Mendoza – a city in wine country

Wednesday, 19th November
We woke up late today and slept through the hostel breakfast. We weren’t that bothered as it was probably just eggs and toast, it was nice to sleep in though as last night we were plagued by a mosquito. Not in the usual sense with it buzzing in our ears, but a silent one that bit us then went away. Overall not that annoying but left very itchy bites. Once up and showered I went out to a local supermarket to get stuff for a late breakfast/early lunch. There was a ‘Carrefour’ supermarket close by with a good selection of foods. It reminded me more of a European supermarket, something you might find in France, as opposed to South America by our past experience. I picked up some eggs, chorizo and various veggies to make an omelette back at the hostel. I used the best frying pan the hostel had to offer to try to conjure up an omelette but failed, instead serving up a scrambled mess of egg with veggies and chorizo. Still tasty but not the aesthetic I was going for. Says more about the standard of cook wear in hostels than my technique I think. We then did some research and booked ourselves into an apartment in Buenos Aires for a week and our onward travel to Buenos Aires from Cordoba by bus after finding out that this weekend is a public holiday in Argentina. I went to an office in the city to pay for the bus wanting to pay cash to take advantage of the ‘blue market’ exchange rate here in Argentina, getting more value for our money that way. On the way to the ticket office it was dead outside, I went out around 1pm and found that this is the siesta time with most places closed from then until around 5pm. Quite a long break in the middle of the day you might think. I agree. Still, the bus ticket office was open and I booked us onto a bus to Buenos Aires from Cordoba on the 24th November at 9am, arriving in the evening of the same day.

Paseo Sarmiento

The pedestrian street lined with cafes, ‘Paseo Sarmiento’

Plaza Independencia

Plaza Independencia, Mendoza

We relaxed and read at the hostel for a couple of hours whilst the siesta was in effect. There was no point in going out as nothing would be open and the city was like a ghost town. At around 5pm we went out in search of a drink and dinner. We tried to find several places listed on trip advisor but true to form couldn’t find them so we ended up on a street lined with bars and restaurants called Aristides Villanueva. It was still apparently quite early though and we found ourselves having a drink at one place, then another that was just seemingly opening for the day. As we finished up it got busier but by then we were headed back to the hostel for their free wine hour, from 8 to 9pm. We bought some more potatoes to cook up the rest of the stuff I bought for brunch, for dinner and drank some of the cheap (and nasty) free wine whilst cooking. There were a few bodies in the kitchen so we had to wait our turn for the burners, as is the norm in hostels, then after cooking, ate and went to bed. We had a wine tour booked for tomorrow picking us up at around 8am so thought an early night would be in order.

Thursday, 20th November
We woke up early today with the wine tour booked which picked us up at 8:45am. I had done my research and booked a tour with ‘Trout and Wine’, that offer wine and fishing tours as the name suggests. They were prompt in picking us up and after collecting all the members of the tour (seven in total) we made our way to the ‘Lujan de Cuyo’ wine region of Mendoza and the first winery, Alta Vista. The previous day they dropped off a ‘goody bag’ with some wine and two free city tour tickets. Not bad I thought.

The Mendoza Province is one of Argentina’s most important wine regions, accounting for nearly two-thirds of the country’s entire wine production. Located in the eastern foothills of the Andes, vineyards are planted at the some of the highest altitudes in the world with the average site located 1,970 to 3,610 feet above sea level. The principal wine producing areas fall into two main departments, Maipú and Luján, we would be visiting the latter and sampling some of the famous Malbecs of the region. Thanks Wikipedia for that.

We went to four wineries in all and tasted some amazing wines in the ‘Lujan de Cuyo’ region. This is the main reason we have come to Mendoza and rather than faff about with finding our own way around the wineries we thought it would be best to book with a tour that took us to the best and drove us around. A good choice as it turned out. The wines were great, the lunch a bit disappointing, having been promised a ‘four course, wine-paired lunch’ but then I think it was maybe that we were expecting the lunch by Melbourne standards and not Argentinian standards. We have found the food to be less than we expected. After visiting all the countries we have, I can honestly say that although we have tasted some amazing foods on our travels, the fact that the UK gets such a bad rap for food is a bit unfair when there are plenty of other countries in the world that offer sub-par cuisine. That’s as a side-note and off the point. It was a great day and amazing wines. The wines we tasted were:

1. Alta Vista Torrentes 2013
2. Alta Vista Atemporal Blend (Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdod) 2011
3. Alta Vista Terroir Selection Malbec 2011
4. Alta Vista  Alto 2009
5. Alta Vista Atemporal Extra Brut Pinot Noir & Chardonnay
6. Bodega Benegas Clara Benegas Chardonnay 2012
7. Bodega Benegas Sangiovese 2009
8. Bodega Benegas Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
9. Bodega Benegas Cabernet Franc 2006 (120 year old vines)
10. De Cero Syrah 2011
11. De Cero Malbec 2011
12. De Cero Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
13. De Cero Petit Verdod
14. Bodega Vistalba Progene 1
15. Bodega Vistalba Malbec Tomero 2011
16. Bodega Vistalba Cortea A 2011 (Blend)

