The good life in Mendoza
(A page from my Travel Journal).
All the good stuff in Argentina seems to come from Mendoza (map), like the best wines, mineral water, olive oil and other produce. Wherever I went, whether it was a supermarket or a restaurant in the south or in Buenos Aires, I spotted the name ‘Mendoza’ printed proudly on the labels.
So I arrived in this small city at the foothills of the Andes with great anticipation. To add to the suspense, I couldn’t get a room in any hotel in the city (I later found out that my visit coincided with a big congress in the city involving 3,000 gynaecologists) so I had to settle for a lodge somewhere outside the city and I had absolutely no idea where or how far away it was. When I got into the taxi at the airport, I showed the driver the address and asked him how far it was, he said, “Ohhhhh, very far. Very far…maybe 200 kilometers”. You have got to be kidding, I thought. Then the driver started to chuckle and said, “I joke, I joke…maybe 30 kilometers”. Phew!
We drove in a southerly direction past the suburbs of Mendoza. The city is situated at the foot of a range of low, barren mountains (about 2000m high) which quickly make way for the magnificent snow-covered peaks of the Andes, the highest of which is more than 6,500m high, providing a pretty spectacular backdrop. As we drove on, the suburbs gradually ceased and switched into row after row of vines: wine country! The landscape here is flat and barren but thanks to a wide network of irrigation channels carrying water down from the Andes, this whole dusty region has become an important agricultural centre in Argentina. From the air, it looked like a giant oasis at the edge of a massive desert.
Chacras de Coria
After about 20 minutes, we turned off the highway towards a village called Chacras de Coria (map). It’s a beautiful area with large ranches (estancias), vineyards and gated communities (with some gorgeous houses). Tall poplar, sycamore and oak trees provide ample shade everywhere while the little irrigation canals that run alongside the roads gurgle cheerily.
That afternoon, I went for a walk around the village. Little did I know but I soon discovered that the village is Mendoza’s centre of gastronomy! It’s really small but its streets are lined with some of Mendoza’s best restaurants. Fancy that! 🙂 I sat down for lunch at a small restaurant at the edge of the village square and I ordered a sirloin steak; even after my previous steak experiences in Bariloche and BA, I still refused to believe that the steaks here are that mediocre. And…OMG was I proven right!!! The steak was pretty huge (at least 400g), juicy and incredibly tender. The big salad that came with it (organic lettuce, tomatoes, palmhearts and aragula) was superb. I don’t know how I did it but I totally cleaned both plates! It was THAT good! Finally, a mind-altering Argentinian steak!
Mendoza is a pleasant city: its grid of streets are all shaded by beautiful sycamore trees and there are five town squares arranged pretty much like the ‘five’ on a throwing dice which provide a welcome retreat from the heat and the noisy traffic. My favourite square was the Plaza Espana with its gorgeous tiled floors, benches and fountains.
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As I strolled around the city, it struck me that I couldn’t see much of any of the buildings due to the large sycamores. They provide much needed shade but they also block the view of some of the supposedly stunning colonial buildings. There were also the ubiquitous sidewalk terraces and restaurants: great spots to just lounge with a glass of wine and watch the world go by! I stopped for lunch at Trattoria Tomasso. What do you order at an Italian restaurant when you’re in a region that’s renowned for its superb beef? Carpaccio!! And it was indeed superb! 🙂
A wine-tasting tour in Mendoza
One of the ‘must-do’ activities in Mendoza is a wine-tasting tour. You can hire a bicycle, join a group or hire a taxi to shuttle you from one vineyard to the next. I hired a taxi.
Our first stop was Achaval Ferrer, about 15km from the lodge. The location of the winery was just stunning: surrounded by expansive vineyards while the terrace offered an unobstructed view of the mighty Andes. I was taken on a private tour of the estate; it’s a relatively new winery (most of the wineries in Mendoza were founded in the 1990’s/early-2000’s while only a handful were founded in the late 19th century) so everything looked spanking new. This winery offers barrel-tasting, i.e. tasting wines taken straight from the barrel. We got to taste wines that had been in the barrel for a month and other wines that had been in the barrel for a year. It’s quite fascinating to taste how the complexity and structure of the wine develops over a period of time. The wines themselves were good, but not great enough to warrant buying some and lugging the bottles back home.
After two hours at Achaval Ferrer, we headed for the next winery: Ruca Malen, another winery in a gorgeous location. This is another relatively new winery and I was given a tour of the estate, the grounds, the production area and the cellar. I was then seated at the winery’s patio, which had sweeping views of the vineyard and the mountains, where I was treated to a five-course lunch/wine-tasting.
Sitting there, with a plate of grilled beef sirloin topped with a subtle black pepper and rosemary sauce, and a glass of first class Malbec in front of me, and surrounded by such astounding scenery, I couldn’t help but wonder what a great lifestyle one could have here in Mendoza (provided one had sufficient resources and finds a quiet life enticing). I mean, the beautiful meats and the fresh produce combined with the great wines and brilliant scenery, the laidback pace, and the fact that Argentina is relatively cheap make Mendoza a bon vivant’s dream really!!
After lunch, we moved on to our final winery: Weinert. Founded in 1890, Weinert is one of the oldest wineries in Mendoza. The main building is a very stately mansion and the cellars underneath were quite spectacular. We were taken about ten meters under the ground and the (very ancient-looking) vaults were breathtaking. In them were row upon row of huge wooden barrels, most of which were between 40-60 years old, that contained up to 60,000 liters of wine! A fascinating winery steeped in history.
I spent my five days in Mendoza doing pretty much the same thing: leisurely strolls, long lazy lunches, exquisite dinners and lots of fine wines. A dream!
Read about my trip across the Andes from Mendoza to Chile
Other Travel Journal entries include:
- Perth: an unexpectedly cool city (Perth, Australia)
- A tropical paradise, five wishes & a setback (Krabi, Thailand)
- Some lazy days in Salta (Salta, Argentina)
- The spectacular bus ride from San Pedro de Atacama to Salta (Chile/Argentina)
- Mystical Rapa Nui (Easter Island, Chile)
- My great laundry adventure (Bariloche, Argentina)
- A little piece of heaven (Bora Bora, French Polynesia)
- That rock star feeling in the Lost World (Iguazu Falls, Brazil/Argentina)
- Getting over my Jaws complex (Lang Tengah, Malaysia)
- The wonders of Angkor Wat (Cambodia)
- A desert full of wonders (San Pedro de Atacama, Chile)