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Mountains and Malbec

Our next stop was Mendoza; in the shadow of the Andes and right in the middle of Argentine wine country. After another day on the bus we arrived as the sun was setting over the mountains and checked into a decent hostel. We had yet another steak dinner (or I did at least!) and sampled the first of many bottles of the local wine – at less than £3 a bottle in a restaurant it was too good to turn down!

The followed day we took our time exploring the city, which is made up of wide avenues and green squares, all rebuilt after an earthquake in the 1860’s. Apparently the avenues were so that rubble didn’t fall on anyone next time there was a quake, and the squares were for people to evacuate in to – optimistic planning!

Our hostel had a roof terrace with a large Argentine barbeque, so I thought it was about time I tried to whip up an Asado myself. The traditional Asado begins with wood rather than charcoal, and takes some time to get going – starting at nearly 9pm wasn’t universally popular! However, we did eventually eat some sausages, chicken and steak. No-one was killed so I’d rate that as a success!

The main attraction in Mendoza are the vineyards and wineries – the region produces 70% of Argentina’s wine and most of the world’s Malbec, so that was reason enough to visit! We spent the next day exploring the Maipu area, just outside the city, by bike. The first stop was Bodega Rural, which also had an interesting museum with all sorts of old winemaking tools. Then we cycled next door to Vina Maria, a tiny place that produces very small quantities of wine and olive oil. We had a wander through the vines and then tried a couple of their best vintages. Both very good! We were then enlisted to help correct a letter, written in English, that was being sent to importers in America advertising their wines!

After some pretty hard riding on some very bumpy roads, we next arrived at Vina Tempus Alba. This was a much fancier affair, evidently a ’boutique’ winery, and after a short tour around the modern production facilities (lots of huge steel tanks etc.) we sat on the roof terrace and had a try of pretty much everything they had to offer! All very good, and an amazing view over the vines to the snow-capped Andes.

It was only about 3pm by this point, so we weren’t finished! We headed across the road to Bodega El Cerno, which was very much back to basics, a family run place where they still use the original 100 year old equipment. They’d been harvesting all week, and as the wine was fermenting down in the cellars we weren’t allowed to take a look, but we were taken through the whole process before we got have a try. Unusually for Argentina they also did a sparkling white which Gem was particularly fond of, so we ended up taking home a bottle, along with one of the 2004 Cab Sav which was very tasty – all for about a tenner! Our final stop of the day was at Bodega Familia Di Tommaso, one the country’s oldest wineries and still run by the original family. After another little tour and some more tasting we finally headed home, with sore legs and slightly fuzzy heads!

We had one more day in Mendoza, and our wine enthusiasm was still going strong. We decided to try and explore the Lujan de Cuyo area to the south west of the city. The wineries here are a bit more exclusive, so you need to make an appointment if you want to have a nose. Our host at the hostel provided assistance though and very helpfully sorted us out with a couple of visits. The first was to Bodega Lagarde, where we had a much longer tour. After a look around the vines we tried some of the extremely sweet Malbec grapes (not great for eating!), and then saw the rest of the winery where they turn out a million hectolitres every year, which definitely sounds like a lot! They also make sparkling wine there using the Champagne method so we learned all about that too – hand turning the bottles every day didn’t sound like a fun job! Obviously we couldn’t leave without a tasting, and lovely though it was, it was all a bit out of our price range!

Our second visit was Bodega Luigi Bosca, an even bigger winery that produced dozens of wines every year in huge quantities. After a quick look round, including the huge warehouse with five levels of oak barrels where various vintages were being aged, it was onto yet another tasting in the company of some New Yorkers. They promptly bought several of the most expensive bottles! Before we caught the bus home we popped into a tiny place, called Bodega Carmelo Patti, where we met Carmelo Patti himself, who seemed to be running a one-man winery! He wasn’t making a bad job of it, and he was very keen to point out that his wine was available in London – look out for them!

We’d definitely had our fill of wine during our last two days in Argentina. It was nice to learn a little bit about it, although i don’t think we can class ourselves as experts just yet! The next day it was onto another new country – across the Andes to Chile…

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