Argentina: Wine, Beef, Tango, and Pickpockets!

Tango Dancers

After our long journey over from Madrid to Buenos Aires, we settled into our Palermo Viejo apartment.  The Southern hemisphere’s winter chill blasted us leaving the airport, but it felt great to escape the heat of the Canary Islands.  Our inexpensive apartment was booked through bytargentina, the country’s answer to VRBO, and had vaulted ceilings, skylights and a beautiful (but cold) terrace on the top overlooking the city. 

SunsetFamily roomWine on table

This style of architecture is typical for the area and felt more European than South American.   As we adjusted to the time change, we took all of the wine we had collected up to this point and organized it on the dining room table.  Most of the wine from France would be coming over in a separate shipment but we had some real winners up to this point.

The first day we explored the shopping of Palermo SOHO and ended up, surprisingly, at a wine tasting.  We did this in the basement of a wonderful little wine shop in the Palermo district, Lo de Joaquin Alberdi Vinoteca or Ja for short, and even though wine served from a small family winery was forgettable, the people couldn’t have been nicer and more charming.  After a day and a half in Palermo, my parents joined us.wine shop

Note from Roberta Anderson: I was asked to be a guest blogger on this last leg of the (Honeymoon) Adventures on the Wine Route.  Thankfully I took some sketchy notes, as a reminder of the trip.

Tom and I joined Evan and Kate for the last week of their round the world honeymoon.  Evan and Kate arrived in Buenos Aires on Friday, August 23rd, and Tom and I flew in on Sunday, August 25th.  After arriving, we set out for San Telmo, the oldest barrio (neighborhood) of Buenos Aires.    This area was full of vendors and artists selling their wares and included the great Flamenco dancers pictured at the beginning of this post.

palermo

Our initial stop was not without some drama!  After a man and woman on the street indicated Tom had bird droppings on his pants with offers to help clean it up, Evan asked Tom if he had his wallet (he did); as the couple hurriedly entered a passing taxi. Evan further told Tom to check his wallet and found it emptied of money. Tom’s wallet was taken from his pocket, money removed, and wallet replaced without his even knowing it. Evan dashed to the taxi just as it was about to take off, lunged into the passenger seat and over the back of the seat demanding the money be returned. The pickpocket appeared horrified at Evan’s threatening attack and bravery and returned the money. Evan is our hero. And it makes for such a good story!!

Note from Evan: I have no idea what overcame me and, in retrospect, confronting the thieves was a very stupid thing to do.  That being said, they look pretty terrified and, though I don’t remember what I said, my “words” overcame the language barrier.

Dad mustard

Tango dancers on the cobblestone streets musicians, antiques, and lunch at a little cafe was a good way to pass the afternoon (and forget about our earlier pickpocket adventure) at this charming street market.  One little street was dedicated to original paintings and I found an inexpensive but fabulous piece to take home with me. painting (believe it or not, this picture is actually in focus!)

lunch

Monday was a visit to the Cementerio de La Recoleta where Eva Peron was buried.  Though not ancient, similar to some in Europe, this cemetery has to be one of the nicest in any city that I have seen.  Compared to Pere Lachaise Cemetery, however, it was more urban, less green and of a smaller scale.

eva peron grave

Evan couldn’t be more excited to visit a grave (he’s thinking when can I have another glass of wine?)

In the evening we had the traditional Argentina Barbecue which consisted of a mixture of beef, goat, sausage, chicken lamb, and pork on a tabletop charcoal grill.  Not for the vegetarians!

meat

Tom’s most vivid recollection is how we were hounded on the streets in Buenos Aires to exchange our American dollars in back alleys for their worthless Argentine pesos in “blue markets”. Too bad we did not know ahead to bring American money, as it could be exchanged for 2.5 times the “official” exchange rate on a well-established (and not entirely legal, despite its wide use).

evan and dad wine

Tuesday was check out of our apartment and later an overnight bus trip to Mendoza.  Despite taking thirteen hours, the bus trip was comfortable, seats were spacious and converted into beds.

overnight train

Kate made arrangements for us to stay in a lovely B&B where she previously stayed years ago when visiting her brother in Argentina. We spent the day Wednesday exploring the city of Mendoza with a terrific visit to an intimate wine bar, “The Vines of Mendoza” for flights of wine.

vineswines at vinesWe each did our own flight of 5 wines in this tasting and with healthy pours we were able to share ~20 different wines from the region!  The quality and diversity of the wines were great and our waitress was very knowledgeable about how each wine was made.  It was a bit overwhelming for Tom and me, who aren’t huge wine drinkers, but it was a fun and thorough introduction to the wines of the region.

Note from Kakera:  “Vines of Mendoza” was a real treat.  The quality and diversity was great and a nice surprise, as we were used to great Malbecs from Argentina but hadn’t tasted many other varietals.  It was the perfect start to our final wine region.

Mendoza Tasting Day 1

Note from Kakera:  Argentina is perhaps most famous for their Malbecs, but they are the 5th largest wine growing region in the world (after France, Italy, US and Spain) and produce a great variety of excellent wines.  They make a large amount of Chardonnay but we found the standout white was Torrontes.  They say the best Torrontes comes from Salta, in northern Argentina on the border of Bolivia and Paraguay and is grown at an elevation of 5,000 to 10,000 feet above sea level.  Torrontes can be a tricky varietal to appreciate—floral on the nose, but with an often bracing acidity on the palate—which can certainly throw the senses, and expectations, for a loop. We were able to taste some of these great and interesting Torrontes at the Vines of Mendoza.  Throughout Mendoza, the Malbecs were all of high quality, but their similarities in nose, color, structure and fruit made them a bit difficult to differentiate, especially for non-locals.  This is similar to the problems we experienced in Bordeaux, Piedmont and Burgundy.  The exception to this Malbec differentiation issue was a blend that had 80% Malbec and 20% Syrah from a famous French wine producer, Michel Rolland, called Monteviejo.  We were grateful to meet the winemaker at Monteviejo, and we complimented him on his delicate trousseaus we had sampled in Arbois one month prior. He was quite surprised to hear we had traveled to the Jura! 

