Mendoza week

Day 1 Friday arrival
We landed at 4pm after short but bumpy flight with Aerolinas Argentinas. There were no Ubers at the Mendoza airport so we ended up getting a normal taxi to our Airbnb in Mendoza city. When we arrived, we met our host Marcela and her sister, both with no English but we managed to communicate with my sloppy Spanish. The flat is nice and big, bedroom, bathroom separate lounge and dining room, and separate kitchen. It’s quite old school, not very modern (especially compared to our last one) with gas heaters with the actual flame, and gas oven with the flame too – but the location is great. We settled in as we usually do, by getting food and drinks into the house 😛 we went to the supermarket but had problems with paying by card and ended up having to pay by cash after waiting a good 20 minutes for the woman to try all our different cards.. The queue behind us was getting immense so we had to give up and pay with cash which we are trying to avoid since the ATM fee here is humoungously high.
Anyway, we then got home and cooked a tasty provoleta cheese melted in the oven as a starter followed by a main of sweetcorn and sausages, and a bon O bon for dessert (our favourite sweets that can be found all over South America and are not to be missed!)
Early night and very big sleep, 10 hours!

Day 2 Saturday 9th July, Independence day in Argentina
Woke up at 10 after a fabulous sleep, had a lazy breakfast and met up with Martin, the son of Marcela, who has very good English who kindly sat down with us and helped us by recommending what to do while here, and especially which wineries to visit, which is not an easy decision here with all the options available!
We ended up making a list of all the recommended ones, and asked other people including Tim (Rob’s wine expert cousin) and other locals and friends and cross checked all the wineries and picked the ones with more votes. We have planned two days of wineries visits next week, with a private driver so we could pick the ones we wanted (very expensive, we got about 5 quotes and all with very similar price). After a bit of planning we went out and enjoyed the sunshine, visited all the five main squares of Mendoza: Espana, Chile, Italia and Plaza San Martin and of course the main Square Plaza Independencia which is in the middle of them all, and was buzzing since it’s the 9th of July: Independence day in Argentina! So many people gathered around, with their families, having barbecues and listening to the music and speeches coming from the main stage. The fountain’s water was turned light blue, like the argentinian flag, and there were flags everywhere covering the city in white and blue, we stopped in the square to take in the atmosphere, and had some cacahuettes which are rather delicious (peanuts covered in melted sugar).
We also had a nice coffee in a cafe on the main road in the sunshine and continued our walk until we got tired. On the way home we met a beautiful fluffy cat, which we first spotted as he crossed the road tryinh to catch a bird. Made us miss Jenks, not long until we can see him again!

Then got home for a quick shower and out again for happy hour at a bar called Antares which brew their own beer and has 2 for 1 from 7 to 830pm. It was packed and with a nice atmosphere.

For dinner we went to Maria Antonieta, and had an amazing starter with burrata, serrano ham and pears, followed by a main of pasta with King Crab… just delicious. The chef is the wife of the famous chef at Francis Mallman 1884 here in Mendoza. After dinner we walked home, frozen and stuffed.

Day 3 Sunday the EU final
A very lazy morning and day… Bruce had a long good sleep, while I woke up at 2am and couldn’t sleep until 6am for some reason! Annoying. After breakfast we took some time to finally book our driver for Tuesday and Thursday, and decided on wineries, and also booked our high mountains tour for Wednesday. Last week, lots to do and lots of expenses making our bank accounts very red.
We then went for a stroll in San Martin Park around the lake, such a beautiful sunny day. There was an awesome dog that as his owner threw the ball in the lake, would dive in like I didn’t know dogs could do, he would swim all the way to the middle of the lake, get the ball back and kept going for ages. He must have got really tired as he got home, it looked like he had so much energy it was hypnotic to watch him!
Got back to watch the France – Portugal final while sipping a beer and then out for a local dinner at Josephine, where we shared a provoleta starter with mixed toppings, then a pork and an octopus main. No booze, getting ready for the coming days of hardcore wine tasting!