Alta Vista

The tasting room at Alta Vista Vineyard

Alta Vista

Something to note that was quite strange was that the first vineyard we went to, Alta Vista, also doubles as the French Consulate here in Argentina. Maybe the need easy access to wine or something. Also, one of the members of our tour group was a ‘wine economist’ from Italy. He was on a researching holiday ad took plenty of notes (and drank plenty of wine). After the tour we were dropped at our hostel around 5pm and tired after all the wine (they were generous tastings) we had a lie down. I got up not long after and drank a ‘Quilmes’ beer and watched the football. River Plate were playing Boca Juniors in the ‘Superclassico’ in the the first leg of a Copa Sudamericana semi-final. I watched this at the hostel with a few of the hostel staff. As the game went on more and people joined but the quality of the game didn’t any better and it finished nil-nil. This is the biggest rivalry in Argentinian football and one of the biggest in the world. The crowd were clearly getting into it and made me look forward to the game we will go to in Buenos Aires. We have a ticket for the Independiente match against Newell’s Old Boys (the NOB’s, seriously!).

Friday, 21st November
We check out of the hostel around 10am and waited for the hostel breakfast of pancakes to clear out so I could make use of the kitchen. They have a pretty serious commercial kitchen style set of burners there and it’s a pleasure to use a decent kitchen after so many cramped and under-equipped kitchens. I cooked up the leftovers from yesterday, something along the lines of fried potatoes, chorizo and eggs. Very nice. With breakfast doing it’s job we made our way to a post office so Kirsty could post a couple of cards. Post offices have become harder and harder to find as we’ve moved through South America and this one was no exception. There turned out to be one post office in Mendoza and as such it was fairly busy. We took a ticket and waited around half an hour to see a clerk just to ask for some stamps and get the mail on it’s way. Feeling the effects of a day-long wine tour the day before, we then went to a cafe to eat something and get a drink. We ordered a ‘Picado’ plate, which had the description of something like a sharing plate of antipasto. What came out was a dinner plate with a pile of cubed cheese on one side and cubed ham on the other with two types of olives provided some other colour. I don’t know if they expect a couple of people to usually finish this but we couldn’t. If it was only sliced thinly and served differently There’s something quite unappealing about large piles of cubed cheese and ham on a plate together.

In our wine tour ‘goody bag’ we got two free tickets to the open-top Mendoza city tour bus. This lasted two hours and we took our ride after lunch which took in all the main sights of the city. We got a peek at areas we hadn’t been too before so it was good. It was also a good way to while away a couple of hours whilst waiting for the overnight bus to our next destination, Cordoba. We had a narrated tour which had snippets of information but mostly played elevator-type music through headphones. It was nice to be driven around for a couple of hours though. After this we went back to the hosel for a bit and I left Kirsty there to chat to our her folks whilst I hunted down the ‘blue market’ to change some US dollars at an agreeable rate. I found a cigarette smoking gentleman on the main drag of San Martin who offered me the classic ‘cambio’ call-sign. We haggled a bit over the rate, in the end I got 11.5 pesos to my dollar as I only had 20 dollar bills and they are ‘difficult’ apparently. The bank rate is around 8.5 so that’s still good though. I went with him around the corner to an office covered in iron bars. It turns out he was trying to hunt down 1,000 pesos as he didn’t have enough cash for me. Anyway, a friend of his out on the street had the cash and we exchanged our cash. Not sure how legal this is but it seems to be the done thing and you get a really good rate doing it this way. Around 35-40% more value for your money.

Mendoza Streets

View from our seats aboard the ‘Mendoza City Tour’

Parque San Martín

Parque San Martín, Mendoza

With a bundle of pesos in my pocket I walked back to the hostel and then Kirsty and I went out for dinner along the pedestrian street, ‘Paseo Sarmiento’. We found a cafe not offering any ‘deals of the day’ but it turned out better as we just ordered of the standard menu and got quite tasty food. We haven’t found the food here in Argentina to be that amazing so far but this was nice. We then wandered back to our hostel, changed into our bus gear and called a taxi for the ride to the bus terminal. Our bus left at 10:30pm for Cordoba and would be arriving at 8am the next day or thereabouts. We had paid a bit extra and got the downstairs fancy seats on the double-decker with a bit more comformt. We fell asleep to the dulcet tones of a Spanish overdubbed Jack Nicholson in ‘Something’s Gotta Give’.



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