On our first day we went to the Maipu department, one the two main regions in Menoza. It is located in the northwest part of the province.  It is names after the “Battle of Maipu” which took place in Chile during the 1818 South American Wars of Independence. 

The owner’s son, Javier Inzaurraga was our tour guide to the wineries. With its rolling vineyards set in the foothills of the Andes, the Mendoza wine region is unlike any other wine region on earth. On Thursday we visited 4 wineries in Maipu region, starting with a family operation, Domaine St. Diego where the love they put into the winemaking was evident.  Most of the wineries also made olive oil from many olive trees on the property.

Olive

From Kakera: At this winery we learned that the water allocation system is like something out of the middle ages.  The grapes are grown in a region that is very dry and nothing would grow if they didn’t receive extra water.  This is done by the centuries old method of “flood irrigation”: opening up a tiny damn for a specific amount of time that allowing part of stream of water flowing past the winery to be diverted into a small aquifer on the winery grounds.  This water allocation is for their personal use and to water their crops.  The allocation is highly protected resource that is considered a significant part of the value of a property.Group hills

The hills in the background were breathtaking.

Javier house

The architecture of many of the wineries was superb.

grapes

The second winery we visited was Mendel.  This is a popular winery that is enjoyed by the locals and has received positive reviews from critics (somehow avoiding the “sell-out” label of other well-known wineries from the region).  Though you can get it in the US, the Unus we chose is hard to find and expensive.  We chose it because of its value and typicity.  The unusual addition of petit verdot helped give it some added structure and uniqueness. The Unus is a blend of 65% Malbec, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot aged for 16 months in new French oak. The nose is elegant with notes of soil, cured meat and orange peel.  It is full bodied with a medium to long finish.

Unus

At Unus, probably our favorite tasting in Mendoza.

Ruca Malen

Lunch was at Bodega Ruca Malen.  Offering seasonal food selections, each course thoughtfully paired with wines (selected by the staff). The beautiful view is a terrific accent to the meal, though we weren’t much impressed with the wines.

food Mom eating

The fourth and last winery we visited in Alta Vista.  They have two vineyards, one situated about 3,400 feet in elevation in Mendoza where their Malbec is grown and another situated about 5,400 feet in elevation in Salta where their Torrontes is grown.  Established in 1998, they are French owned and focused on high altitude wines grown from carefully selected sites.  The owners used to make champagne for Piper-Heidsieck, so they have well cultivated tastes in wine.

Wine Tasting Day 2

On the second day we visited the Valle de Uco Region.  This emerging region is situated above the Tunuyan River and is mostly flat, sunny and barren of any hills or trees.  At an elevation of ~1000 meters it is great for wine growing with breathtaking views of the Andes mountains.  Malbec and Semillion are the primary grapes grown.

Pulenta Estates Winery was first stop Friday morning. With Italian roots, the Pulenta family has been a prominent in Argentine viticulture for three generations. The vineyards are estate-owned and farmed for high quality and limited yields. Their extensive holdings in the Agrelo area of Lujan de Cuyo have allowed them to create a broad portfolio of wine offerings.  The wine bottle logo is the shape of the “shoulder” or the bottle.
Pulenta Logo

Pulenta Estate

Next stop was Andeluna Cellars, described as a perfect pairing of both hemispheres of wine, the earthly and the mystical.  It is an assumption that the land from which the grapes are grown imparts a unique quality that is pecific to that growing site.   Andeluna is a large producer and their wines can be found domestically and overseas.

Our second to last stop on Friday was at Vinedos O. Fournier, an ultra-chic winery with subterranean cellars, a gallery of contemporary art and a pond with mountains in the background.  Getting to the site seemed to be a bit of a maze, but we were glad our tour guide knew where he was going – once we arrived it was breathtaking.

Kate and Evanlunch w view

We had lunch overlooking a body of water and, unlike Ruca Malen the day prior, we were more impressed with the wine offerings paired with each course at O Fournier. This was clearly a boutique establishment, with some boutique prices to match, but the wines were not badO Fournier is a multi-party financed group that actively sells ownership in their properties and produces wines in Spain, Chile and Argentina.  They say that they blend wine making style between the old world and new.  It was clear that a lot of money had gone into their Mendoza establishment (which was worth making the trip alone to see) but who knows how that investment will pay off.

We made a final impromptu stop at the home of a vintner in town who made very limited production Malbec with some age on them.  We sampled some bottles dating back 5 and 10 years, which was a nice contrast to the just-released bottles we had sampled thus far in Mendoza.  Purchasing several to take home, we said adios to the Uco Valley and crossed our fingers that the wine stuffed into our bulging suitcases would make it safely to the states.

mountainsfamily backdrop

We ended our trip by flying back to Buenos Aires, walking around the city and spending one more night at a hotel before our final flights home.  In total, Argentina was as exotic as it was beautiful.  The quality of the wine and food was wonderful and every bit as good as anywhere else on our travels and more diverse than we expected.  Highly recommended for lovers of meat and big wines.

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