Sunday, April 7, 2019

Mendoza wine tours

I suspect that most of us know that Argentina produces good inexpensive wine with Malbec being particularly famous. Much of it is grown around Mendoza in the far west of Argentina, close to the highest point in the Andes. The high mountains take all the moisture out of the air coming from the Pacific Ocean resulting in dry conditions. However, the melting snow is used for irrigation of the grapes and all the other crops grown in the area.

Like most cities in Argentina, Mendoza's streets are laid out in a grid pattern. What makes Mendoza different is that virtually all the streets are lined with shady trees.

Argentinians obviously love ice-cream. There were three such shops within a few yards of each other close to my hotel. Let's just say the word 'delicious'.

Park near to where I was staying.

This is the queue for a bank of ATM machines. It's mostly a cash economy here and inflation has been dreadful over the past few years. I noticed that some people were doing transactions for multiple trusting friends. It is common for machines to run out of money late in the day or on weekends.

The most money I could get out at one time was 4000 pesos or about US $100. In addition, there was a fee of about $6.

On my first full day in Mendoza, I had organized a wine tour starting in the afternoon. During the morning I wandered into the nearby market. Since it was getting close to noon, I decided to have lunch. There was an area set up with tables and loads of stalls selling food.

One stall sold fish and chips so I indulged. Eating fish in Argentina is not common, which is a pity. The fish came with a small salad and was pretty good though I only ate a small part of the batter.

A van pulled up at the entrance to the hotel and after verifying my name, away I went in the van to this winery in the Maipo Valley just south of the city.

It seems most Argentinian wineries mostly use French Oak barrels and not much American Oak.

These large barrels are no longer used and are for display purposes.

They also make champers using both the cheaper Charmant method and the more expensive methode champenoise using riddling racks. We only got to sample the cheaper stuff which was adequate.

Our guide showing off the wine bottle of Bornada.

It's an optical illusion. It's just a normal size bottle.

There were about five of us on the bus who spoke English so we had a separate guide. Most of the people on the bus were Argentinian. I persuaded the English speakers to try a grape directly from the vine and they were surprised at how sweet and good the grapes tasted. It was harvest time.

Much of the equipment is modern such as these stainless steel fermenting vats that can be temperature controlled.

Some older wine.

The second of the two wineries we visited.

It was a beautiful warm afternoon.

The other four English speakers. The young ladies on the right were Polish and seemed to enjoy talking to an old duffer, particularly after I said I visited Poland last year. They came to Argentina for a visit because it was inexpensive. They would like to visit Norway but it costs too much.

I thought the wines from this winery were more enjoyable than those of the first winery and I bought a bottle of their malbec which is the most famous wine type of Argentina.

From there we went to an olive oil factory.

Persimmons on a tree outside the factory door.

Every now and then you see a gum tree (eucalyptus) in Argentina. The Polish women had not seen one before.

The big stone wheel which does the initial crush of the olives.

The paste is placed on platters.

The platters are then stacked into these presses. The press then forces out the olive oil and water.

Oil and water do not mix.

The oil/water mix is passed into these cylindrical tanks. The oil separates from the water and is then transferred to the next tank and so on. Eventually, virtually all the water is eliminated leaving extra virgin olive oil.

Bottles of oil ready for shipping.

The factory also has a dried fruit division and here are their products for sale.

A tasting followed where we were joined by the much larger Spanish speaking group.

Sunset over the nearby Andes just to the west as we headed back to Mendoza.

Our guide announced that we would detour to see a church dedicated to the local wine industry.

To be honest, I was not too excited about the prospect.

And then to get into the church you have to pass through this magical courtyard, and yes, in the late evening light it was magical. Look at the couple conversing towards the back. They were still there when we left.

Inside the dark church.


Then back into the garden where I sat for a while and enjoyed the sense of relaxation. You never know when something unexpectedly wonderful turns up. I could still be sitting there.

Since I have been travelling alone in a country where I don't speak the language, conversations have been few and far between. Consequently, I really enjoyed talking to the young ladies. The tour lasted about five hours.

The next day I was picked up at 8:30 for a whole day tour. This time I booked through Viator and they contacted me and asked if they could substitute another tour for the same price and I was fine with that.

More about the winery here.

Another perfect place to enjoy vineyard relaxation.

There is very little rain in the area so all the vines are irrigated using hoses and drip feed.

Crushing equipment. It's the same process everywhere unless you are stomping with your feet.

Most wineries ferment the grapes using concrete vats coated with some sort of epoxy to make cleaning easier. 

More barrels.

Another tasting session. It's hard work but somebody has to do it.

We had a white and then these three reds. The surprise for me was how much I enjoyed the Bonada wine which was new to me. The sample we tried was a big powerful red wine which could take some ageing. I see one of the local boozatoriums has some so I will try it.

The other members of the group were actually doing a cycling tour of the vineyards.

They duly donned helmets and away they went. I stayed on the bus.

I naturally arrived at the winery first. To be honest, I was glad that I was not riding a bike since the route was down a dry, dusty busy road. It didn't look all that pleasurable to me.

More about the winery which was the most upscale of those I visited.

The ceiling of the sales room where I rested while the others exercised.

The young lady who was our guide spoke excellent English. This winery does not use epoxy painted on to the concrete fermenting vats. Apparently, the pores of the concrete trap minute amounts of the juice and they prefer to use that as part of their process. However, each vat is restricted to one type of grape.

These wooden vats are used for pinot noir.

Argentinian vineyards are all supposed to have a trench showing the below-ground level makeup of the soil beneath the surface. This is probably 15 feet high and shows a very pebbly sub-surface with a layer of clay at the top. The vine roots don't tend to go very deep here.

The three other English speakers on this tour. There was also a family of three who spoke Spanish.

Lovely glasses for tasting the wine. The blue glasses contained their own olive oil that was quite different. Apparently, Argentina has its own unique variety of olive and this winery has some trees. Initially, the oil tastes like regular good olive oil but when the oil hits your throat, it becomes very spicy. I bought a bottle and brought it home so if you are at our house, be sure to ask to try it.

I really liked the wines here and I could happily have bought severy cases if I could have transported them home. The one thing I did learn is that the Reserve and Grand Reserve wines are much better than the ordinary wines and are worth the extra money. The wines are relatively inexpensive in Argentina.

Finally, we went to a third winery where we were to have a picnic lunch. The others mounted their bikes again. After all the wine, I was really glad to be on the bus.

What is a wombat sign doing in Argentina? Find out in due course.

The picnic area. I relaxed in a comfy chair and a waitress brought me a glass of rose.

There was a lot of haze and dust in the air, though it was cooler than the day before. A wind from the cold south battles it out with the regular wind from the west and creates the dust. You can't see the Andes in this photo because of the dust.

Acorns were dropping from the huge oak tree I was lounging under. Not one hit me all afternoon or perhaps I was too boozed to notice.

Empanadas for the first course, and the best I had on the entire trip. I also drank some water with gas since I had enjoyed enough wine for the day.

Instead of all eating together, the Argentinian family ate at one table, the English and Norwegian couple sat at another and I was joined by a mid-thirties lady from Washington DC. She was in Mendoza on business and decided to take the day off. Good choice.

The main course. A couple of sandwiches, a green salad and a 'chopped up stuff' salad.

The Norwegian woman had a perfect American accent which she picked up at a special school that taught English. See how relaxed they look. That is how I felt as well. A slightly cool breeze, low humidity, good food and wine, comfy chair. All is good in the world.

The woman from Washington and I chatted away quite happily. I think I only had four long conversations during the whole trip and so I relished the opportunity to talk. I have more or less decided to not do long solo trips anymore since I have realized that I now really need company and conversations. The small group tours are better for me.

Dessert. The white blob on the right was a passionfruit cheesecake and was delicious.

We asked our guide what this small animal was and he translated it to be  'guinea pig'. It matches the wombat sign at the entrance.

It was a wonderful day and the perfect end to the trip. The next day I flew back to Buenas Aires and then on to the USA.

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