Day 4 Monday Horse riding and Francis Mallman’s octopus 
As you would on a Monday we woke up early, had breakfast with toast and ham and got picked up at 8:30am by Carlos, from Los Pingos Horse Riding who was our guide for the day. After a short car ride we got to the stable, which is beautifully set near a vineyard and with beautiful views over the hills and the majestic Andes. The walk across the forest over the hill was breathtaking, our horses so well behaved and cute, as were the many dogs we encountered along the way.
Carlos was such an interesting guy, riding moto cross, and test driving for BMW.

Carlos is a very interesting guy, passionate about speed, motorcycles and cars. He was a race car instructor and he told us about a few of his favourite driving experiences as well as talking about his favourite cars and why. The walk with the horses was beautiful despite the clouds and the very cold wind, we were still lucky because there was no rain and no fog which meant we could still see the city of Mendoza in the distance and some of the mountains and snow under the clouds. Our horses, Plata and Juanaco were very well behaved and we enjoyed the ride a lot. On the way back we stopped at a vineyard called Bodega Krontiras owned by a greek guy, we had a quick tour and learnt about the stain steel containers, the oak barrels that can be French or American and give a different taste to the wine depending also on how long the wine spends in the barrels and in the bottle.

Our barbecue Asada lunch was amazing, with potatoes, sausage and a lot of steak. We played a bit with the dogs before leaving, especially Floyd, a huge beautiful dog who is only 1 year old and very naughty.
Carlos drove us back at 2pm and we had a bit of the afternoon to chill, had to do some chores like laundry and cash point, and in the evening Martin helped us book a table at Francis Mallman’s.
We arrived at the restaurant at 8:30pm and got sat at our table in the beautiful room that overlooks the courtyard, where the grill is and the cooks are working. It’s too cold now to eat outside but it must be beautiful out there in summer nights.
We had a fantastic meal accompanied with a beautiful bottle of Cabernet Franc from Casarena (a vineyard that we are going to visit tomorrow). To start we had the best octopus ever had, cooked all night in vegetable broth and then put on the grill with a melt-in-your mouth olive and lemon creamy sauce, then the rib eye steak which actually wasn’t at the same level of Don Julio, and then an amazing dessert called “Chocolate for fanatics” when he saw it Bruce said that was calling me and he was right! Very stuffed and much poorer than when we entered, we left and got a taxi home. We watched more of the film Mud which we hadn’t finished but fell asleep before the end.
Day 6 Tuesday: the Wines of Lujan de Cuyo
After breakfast our driver Mauricio picked us up at the flat to start our long day of wineries. The mission impossible was to visit 5 wineries in one day… Most people told us that three is the maximum for one day, but we are up for a challenge when it comes to wine! We liked Mauricio the moment we met him, with his long beard and friendly smile, he had a very interesting life, lives in Rhodesia (what today is Zimbabwe) and in a lot of different places in the world, and he knows a lot about wine. He has done this job for 10 years and you can tell, in every winery we entered he is greeted with hugs and everybody knows him. He had booked us in a tight schedule to accommodate our will to do 5 wineries in one day.
Our first winery was La Madrid, were they make a very high quality wine called Matilde, which of course I had to buy. We had a private guide for the tour, only us and him, his name is Daniel Dobrik and he is an ex mid-field footballer from River Plate in Buenos Aires. He now coaches football to kids as well as working in the winery. Daniel was very friendly and interesting to talk to, whether about football or wine. Mauricio came with us and complemented the tour with more information about how wine is made. We learnt that cheaper wine can be made without putting it in the barrels (which is expensive since barrels can only be used 3 times maximum), but some oak flavour is given by dipping pieces of wood in the stain steel containers instead. If a wine is made with a brand new barrel, it will be more expensive. French oak barrels are dominant but US oak barrels are also used, the oak is less strong and lets more air and oxygen in than the french one. La Madrid doesn’t have a bottling machine since it’s cheaper for them to rent it in the six months of the year in which they need to bottle wine, but they do have their own labelling machine which can label 1500 bottles per hour. The winery was funded in 1994 by two men, Hector Durilutti who is Argentinian and Guilermo Garcia Lamadrid, Cuban. All the La Madrid single vineyard iconic bottles including la Matilde have a label with a hole, like a window. This has a meaning for Guilermo, it represents the window to freedom that his mother Matilde opened for him when she put him on a plane to America when he was only 11 years old to leave Cuba. After the tour we tasted 3 wines, the Bonarda (which they say will be the new Malbec of Argentina) then a Malbec and then a reserva cab sauv. I couldn’t resist, I had to buy a bottle of Matilde!
The second vineyard we visited is one of the most awarded here in Mendoza, called Achaval Ferrier and funded by an Italian called Cipressi that has a vineyard in Italy as well in Tuscany Montalcino called La fiorita (hence the flowery logo). They have three wineries here in Mendoza, all at different altitude and producing different wines. The tour we had here was less comprehensive than the previous also because a lot of the process is the same, but we focussed mainly on the view outside in the sunshine. Most of their wines are called bellavista and the idea is that you are drinking a beautiful view, the view that you see on the vineyard of the mountains, with the wine plants and the olive trees and the beautiful large landscape. We tried a Quimera (very complex blend), then bella vista and then Mirador, and lastly dulce, a Malbec dessert wine which was amazing and we ended up buying. We are going bankrupt with all the cost of the tastings and the wine we are buying, and of course the cost of Mauricio driving us around, but we are so happy and having such an amazing day. The sommelier that explained us was previously as sommelier at Francis Mallman’s restaurant too, a nice guy called Nicholas.
The third vinyard we visited was were we had lunch, an impressive wine pairing with 6 wines all from the vineyard, one Brut, one white chardonnay, one bonarda, one blend, malbec, and one  of their reserva Malbec to go with 7 courses of amazing food. The steak was amazing (better than Francis Mallman’s!) and other favourite dish was a carrot souffle with bonarda jam and beetroot mash, makes you think that you could actually become vegetarian if all dishes were so good. Loved every course and every wine and the view over the mountains from our table made it all the more special and memorable.
After lunch we went on to the next vineyard, Casarena the same one of our wine last night. We had a tour here with a group of 3 teachers 2 from New Zealand and 1 from the US but now living in Buenos Aires. We tasted a few wines in the process of fermenting, which was unusual, the smell is very different and strong, the taste not that strong as the nose would suggest but still very different from the ready to bottle one. Interesting tour but by now we were getting more and more drunk and it was beginning to be hard to tell the difference between the wines!
Our last vineyard was suggested by Mauricio since we couldn’t book some other ones we wanted like Luigi Bosca and Domino del Plata, we got there at 4.45 when they were about to close but luckily they love Mauricio so kept it open for us.
We had one regular tasting of the classic wines and one pairing with chocolate, the wine was very good, I particularly liked their Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, both went well with dark chocolate. At this point we were destroyed and definitely on the drunken side. But we did it!! 5 vineyards in one day and 20 glasses of wine each (some filled more than others)! Even Mauricio told us well done since most of his clients normally manage 3-4max.
We got home at 6pm, destroyed and with the start of a hungover. We just about managed to go and pick up the laundry, then spent the evening at home made gnocchi which were pretty disgusting especially compared to our lunch, and then watched (finally) the end of Mud, which is a great film, and then one episode of Chef’s table featuring Francis Mallman! An interesting, eccentric and selfish character.
Wednesday in the mountains 
Early start, got picked up when it was still dark by our bus for our high mountain day. About 15 people on the bus, most of which Argentinian or Brazilian. All Spanish speakers apart from us, so the poor guide had to translate all day only for us!
We stopped on the way up in the morning in a beautiful lake to take some photos, and then had a coffee & toilet stop where we could also hire shoes for the snow.
We then stopped at the inca bridge, at 2700m, called Puente del Inca
Then had lunch and played a bit with the snow before heading back to Mendoza, where we arrived at 6:30pm.
It was a very cold and unfortunately cloudy and snowy day, but we still very much enjoyed the only snow we had in 6 months! I wish there was enough time to go skiing here… But if I delay our return la mamma will kill me 😛
Not our favourite day, and probably wouldn’t do it again if we knew it would be a full day in a bus. Mountain views were decent, but not worth the miles. Night in tonight, to get ready for more wines tomorrow. Last full day of this epic adventure, seems impossible!

