Travel, Etc. --> Argentina
A visit to Argentina
Including the Mendoza Wine country
Associate Wine Guy Jim Bandy just returned from a vacation in Argentina seeing the sights, discovering restaurants and visiting wineries. Here is his report....
Argentina is a country that is as long as the U.S. is wide. It was also our choice for vacation a couple of weeks ago. Landing, we found that Argentina had an extremely mild winter. They were already experiencing the very early throes of spring with weather similar to our mid-October. Recalling very little Spanish from my secondary education (more than 20 years ago), the Argentines were both gracious and helpful throughout our trip.
Our first stop was a World Heritage Site along Argentina's northeast border with Brazil and Uruguay: Iguazu Falls. Watch the movie 'The Mission' and you'll get a feel for how captivating and amazing are these falls. Even with digitally enhanced viewing, it will still pale in comparison to a personal experience up close. My only reference is Niagara Falls, and Iguazu is so much more! No picture can truly capture it.
Leaving behind the tropical jungle of Iguazu we headed off to Mendoza City, the capital of the Mendoza province along Argentina's central western border with Chile. Arriving at Mendoza's international airport, we were pleased to find Carlos, our remise driver, waiting for us. We had heard that driving yourself in Mendoza can be challenging unless you are familiar with the area. We successfully navigate many big cities and small towns in the U.S., but we were very happy to have Carlos. Without him, we might still be trying to find our ways back to the airport!
Mendoza City is lovely. Quite walking friendly, the city boasts numerous parks, fountains, and nightlife. We even caught some regatta teams practicing for the upcoming season. Despite these surroundings we opted to stay outside of the city proper in the suburb of Chacras de Coria.
A short 15km south of Mendoza City, Finca Adalgisa is a small vineyard with an onsite winery that could not possibly be more inviting. The owner is Gabriella Furlotti, who transformed the property into a boutique hotel in 2001. Our room was directly across from the pool.
If your lodging prerequisites include room service, chocolates on your pillow, and dainty bath soaps, stay in Mendoza City. If you want charm, character, and an unforgettable experience, then you must stay at Finca Adalgisa! Gabriella and her staff could not have been more gracious or helpful. We felt less like hotel guests and more like friends of the family. Their pictures at www.fincaadalgisa.com.ar are indeed representative of what we found there.
he next day we headed out to visit some wineries. Something to know about visiting Mendoza wineries: You MUST call ahead and schedule your visit. None of the wineries we saw hosted open tasting rooms with regular hours of operation. It is also not uncommon to pay a modest fee for your tastings ($5 - $10US for higher-end bottlings).
The region rightfully boasts numerous good wineries including some of our favorites: Catena, Norton, Sophenia, and Chakana. The highlight of our visit was Catena Zapata: a family-owned business that produces a range of good wines at excellent values. You will recognize many of their brands from Grapevine Cottage's collection: Alamos — a good quality house wine with character; Catena — balanced and expressive wines with character; and Catena Alta — limited-production wines made from a selected few rows of family vineyards.
The winery is a spectacular piece of architecture! A Mayan-style pyramid made from local stone that looks out across their vineyards to the Andes. The interior is no less impressive.
This is Catena's subterranean tasting room
The folks at Catena were magnanimous with their time, sharing their passion for the region and their wines. We were fortunate enough to taste many good quality varietals at all different price points. After tasting eleven wines the wine consultant suggested we return to the Catena Alta Chardonnay. An atypical evolution for me, I prepared myself to be underwhelmed after eight big reds. I could not have been more wrong! The Catena Alta Chardonnay, while quite nice earlier, had continued to open up and could still hold its own. Neither showy nor obvious, this is a wonderfully elegant wine from a high-elevation single vineyard. The flavors are concentrated with the faintest hint of sweet spice — a perfect wine on its own or with food. We even enjoyed it at home this weekend paired with a selection of cheeses, nuts, and dried fruits for dessert. Grapevine Cottage has this wine available. Ask me for a Chardonnay recommendation and you'll find me enthusiastically recommending the Catena Alta.
While the wine experience was wonderful, I must share briefly about the equally magnificent dining experiences in Mendoza. 1884 Restaurant Francis Mallman has many distinctions, including being ranked 7th best restaurant in the world. It is an elegant setting housed in an old winery which is also available to tour. The food was delicious and the service excellent, as you might expect. The only thing I would have recommended was a more manageable wine list. Sometimes more isn't better — it's just more.
We were completely blown away, though, by our dining experience at La Bourgogne. The restaurant at Carlos Pulenta Winery is run by one of the top French chefs in Latin America: Jean-Paul Bondoux. The atmosphere was intimate, the service impeccable, and the plates downright lick-able (no, we didn't actually — but the temptation was strong, very strong indeed). Afterwards, we had the opportunity to heap our accolades on chef Bondoux himself who visited with us for a few moments at the end of our meal. I think he may have thought we were food critics after photographing the food and taking notes.
My entrée was the chef's special preparation of roast rabbit with baby potato, sautéed onion, and arugula coulis. Wonderfully balanced flavors that were just ... magnifique! Buenos Aires was our last stop. It is a wonderful city that has much to offer: art, culture, architecture, and more. While we enjoyed it very much, our post-vacation reflections keep going back to Mendoza. Go. Whenever you can, go. Until then, enjoy a wonderful Argentine wine from Grapevine Cottage along with some grilled beef, lamb, or pork and chimichurri sauce — the national condiment.
September 13, 2006