Mendoza’s food and wine

Tuesday 20 to Friday 23 February

Mendoza was all about the wine. I had found a tourist article on an earlier plane flight about the wine region of Argentina, which really is just across the border (and the Andes) from the famous valleys around Santiago in Chile. Irresistible.

But I had a bad start in Mendoza.

While we were in Antarctica I had received an invoice from my hosting company, Host Sailor. In the few days we were ‘off line’ they managed to send me a number of invoice reminders and then close down my web site for lack of payment. When I paid the invoice and asked them to reinstate it, they admitted that they had deleted my web site. Not happy.

Then I got notification from sister Kate that our parcel sent via DHL had arrived home, without my broken computer. Not happy.

Then my backup drive failed. Well that was a minor disaster, because Bruce and I each carry a backup drive. Its just the secondary backup was gone. Not happy.

Our hostess, seeing my frustration, was very happy to help in any way she could. I must have looked ‘not happy’.

We explored Mendoza, found an amazing coffee shop and enjoyed most of the hop on hop off bus.

For the backpackers visiting Mendoza it is possible to take the hop on hop off bus to the end of the line and hop on a tourist train which will take you just out of the city for some wine tasting. For us it was a waste of time travelling to the end of town for no reason.

But then again, the young travellers had ensured that Mendoza was a lively town full of swinging wine bars that served excellent beer and decent food.

We opted for a private wine tour – oh dear we are getting old and preferring to travel in comfort.

Our driver guide was Jorge, and he refused to leave town until he had shown us around Mendoza’s other famous tourist site, General San Martin Park. We had travelled through there on the hop on hop off bus but appreciated the opportunity Jorge gave us to take some decent pics of the gates to the park and the Fuente de los Continentes (Fountain of the Continents). The fountain was designed in 1896 by French architect Carlos Thays. Of course, in those days there were only four recognised continents, America, Asia, Europe and Africa.

Amongst the interesting snippets Jorge had for us, is that Mendoza’s biggest economy is oil, followed by wine.

The first winery we visited was Budeguer.

Jorge’s daughter is the receptionist there and showed us around. Her knowledge and the delivery of it was very good.

They started harvesting dry white at end of January.

We were surprised to see nets covering the vines. These protect from hail but also force the leaves to the front and keep grapes behind for Malbec.

They also use aircraft to bomb/disperse hail clouds. It is estimated that 10% of crop in this area is lost to hail each year.

The other problem they face in this region is frost. For this they spray water on the leaves which freezes them but keeps the grapes warm underneath. The challenges of wine making at the foot of the Andes.

We were taken by the colourful labels on the bottles. The explanation was because of the owner’s heritage, although more muted colours are used for the wine exported to Europe.

The owners of Budeguer grow sugar for Coca Cola and also beef. Wine is a hobby for them. The wine maker is very happy. He can have French Oak or American Oak as he pleases to suit the style of the wine.

Malbec is the most popular wine made in this region, it is considered to be ‘aggressive’ and suitable to be drunk with barbecued meats.

Between Budeguer and our next stop we visited the Cristo Rey del Valle. Built in 2005, the statue of Christ stands 28 metres tall at an elevation of 1,428 metres, certainly an imposing statue with amazing views of the Uco Valley below and the Andes to the west.

We stopped at the winery restaurant La Azul for lunch. The seating area was outside under the shelter of a vine laden roof and had a delightful rustic feel. A degustation menu was presented, with far more food than we can consume in a day:

  • Sauvignon Blanc with a pumpkin & chicken croquette
  • Chilled Malbec with sweet sausage & homemade bread
  • Cool, not chilled Cabernet Sauvignon with empanada
  • A blended Malbec + Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve with clay pot roasted pork

At this stage I got into trouble for rinsing out my wine glass with water when changing wines. I was told that water has too many minerals in it and it affects the flavour of the wine.

Understandably, we didn’t stay for dessert.

It was a rush to the next vineyard, Salentein Winery. I really think the restaurant tried to delay us. Unfortunately we missed the vines introduction but the cellars were very interesting. Built 11 metres underground, they can accommodate 5,000 wine barrels. The main cellar is circular with a grand piano in the centre to show off acoustics.

A walk past huge shiny stainless steel tanks and big oak barrels completed the tour.

Here we tasted Chardonnay, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignons. We found the flavour more like the Australian varieties.

We didn’t have much of an understanding of Argentinian wines, although we had drank Chilean wines throughout much of travels throughout the Americas and even in Europe. And we learnt why.

Argentinians are big wine drinkers and much of what they produce is used in the domestic market. Chileans, however, are beer drinkers, so they have large volumes of wine for export.