Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Mendoza: Day One: BienBebidos a Wine Country!

Dear Chicago,

This weekend I traveled with a classmate named Sweeney to the western part of Argentina. Our bus to Mendoza left the Buenos Aires bus station at 9:30 on Friday night. After a champagne toast and hot meal, we slept in fully reclining seats for the 12 hour trip to Mendoza. The ride was great and we arrived relatively well rested to the city of Mendoza in Mendoza province early Saturday morning. Our hostel was only a few blocks from the station and we were greeted quite warmly with a free breakfast and storage for our bags. By noon we were on a local bus to Maipu, a tiny town about 15 miles outside of Mendoza. We were hoping to see the bodegas (vineyards and wine houses) of Maipu on our own and skip the bikes-and-wines tourist route we'd heard about. Our arrival in Maipu and a consultation with the bike people brought us to another conclusion - vineyards were all about a mile apart, and the bike rental was about $9.00US. Suddenly the bikes seemed like a great plan.

Sweeney and I spent the entire day pedaling old bikes down one main road that lead to half a dozen vineyards. It was chilly but the sun was out and we could see the snow capped Andes mountains the entire day. The first stop was La Rural, a cute vineyard with its own wine museum. A bit touristy, but the glass of cabernet sauvignon at the end of the visit was very, very good. Later at dinner, we saw their wines on the menu. After our first stop we pedaled all the way to the end of the road, in order to work our way back by the end of the day. It was about an hour ride on both busy and quiet streets, difficult because of the old bike.

La Carinae was my favorite vineyard - I loved it as much for the wine as the people and their stories. A French couple were vacationing in Mendoza and fell in love with the place, bought an abandoned vineyard on a whim and have been making award winning wine for the past 5 years. They were adorable and I bought a Malbec Rose to take home. It was very good and very inexpensive. It was fun to have a great story behind the bottle. Next was La Leur olive oil farm across the street. The tasting alone was worth it at this place - a quick tour followed by: a big platter of bread, olive oil, tapenade and sun dried tomatoes. Delicious and a cheap, rustic lunch!
From the olive oil factory we were off to ride farther down the path to our next vineyard. Vina del Campo was a little cheezy, seemed to be the Disney of the Argentinian wine country if that makes sense. We saved our pesos and pedaled onwards to an adorable little chocolate shop. Family run, family owned, we saw how they make chocolate liquors and had a GREAT tasting: flights of homemade chocolate and a shot of dulce-de-leche vodka! It was a cute set up and a good way to end the day.
We pedaled back to downtown Maipu as the sun was setting, just in time to catch a bus back to the city of Mendoza. The region is doing well as recent investment in vineyards and tourism has increased greatly, but like most of Argentina, many people are still reeling from the economic crisis of 2001. Poverty is a fact here that lead to our desire to get back to the hostel before dark. We suceeded and took the hostel staff recommendation to get dinner at El Palenque, a local barbeque place. It was another unbelievable Argentine meal - I went all out and ordered steak with sauteed mushrooms to go with the bottle of Malbec we split. Another memorable meal as Sweeney and I recounted a surreal day. Gorgeous vistas, great flavors, good language practice and good company.

That was only day one! Day two: the horseback trip of my life. Story to follow!

Ciao Chicago - Tess

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