Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Treat Your Palate in Mendoza

That subtle sound of two-year old Malbec red wine hitting the glass as the tour guide poured enough for our long awaited wine tasting was so inviting that my girlfriend Dani and I were like two kids in a candy store. Our very first wine tasting brought us a smile and a Salud. Clink went the glasses and the smooth red wine glistened across our palate. Next, a sample of their Cabernet Sauvignon... pour, SNIFF, swirl, SNIFF, and again let it treat the palate. Leaving our first vineyard (Bodega y Cavas de Weinert), both Dani and I carried with us a satisfaction for our first wine tasting/tour, yet an eagerness to see and taste more.

We had looked forward to our Mendoza retreat since I received the great news she was coming to visit me. Mendoza is a smaller city that is a 14 hour bus ride due west of Buenos Aires. It sits at the eastern base of the Andes mountain range and is a very popular base for climbers from all over the world who attempt to summit Mt. Aconcagua, highest peak in Western Hemisphere. However, Mendoza is most well-known for its quality wine. What we didn't know was the quantity of quality wine they had, roughly 1200 vineyards/bodegas. Imagine for a second, Dani and I were only able to visit two bodegas which took about half a day, with an olive farm visit in between. You would have to visit 3-4 vineyards/day for a whole year to experience all of the wine that comes from Mendoza, at top ten wine capital of the world. In addition, this was the first wine tasting experience for both Danielle and I, so we let the wine take us in and make us feel warm as we retreated to feeling like little kids in a gigantic candy store.

Our next stop on the tour would leave us testing our patience for more vino as we pulled into an olive farm to see how olive oil is made along with tasting some of the region's finest fresh olives. I had never been much of an olive fan until I moved to Argentina and was forced against my will to try them, now I think of myself as the olive connoisseur. The powerful odor of olives greeted us upon arrival, which pre-Argentina would have made me gag but now had me salivating. We took a very brief tour to see how they converted olives into olive oil using a compression machine. The tour ended with my purchase of two big jars of olives, straight from the source. We also happened to meet another couple who were our age from San Diego (UCSD) who happened to be travelling South America together. Dani and the other girl knew a mutual friend.. (see Six Degrees of Separation post).Our departure from olive heaven meant we were going to our final vineyard, a small family winery that maintains a low profile and only specializes in red wines (vino tinto). Sounds like my kind of place. Cavas de Don Arturo was a very cute little family-operated bodega and the tour was much more intimate than other wine tours. One of the nieces, who happened to speak very good English, gave us a great tour and let us sample three of their four vinos (Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah). The Merlot was supposedly their strongest wine, so undoubtedly I bought a bottle of their Merlot before leaving our last bodega of the tour.

(Dani and I praising Goddess of Wine) (Dani standing at hut entrance to best carne empanadas!)

Just when we thought our tour was over, our bus stopped in front of a cathedral, supposedly the first built in Mendoza. Dani and I took a quick gander but quickly escaped this part of the tour to go across the street to a little hut that had a huge fireplace. Our curiosity led us inside, fortunately, where the aroma of freshly made empanadas warmly welcomed us. First we bought two empanadas each, wow we underestimated the appetite all of that wine gave us. "Dos mas por favor," mmmm. At first I thought it was our appetite, then I realized what was really happening. We were consuming the best carne empanadas I've had in Argentina. By the end, Dani had 3 and I had indulged in 4 of them, yummers.

Something about Mendoza really grabs your taste buds, it's really hard to explain. Our appetite re-gathered itself and sent us to a great restaurant that had been previously recommended called El Palenque. Wow, one of the best dinners I've had in Argentina... just one more treat for the palate to add to the tick marks in Mendoza. If you love meat and you are lucky enough to find yourself in the wine capital of South America, clean your palate with any kind of the carne on the menu. But that's not it, what seemed to make all of our meals so delicous was this honey mustard sauce that was served with it all.. just ask for '... a la mostaza.' Every meal that we consumed seemed to be the best meal I've had in Argentina. The food in Buenos Aires doesn't even compare. The Mendocinos truly know how to clean the palate to fully compliment their abundance of fine vino.

Dani and I felt it was all too good to be true so we wanted to just test one more place to 'treat the palate' on our final day. There's no better way to treat the taste buds one last time in Mendocino fashion than where else?.. A chocolate factory!! It provided the proverbial icing on the cake that was the exclamation point to our yummy Mendoza experience. Historias y Sabores is a small little shop on the outskirts of Mendoza that makes their own chocolate, licors in assorted flavors such as banana chocolate, mint chocolate and dulce de leche among many other heart-warming snacks. Not surprisingly, Dani and I found ourselves once again like kids in the candy store. We wanted a sample of everything but we cut ourselves off after several samples to avoid the over-indulgence stereotype of North Americans. However, we did leave with enough chocolate, licors and absinthe to let our friends in Buenos Aires witness how sweet Mendoza is.
Needless to say, Dani and I rode the 14-hour bus ride back to Buenos Aires with our taste buds satisfied and our tummies full of Mendocino yum yum. All in all, Mendoza was a great reminder that fresh air really does exist, Buenos Aires pollution was turning me into a non-believer of good air.. ironically enough. I thank Dani for being such a fun and outstanding travel companion and an even more outstanding girlfriend. For those of you who have never been wine tasting, you should try it, I promise it will be a worthy experience. What I can't promise is that it will be as SWEET as Mendoza!

(Sunset leaving Mendoza)


Dani California said...

I have to admit, I giggled my way through most of this blog post...

When you mentioned 1200 bodegas, I laughed and thought of how you won 2 bets in less than 5 minutes. I insisted that the hotel was 30 minutes away and you said we'd make it back in 10 minutes... 9 minutes later you opened the door to Cordon Del Plata for me. Then after I argued with you about how there was definitely not 1200 bodegas in Mendoza the lovely Bell boy confirmed that, again, you were right.

You mentioned El Palenque and I almost fell to the ground with laughter as I thought back on the Heart Attack Kayak that came as my side dish, the "I will cut up yo face" incident, and trying to make each other laugh the entire walk home in hopes of working off (laughing off) the mass amounts of food we ate that day and to make room in our tummies for one last treat... helado :o)

You talked about the hut entrance to best carne empanadas and I shook my head at myself as I remember getting frustrated with you for wanting me to take a picture in that random doorway... little did I know that doorway had something magical waiting for us

You mentioned the 14-hour bus ride back to Buenos Aires and I think eating Nerds to turn our tongues Blue and that "Te gusta?" non-sense.

Can we do it again, pleeease?! hajahaja

With love,
Your partner in Crime :o)

jRags said...

I think the giddiness that you describe naturally goes with wine/vino and vineyards/bodegas (Say it with me blackass - bo-de-gas! - haha). I experienced the exact same experience in Napa and further up the 101 in Healdsburgh at my buddies Vineyard. I have also heard that the vineyards in Southern France and Italy have the same affect on people.

Glad to see you had a fun time, had a hard time picturing you saying "yummy" though =) hehe