Friday, March 17, 2017

Quirky stuff we learned in wine country, Argentina

Wine Country Argentina
Our recent Argentinian wine-touring adventure started with a bus trip from Buenos Aires to Mendoza City.  

The cost of traveling by bus is considerably cheaper than the two-hour flight and we thought it would be an interesting budget-stretching alternative, plus it would be a great way to see a piece of this enormous country.

Great marketing for CATA
The CATA International bus lines reeled us in with promises of a relaxing and enjoyable ride with reclining bed-like seats, blankets, pillows, breakfast, mid-day snacks, lunch with a glass of wine, and late night snacks. 

The price was half of what it would cost to fly two hours to Mendoza City.

The trip was scheduled to take around fourteen hours on a major freeway, with two drivers alternating every few hours to give them time to rest and recuperate. 

In reality it was a hellacious eighteen-hour journey visiting every small hamlet along the route to load and unload passengers and freight, while our ever-increasing sore butts were stuck in airplane-style seats. Next time we’ll read the Trip Advisor reviews before booking.

CATA - two cookies for meals
The promised on-board amenities such as blankets, pillows and a glass of wine? Nope, nada, nothing.  

The twelve people who had paid for the premium seats (that was us) were served 3 ounces of instant coffee with two cookies at nine in the morning, and another 3 ounces of instant coffee plus two cookies at nine at night. 

Around four in the afternoon the bus stopped long enough for just our small group of premium passengers to hop off and purchase beer and pre-made sandwiches from a local taco stand. 

CATA break glass for emergency escape
At least the on-board toilet worked, although the drivers’ ideas of cleaning the communal toilet was a bit humorous. 

It consisted of sprinkling a Dutch-Cleanser-style cleaning powder on the toilet seat, preventing anyone from actually sitting down. 

We cancelled the remaining portion of the tickets and booked our return airfare as soon as we had internet access in Mendoza. 

So, not a great start to our envisioned luxury ride across the landscape of Argentina, but it got better, a lot better, once we were settled into the Sheraton Hotel in Mendoza City. 

Our Alamo rental car pickup was directly across the street from the hotel.  Easy peasy.  Sign the papers and stash the car in the hotel parkade, and set out on foot to explore the vibrant city of Mendoza. Abundant parks. Numerous lunchtime restaurants. Shops that observe the afternoon closing hours of two until five or six, re-opening again until nine in the evening. Gourmet restaurants that open at nine at night to begin serving the evening meal. Normal bedtime in Argentina is well after midnight.

Vibrant Mendoza City, in Mendoza Valley 
The following day we checked with the experts at the hotel. Where should we start our wine tour? Where’s a good place to stop for a yummy lunch to celebrate my birthday?

The cute young guy tilted his head and smiled at me, “Where are you from?” He asked.

I replied, “We live in Mexico, but before that we lived in the Okanagan Valley in Canada. There are over 350 wineries in the Okanagan, and almost all of them feature award-winning restaurants.”
Gutters to collect rainwater for city trees

Still smiling he said, “In this valley there are over 1500 wineries.” He paused dramatically to make sure we were paying attention before he continued, “of which about 200 will allow visitors, and only 30 have restaurants. Reservations are also mandatory for the restaurants.”

I am pretty sure our mouths dropped open at that point. 1500 wineries and only 30 restaurants! Holy cow! Not what we expected at all.

We had envisioned driving from winery to winery along twisty country roads, popping in here and there to sample the vintages. We’d perhaps purchase a bottle to enjoy later, and maybe one or two to take back to Mexico with us. Have a leisurely lunch, tour some more, and finally reach our next hotel around cocktail time.

Alrighty then, let’s re-group and get a plan. 

Award-winning O. Fournier Winery building
The tour guide booked us into his favourite the O. Fournier Winery, located in San Carlos about a hundred and thirty kilometers south of Mendoza, for a one o’clock reservation. 

That gave us time to explore the valley a bit before our lunch. So off we go armed with a not-quite-to-scale map of the wine region. You know that little sticker on your car mirrors that says – objects may be closer than they appear.  The map was the reverse. Wineries are farther than they appeared on the map. The side-streets and intersections are seldom marked. Clear and abundant signage for the wineries seems to be considered vulgar, tacky. 
Wine bodegas clustered in a village setting

Our favourite Argentinian Malbec wine from the Salentein Winery near Tunuyan, in the Uco Valley, had exactly one sign about a kilometer from the entrance.

In the meantime we wandered here and there through little hamlets looking for the wineries indicated on the map. I am slowly coming around to the idea of a handheld GPS for future excursions. Lawrie’s form of navigating involves tossing the map on the back seat and pointing ‘that a way,’ so I usually take the navigators seat, reading glasses perched on my nose and map in hand.

Inside Salentein Winery distances to other countries
In our helter-skelter route we came across an area of wine bodegas, small stores set up in a village atmosphere. Each bodega represented one or more wineries, offering the public an opportunity to purchase merchandise from the numerous producers that don’t want visitors. 

At this point we were still searching for the illusive Salentein Winery. With a little help from a pleasant young woman managing one of the wine bodegas we eventually found the correct road, albeit from the long way around. 

Salentein is a massive operation, romantically located in the vineyard with a gorgeous backdrop of the snow-capped Andes. We asked at the wine shop if we could taste some of the wines before purchasing.

Lawrie - Salentein Winery entrance
“Certainly. Just go to the restaurant, purchase a glass of what you would like to taste. Then return to the wine shop and buy what you are interested in.”

Alrighty then, that’s another quirky difference between Canadian and Argentinian wineries. Sampling different varietals and vintages is allowed in Canada for a small cover fee, typically applied against your purchase price. 

The very pleasant young woman named Rocia, (English translation is Dew) poured us a delicious Sauvignon Blanc to share.  Then we returned to the wine shop to purchase our favourites.

Amazing lunch at O. Fournier Winery 
About now it was time to head further south to our luncheon reservation.  With a little more experience of driving the Argentinian countryside we managed to find the main highway to San Carlos, buzzing right past the one-and-only sign for O. Fourier Winery.

Stopping at the next gas station we used hand signs and Spanglish to ask for directions, eventually finding our way into the beautiful structure five minutes early. Yeah team!  

Other customers not interested in the view!
Bypassing the offer of a pre-lunch winery tour we were escorted to our reserved table. 

The forty-seat restaurant has an outstanding view of the impressive Andes Mountains, apparently not so entrancing to another couple who spent the entire time accessing messages on their phones.

Lunch at O. Fournier Winery

And our lunch at the O. Fourier Winery, wow!  It was probably the best meal we have ever experienced, six courses of intriguing flavours, beautifully presented and accompanied by different wines. It was an outstanding way to celebrate my birthday with my sweetie.

This blog article is becoming a bit unwieldly in length so we’ll finish recounting our Argentinian Adventure next week.

In the meantime,
Hasta Luego from Paradise
Cheers Lynda & Lawrie


A great beach read - $2.99 USD 

Treasure Isla is a humorous Caribbean adventure set on Isla Mujeres, a tiny island off the eastern coast of Mexico. Two twenty-something women find themselves in possession of a seemingly authentic treasure map, which leads them on a chaotic search for buried treasure while navigating the dangers of too much tequila, disreputable men, and a killer. And there is a dog, a lovable rescue-mutt. 

Only available on Kindle E-Books.

No comments: