very clean and clinical. We sat at a table with basins and running water. The pro tasters spit and rinse after each mouthful but we were to learn and enjoy ourselves so we got to drink it. We sampled four of their top end wines. Here they retail at around 70 pesos which is £10. At home they would be around £70. I confess to tending to stick to what I like at home but this was great chance to try something different. Pinot Noir being one. All the wines were excellent and the information about smelling the bouquet and how to serve the wines from Maco and the winery person was very helpful. I've always cringed at chilling red wine but Maco said sometimes you have to as if it gets too warm it tastes horrible. We also left one of the reds for half an hour then re-tasted it to see how the temperature change had altered the smell and taste. We discussed the fashion now for screw top and plastic 'corks'. It seems they are traditional in Argentina and don't like it. Maco explained that if you hermetically seal the bottle then that is it. It won't deteriorate but it also will never improve with age. It needs air to do that.
Now feeling a little squiffy we moved to a small private winery. Here we got to see the vines and have the growing explained. We also got to taste their Malbec straight from the VAT before bottling. The duty mouse ran across the floor to add to the ambience. Again another four of their top wines to sample. These were very high end and again delicious.
Winery three is a family owned business. They had until recently only been grape producers, selling their harvest to wine makers. Recently they have started to produce and bottle their own brand. Their wine maker is an Italian, Giuseppe. It was noticeable that everyone we met was only 30 or 40. I had expected wizened old men in Gaucho hats. Some of the vines are over 100 years old so much older than the producers. Again another informative input from the daughter of the family and Giuseppe. This time it was first at trying a red dessert wine. I don't normally like very sweet wine but this was yummy.
Last stop was for lunch. I wasn't sure what to expect but again, not disappointed. The winery has a top class restaurant in it and we had a 5 course lunch with a different wine for each course. To be honest I would have paid the tour cost for the lunch alone. A lovely setting, great food and excellent company. Our fellow wine lovers were a couple from Oregon and another from Melbourne. Over lunch we listened to Maco's band on CD. We arrived back at the hotel well fed and light headed. It had been a great day.
Next day and another tour. This time into the High Andes. We were to visit Puente Del Inca and see Ochechuega the highest mountain outside the Himalayas. It was a 7.30 pick up as it is a long drive right to the Chilean border. I can summarise the day with 'Outstanding scenery' from the foothills through the medium range to the high peaks it was an ever changing view. As the sun rose and set the colours were jaw dropping. Punte Del Inca is a strange rock formation. It has been carved by the river into a natural bridge. The stripy colours are a blend of iron, calcium carbonate and sulphur. At one time there was hotel on the site and the sulphur was tapped for spa baths. The hotel was British built but was destroyed by an avalanche and never re-built. It is now a tourist destination complete with a local craft market.
The mountain view was a bit disappointing as the road can only get about 5 miles away so it looked very small. Fortunately we had seen it from a different side on the wine tour. The road into the high Andes is followed by a disused railway. This was built by the British to improve trade between Chile and Argentina. Like many railways here it has fallen into disrepair. This is mostly due to the large coach companies wielding political power and blocking attempts to repair it. Shame because it would make an outstanding journey.
On route we had seen the climber's cemetery by the roadside. 6 or so lose their lives each year climbing the mountains. One of the lovely sights in the lower hills is the lines of Poplar trees. They are in autumn colours now and look stunning.
It had been a long but memorable day when we arrived back in Mendoza. Next day and we had a bus out to Salta 18 hours further north. The sun was shining and we spent a relaxing day exploring more of the city including the main park. Sitting in Independiencia plaza as the sun went down listening to a busker play some great tunes on his electric guitar was heaven.
8pm and we are boarding the bus to Salta. We had booked first class as it was such a long way. So far we have tried each of the different seating classes. This was down stairs on a double decker coach. Only 6 seats which are just like business class airline seats. Wide, comfortable and they lay flat for sleeping. Off we went and then our steward bought round dinner accompanied by a glass of champagne and red wine. Yummy.
We enjoyed silly but amusing Jennifer Aniston move on the video. It also had Nicole Kidman in it so I had plenty of eye candy before sleep. 11.30 and we laid back the seats for sleep. Wow is it 9am already. A very good sleep and now our steward is serving breakfast and hot strong coffee. It's a few hours into the morning drive and we have stopped for new passengers. Our four first class companions have all got off so the rest of the journey it's just Jill and I. Time to catch up on photos and blogs. It's a tough life.
Oh before I forget. I mentioned previously about the long queues at banks. It seems the Argentineans trust banks less than we do. A lot of people work for the government. They get paid in cash via the bank. So they queue to get their wages then they go to another shop where they pay all their bills in cash. What's left they take home. That way they have the money and not the greedy grasping bankers. Perhaps we should all try it.