Following the last post about Chile, our group hopped on the plane to cross over the Andes and arrive in Mendoza, the most well-known wine region in Argentina. Our adventures started the minute we stepped off the plane because one person in our group left his reading glasses on the plane. As I watched in horror, he ran back across the empty tarmac to retrieve those precious glasses and was immediately tackled to the ground by the military. Great, how do I explain this one? After a heated discussion amongst themselves and a few tears from other members of the group, they let him go. At this point, I desperately needed a glass (or two) of wine.
Argentina is in the top 10 wine producing countries in the world. It has it’s roots in Spain, following the Spanish colonization of the Americas. The first recorded commercial vineyard was established in 1557 by Jesuit missionaries because the church is always in need of wine. Who isn’t? A complex series of canals were built to bring water down from the Andes Mountains to irrigate the vineyards. The industry has a strong European influence and some say that after WWII, many ex-Nazis escaped to Argentina. This absolutely cannot be proven, so don’t spread rumors.
The landscape is breathtaking and the city of Mendoza is lively day and night. Our first night was particularly lively as a massive thunderstorm hit the Andes resulting in a complete lack of electricity in the city. We waited out the storm in a local restaurant, but as it seemed the electric company was on strike, we somehow made it back to the hotel. Tucked nicely in bed, I suddenly heard a blood curdling scream from the next room. I quickly raced over and one of my students was trapped in the corner by a giant cockroach. At this point, I was thinking we really should have gone to Spain….
But I’m glad we didn’t! The great grape of Argentina is Malbec. This grape is one of the red grapes allowed in Bordeaux, but in Argentina it takes on a purple color with vibrant acidity marked with aromas and flavors of plum and violets. Sometimes you will find notes of chocolate and spice which come from the barrels in which the wine is aged.
We had the opportunity to visit Bodega Catena Zapata, a family-owned winery located in Mendoza. Founded in 1902 by an Italian immigrant, the winery is designed based on ancient Mayan architecture and is truly a marvel to visit. Their prized vineyard is found at 5,000 feet, not uncommon for vineyards in Argentina. In fact, one of the unusual factors in Argentine wine is the blending of vineyards for the final wine. Vineyard altitude plays a major role in the flavors and structure of a grape, thus blending can give more complexity to a wine.
Argentina does not only produce Malbec. You can also find excellent Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chardonnay and a white wine made from the Torrontes grape which tastes a little like a peach and apricot fruit salad.
Of course we cannot forget the famous barbecue! Meat and vegetables are slowly cooked outside in traditional stone or concrete barbecues. We experienced this first hand at Bodega Salentein. After passing a barrier controlled by imposing guards, we were escorted into the estate. And what an estate! Complete with vineyards, winery, tasting room, art gallery and yes, the barbecue! While waiting for the highly anticipated meal, we enjoyed a light rosé on the terrace. No rush, we were quite happy and relaxed.
After eating enough meat to harden our arteries for at least five years, we proceeded to a guided tasting within the art gallery. A wide variety of wines were offered and our guide was helpful and funny. A thoroughly enjoyable experience!
Did you know that Argentina makes sparkling wine? Among others, Moet and Chandon from France have wineries in Napa and in Argentina. The wines cannot be called Champagne due to regional regulations, but we thoroughly enjoyed the bubbles. No worries if you do not eat meat. There are plenty of vegetables and beautiful meals to match with the vibrant and colorful wines of Argentina.
After our stay in Argentina, we returned to Santiago, Chile for the voyage back to the United States. Please do not bring fruit from Argentina to Chile – another episode that I would rather forget. Also, there is a departure fee to leave Argentina, around $25, but I’m not sure they wanted our group to stay.
A fantastic voyage and I highly recommend a visit to discover the wines and regions of Chile and Argentina.