Day 7 Thursday: our last full day…

Mauricio picked us up at 8:00am and we saw a beautiful sunrise in the car on the way to the Uco Valley.
We felt a bit weird on our last full day of this amazing adventure, but let’s talk about the wine.

  1. Gimenez Riili
    The first winery we visited was actually one of our favourites, which was chosen by Mauricio called Gimenez Riili, with amazing settings, gorgeous grounds and fabulous wine. We tried 6 wines, including their reserva called Joya de Familia, which ferments straight in the barrell (of which the temperature is controlled by the temperature of the room) and then ages there for 22 months. They only produce 600 bottles a year of that, and it was very special, 75% Malbec and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon. All the wines we tried here we really liked, paired with simple flavours like cheese, olives and peanuts, and also a lovely warm beef empanada to go with the last wine. Just amazing and a perfect way to start the day!
  2. Zuccardi
    The second stop was Zuccardi, a very big and famous vineyard that has fairly good wine according to most. We first had a tour of the premises, mostly made of concrete, the idea of the architect was to create everything in rocks to represent the rocky soil in which the grapes grow here in this valley. They only ferment the wine in concrete eggs too (no stainless steel) and then age it in HUGE barrels, of 500l up to 2,500l. It gives you the impression that is much more about the appearance of the building (of which they keep telling you the architect was famous, and the cost was 15million $) and the quantity rather than the quality of the wine. This was our impression anyway, we didn’t particularly enjoy the tasting, I liked their Zeta blend, but that’s the only one. Interesting to visit a mass producer winery, but nowhere near as fascinating as the smaller ones, loses a bit of the romance.
  3. La Azul
    The romance was definitely there at La Azul, where we went for lunch. We had a fantastic 5 courses and 5 wines pairing in the sunshine looking at the Andes and the grapes, the bodega is family owned and with all the right things: lovely decor, full of locals, nice owners, very good wine and food, and friendly waiter – Pablo. Amazing and a must if in Mendoza! 

  4. Salentein
    Last stop, we were tired but had to finish with a fourth winery, the tours were finished since we were a bit late after lunch and got there at 4pm. We still could check out the interesting art gallery and tasted their Malbec Premius and their Cabernet Sauvignon Premius, both decent, with cheese pairing (we were so full but what can you do, when it’s included!). We even managed to convince them to show us the introduction video even if we didn’t pay for the tour. Interesting big winery, and liked the wine despite having had enough for the day (16th glass by now!).

Mauricio got us home at 7pm, and it was time to say goodbye. Destroyed but happy, we tried to recover from all the wine and then went for dinner (our last of the trip!) at El Patio Azul De Jose Maria, a nice parilla place near where we are staying. We managed only water and Pepsi, but Bruce braved a steak (the last again) while I had boring but tasty chicken from the grill. Tomorrow packing and leaving the flat at 10am, then have to kill time until 3pm to go to the airport. First flight to Buenos Aires at 5pm, then Buenos Aires – Madrid at 9pm and lastly Madrid – Milano. Can’t wait to see the family, friends, and of course Mr Jenkiiiiiiins!

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