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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mendoza, Keeps You Coming Back!

Last weekend we took our first repeat trip in Argentina, and which location was great enough to return to?
Mendoza. It's calm. It's relaxed. It's a great location to enjoy for an adult weekend of eating well, having fun with friends and visiting bodegas.

We returned to Mendoza a little over two years since our first trip, this time we arrived with our friends Chris and Mary.  Our friend and tour guide, Javier Inzaurraga (info@plazaitalia.net) arranged all of our bodega tours and graciously drove us around for two days.  Last time, we stayed at the B&B Plaza Italia, which is how we met Javier, but this time we opted for a more standard hotel accommodation, which worked out great for a quiet weekend away from the kids.

Thats right.  The kids stayed at home.  I have to say though, I think Gretchen thoroughly enjoyed her weekend with our beloved nanny, Candy.

Back to Mendoza.
We asked Javier to choose some of his favorite boutique wineries, along with a few requests from our last visit to Mendoza.  The first place we visited was Vistalba, a beautiful bodega with plenty of unique touches.  Vistalba wines are, perhaps, not as well known as the winemaker's brother's wines, which are produced under the name "Pulenta".  We are particular fans of Pulenta wines, they are affordable and of great quality.  The Vistalba wines have three lines, which they refer to as A, B and C if they are produced from the grapes from the Vistalba vineyards, or Tomero Gran Reserva, Tomero Reserva or Tomero if they are produced from the grapes grown in Uca Valley, an area of Mendoza provence approximately 2 hours from the city.
A few months before our visit, someone in the Altavista family had a wedding inside the bodega. As part of the wedding decorations, they covered all of the hanging lights with a wreath of dried grape clusters, making one of the coolest chandeliers I have ever seen. The light given off by these decorations was dimmed and shadowed which made for a very cool effect in the wine cellar.

In the tasting room there was also an exposed wall of earth to demonstrate where the vines are planted and how the soil remains so cool. This was a great place for a photo shoot.
The winery was impressive, though we were not floored by the wines provided during the tasting. It was disappointing that the tasting was exclusively from the "C" level wines.
Very picturesque indeed
Our second stop on day one was Mendel, another winery where we had no previous experience with the facility or the wines. This bodega had an interesting back story, the original vineyard was owned by a Spanish family that came to Argentina in the early 1900s and planted the vines.  Somewhere along the way, the winery was abandoned and left empty for over 20 years, until the current owners purchased the land and made it functional again.

The current owners have kept the original vines and building, which makes for a great looking bodega.  I love the old-world feel, and the fact that the vines are almost 100 years old.  It was a fun winery to tour, and Mariela, our host, was incredibly nice and knowledgable.

After the tour, our tasting started with a "vertical" tasting.  This is an interesting way to taste wines because instead of comparing varietals, it compares one wine through two or more vintages. For us, this was the Mendel Malbec 2010 compared to the 2011. The unanimous opinion was that the 2010 was the superior wine.

Our next stop was lunch, which involved a 5-course pairing at Melipal (the word Melipal is a South American Indian term for the star constellation the Southern Cross, which is a constellation I am quite fond of).  The lunch was quite good, and we enjoyed the wines, especially the Malbec Rosé.  We were told that the chef is the same at Ruca Malen (which we visited the next day for lunch) though we still felt that the lunch there was a bit better.

Our last stop of the day was Achaval Ferrer, a repeat from our trip in 2010.  This winery is beautiful and the day was warm enough to enjoy the tasting outside.  We still really liked the wines, though the prices still seemed a bit steep compared to the rest of the bodegas we visited.  That being said, we purchased their Dolce, a dessert wine that is sweet, but not overly so, and reasonably priced.

This was a nice way to end day one.  We returned to the hotel and the girls headed to the spa while the boys lost some dinero in the casino.

For dinner, we took Javier's recommendation and ate at Florentino (Montevideo 675, Mendoza City) which was casual, fun and delicious.  I specifically enjoyed the mushroom appetizer, though everything we had was delicious.  We also were able to order one of the Mendel wines that was left off of our tasting, one called the Lunta, which was probably our favorite of everything the offered.  It, ironically, was also the cheapest.

So, Mendoza didn't disappoint.  We had a full first day, and though there was plenty of indulgence, we had a great night's sleep and were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the following day.


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