Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mendoza – 16-1-09 - 18-1-09

My parents were reasonable in their decision to cancel our trip to Mendoza, the wine country of Argentina. The flight would have cost a ridiculous amount, and there was no way they could conceptualize how nice it would be to take a bus there. The bus ride is about 14 hours and any person from the US would automatically cringe at the thought of 14 hours on a bus. But this is only because they are unfortunate enough to have been subjected to the “high” quality experience of the coach bus that traverses the United States at unreasonable rates. The Greyhound is more expensive than Amtrak at times, and not nearly as comfortable. So imagine their surprise when they finally stepped on board for their first Argentine bus experience. It took an Argentine (Ana: our amazing guide from Tigre) to convince them of what I could not, but once on board they understood why I had been bugging them to take the bus to Mendoza for weeks. There are different levels of buses here. The worst is semi-cama, which is nicer than a coach bus, but is somewhat minimal in its ability to give you the seat recline you deserve. The seats are wider and farther apart than in the economy section of an airplane, but not where I would want to be for 14 hours in a row. Cama is the next step up with seats comfortable enough to nap in for a few hours, but again not where I want to be for 14 hours straight. We took it to the next level with our Suite Style bus. For not very much extra dough you get almost fully reclining seats, dinner, wine and whisky, curtains to separate you from your neighbor for some privacy, blankets, pillows and headphones at every seat for the TVs dispersed through the cabin. It was wonderful. We left at around 9:30, were served dinner soon afterwards, and I slept from 11 pm until breakfast at 8 am. Then I slept again until 11:30 am. It was divine. I had not slept that much in weeks.
We arrived in Mendoza well rested if not a little wrinkled and went straight into town to the Ampora Wine agency who had made our arrangements for us. The taxi from the train station was very old and very small, and I think Dad almost had a conniption because he thought it might be his last ride seeing as it was about to busted open at the seams. To his relief we were soon in a more modern car headed for Casa Glebinias where we stayed for the weekend. The bed and breakfast is located in Chacras, a small and very sleepy town just outside Mendoza. The big house is reached after passing small two story apartments with a small half kitchen and two bedrooms. The backyard sprawls out behind the house, dotted with small sets of tables and chairs, fruit trees, a parilla complete with a brick oven, a big table with chairs that sits in the shade of a grape arbor, four amazing dogs and of course a pool.

Dad and I chill by the pool with a neighbor's puppy
Josh gets inspired and artsy

The town was literally asleep when we went out in search of food, and the only restaurants open were the ones on the main square. After a pleasant lunch and sufficient beer we head back to the B&B for some serious R&R. I got another nap and a swim in the pool before we headed in to the apartment to get ready for a nice dinner in Mendoza that we had promised ourselves after the mystery kabob from the night before.
Mendoza was very much alive for Friday night, and we walked around a bit before dinner. The town looks somewhat like Mar del Plata did, but beautiful squares abound here, and we walked from one to another until we found the fanciest hotel in town and poked around a bit before heading down the street towards our restaurant. My parents enjoyed the city, but were alarmed by the young people’s haircuts!! The Euro-trashesque mullet is very much the rage in Mendoza, and the youth walks around with some of the craziest hair I’ve even seen.
The restaurant was very nice, and the creative dishes were a nice change of pace for Josh and me after three months of plainer Argentine fair. We were also very charmed with their method for selecting the wine of the evening. Instead of a wine list you are ushered into the cold cellar where you pick your wine off the shelf. The sommelier is there to aid you and answer any questions you might have.
The next day we woke up early for our 9 am pick up. I’m sure my parents were excited to explore the wine country of Mendoza, but Josh and I could not wait to begin our very fist wine tasting/winery experience. Our traveling companions for the day were an older couple who turned out to be most interesting, and our guide was a cute young girl from Mendoza.
We started at a family operated vineyard where we toured the property and took in the morning sun among olive trees and of course many grape vines. I learned a lot about the growing process from our guide starting with different methods of growing grapes, and including how the vines are kept small to ensure a concentration of taste in each grape. Mendoza is the perfect place to grown wine because of the sandy soil and the dry climate. They do not have to worry about over watering the grapes, bugs or fungus because of this, but they do have to worry about hail. For some reason, Mendoza is plagued by hail during part of the growing season, and one good hailstorm can take out most of your crop. Because of this some growers use expensive hail nets to protect their best grapes, but St. Diego’s winery cannot afford the nets and it was nice to look upon the beautiful vines. Another interesting thing I learned was that wherever there are grape vines there are rose bushes. Because roses attract bugs, the roses will show if bugs are coming to eat the grapes before it happens. It also happens to be quite pretty.

Beautiful vineyard filled with vines and olive trees

We tried a sparkling Rosé and two reds over candied orange peels, walnuts from their walnut trees, homemade bread and raisins for a second breakfast. One of the reds was interesting because it had never been in oak barrels. Many people believe that a wine cannot age well if it has not sat in oak for at least a few months but the family at St. Diego is setting out to prove this notion false. It tasted great to me!!!!
The second vineyard was much lest personal. It’s a medium size vineyard and the tour was somewhat useless to me, but the tasting was great. My mom, Josh and I loved the Cabernet the most and I also really liked the Sauvignon Franc blend a lot even if my mom didn’t like the way it smelled. At this winery I sat next to our guide Maia who really encouraged me to explore the tastes and smells I was experiencing.

Next we headed to another winery for lunch where we had some nice rosé and some Malbecs with our four course meal that were a little boring after the tasting from the morning. I didn’t learn much about the vineyard or the wine, but we had really amazing Bife de Lomo (tenderloin) and I stupidly ate some ice cream. At lunch we also learned that the wife of the couple we were traveling with.

The last vineyard was my favorite tasting experience. The Benegas name has been in wine for four generations and they used to own the massive Trapiche winery. The 2001 crisis forced them to sell everything but the Benegas line, and the Benegas winery was opened by Federico Benegas in the early 2000’s. The winery is an old building that was reinforced by steal after an earthquake. Its also Federico’s home, and I regret that I could not figure out a way to crash his asado that was being hosted there later that night. The room we tasted in is an expansive space with the biggest parilla I’ve even seen and about 4 times the size of your average Argentine grill. The table went from one end of the room and ended at the longest set of white couches I’ve even been fortunate enough to sit on.

His ridiculously expensive poncho collection decorates the walls, and the next room is a small museum of old farm and wine equipment. The cellars are underground and beautiful. The wine is kept only in new and second use oak barrels and the wine is only fermented in concrete vats that fill the upstairs warehouse. Once the wine is bottled the bottles sit in what used to be the wine vats for about a year (if I remember correctly) until they are labeled by hand by four women who each hand label 400 bottles a day.

Oak barrels only used two times before sold

Wine wine everywhere and not a drop to drink!!! For another 10 min. anyway...

Concrete vats where the wine ferments and the table where the bottles are hand labeled

We tasted one white and two red. One of the red was the reserve Sauvignon Franc (100% which is rare) and the other was a blend. For the first time in my life I was actually able to smell something other than wine!!!! I’m not sure if everyone is going to be as excited about this as I am, but we slowly sipped the wines and I could actually smell and taste their evolution. I smelled chocolate in one, flowers in another, and noticed another grow from being mostly smelling of alcohol to smelling of berries and maybe a little chocolate as well to something even deeper by the end. It was kind of a religious experience, so forgive me if I ramble. Of course we could not stay forever seeing as Federico had a party to host, so we grudgingly got back into our van and went back to our apartment where we spent the night in watching Pirates of the Caribbean and eating really bad pizza and salad that we ordered in.
Today we took a hike up to an artisans craft fair where Josh and I got a few things for our walls and then we hiked back for a kick ass lunch at a local family place. The pasta was amazing even though the service was not, and we rolled ourselves back to the B&B to siesta in the shade until it was time to board our bus where I write from. This bus is Royal Suite! It’s the best one yet with fully reclining leather seats, individual TVs, a fancier attendant, and a view of the country side in the waning daylight. Maybe dinner will be better too! We will arrive in Capital Federal at 8:15 where we will sprint from our bus all the way to work. I know its crazy, but it was totally worth it. This experience in Mendoza will change the way I drink wine forever. Not that I didn’t grow up with a Dad who is practically an encyclopedia of wine knowledge, but there was something about drinking different wines all day with large groups of people without getting to drunk to learn that make me connect with the tastes and smells like I never have before. I can understand what someone means by the structure of the wine, and I can’t wait to learn more. As soon as I can afford wine glasses I am going to have a wine tasting. Don’t hold your breath, this might be a long time from now, so maybe I’ll find a friend who has some instead. Regardless, it was a great weekend.


Shelley Rolf said...

WOW. looks like a great weekend. we love to hear what you are up to. thanks you for updating the blog. xoxo

Austin said...

Beautiful weekend, guys. I think you got to see Mendoza in a different way from most of us, and it sounds like it was a blast.

JULIA - I'm so happy for your wine epiphanies. When you're old you can remember that this was the turning point, and what a turning point it was.

Chau locos.

Mary Rolf said...

What fun! I know absolutly nothing about wine, but would love to learn. I've been to MI wineries but was nothing like your experiences!