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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mendoza...Wine Not? - Day 1

Wow. Vacation was bliss. Mendoza was everything we had hoped for and more - and we crammed as much into a 4-day weekend as humanly possible. Other than setting my healthy-eating-goals back somewhere around 2.5 years, the trip was an unbelievable success. As I did with our Iguazu Falls trip, I'm going to divide Mendoza into sub-posts - starting with Food and Wine - two things that played heavily into our vacation.

We spent two of our four days visiting different wineries with two different tour guides. Our first day was spent with Felipe Canedo, arranged by Uncorking Argentina, who picked us up from the airport in the largest vehicle I've seen in Argentina to date. He has a souped-up Suburban with 3 rows of leather seats, it was by far the most comfortable ride that we've encountered. After we checked into our hotel, the Plaza Italia Bed & Breakfast, Felipe started our day-long tour in Lujan de Cuyo.


Luigi Bosca - This was our first stop of the trip and I was high on my Spanish skills with Felipe so I made the critical mistake of telling the winery tour guide that we all understood Spanish. The resulting tour may as well have been given by Charlie Brown's teacher. Even though I understood about 0.2% of the tour, the facility was impressive. The most exciting part of the visit was before the tour even started when one of the other visitors tripped while playing with her kids and ended up calling an ambulance. Total bummer for that poor woman. Luigi Bosca is a huge winemaker, so the majority of their vineyards are located elsewhere. The tour group was large, even without the injured woman and her family, and there were competing cameras trying to get photos. At the end we were able to try their wines while sitting around a beautiful brick bar. The Brazilians sitting next to us took a liking to me and somehow I ended up taking photos with individuals from their group - a move I'm sure they'll be puzzled by when they review their photos. A great start to the day, it was a beautiful facility and we have enjoyed their wines at home many times, but this would end up to be our least favorite tour of the trip.

Terrazas de los Andes - This is also a brand owned by Chandon, the sparkling wine giant and served as our much needed lunch stop. It was a much nicer, more intimate atmosphere because we were the only folks on the tour. Terrazas is also a large wine maker, but you would never guess it from their tour or building, they are both quite modest. Again, the wine production portion of their facilities was beautiful, but the real prize here was lunch.
Meat and Cheese galore
We were seated around a short lunch table in a sunroom overlooking the vineyard and were served a delicious, and filling meal of finger foods. The first course was this tray of picada pictured on the left. From what I can gather, picada is an assortment of meats, cheeses, olives and pickled items - generally at the discretion of the chef. I LOVE picada, it's salty, cheesy, pickled and delicious. We were also served beef empanadas, locro stew, an assortment of breads and an unbelievable dulce de leche (basically, caramel) mouse cake. Let the exercise-voiding begin!
We were served a few of Terrazas' wines, but there was no explanation of what they were, so I really don't know what we were drinking. They were good, whatever they were, and I didn't mind the lack of information because we had already been on 2 tours and it wasn't even 2pm. Sometimes it's nice to just sit back and enjoy.

Catena Zapata - Catena Zapata looks like a Mayan temple, a much different style than the previous two vineyards that we had visited. The inside is modern and open, but has an old-world-meets-new-construction feel which is appropriate considering that the family has been making wine for over 100 years. There was no expense spared in the creation of this building, and the view from the upper terrace is breathtaking.
This tour started with a short film, in their own small movie theater I might add, about the beginnings of Catena Zapata and the history of the family. This video included a list of accolades won by their wines over the years, a list that was beyond impressive. They have the highest Wine Spectator ratings I have ever seen (up to 98+ points, holy smokes) over the course of many years and Nicolas Catena was Decanter magazine's Man of the Year in 2009. I have no idea what earns you that honor, but I'm assuming making great wines is a prerequisite. At the end of the tour we had a very informal tasting, and their wines were worth all of the hype. This also means that they were priced with the high Wine Spectator ratings in mind and were way out of our price range for the day. Jon and I had a distinct favorite, their Malbec Malbec (yep, named twice, it's that good), and their collection of wines were our collective favorites of the day.

I think we found Jon's 2010 holiday outfit
Basil. Who knew?
After a quick change and cleanup at our hotel, we walked over to Café Plaza Italia where we met Chrissie Bettencourt, a Canadian who has perhaps the most desirable job I can fathom. She is a chocolatier (? is that even a word?) that specializes in pairing chocolate with wine. Sign. Me. Up. She gave us a very informative and interesting workshop on chocolate/wine pairing and a lesson in how to taste food in general. It was fun and delicious and quite interesting to be able to find unique flavors in items we eat everyday. Out of everything we tasted, I think we can all agree that our favorite pairing item was basil. We liked it with chocolate, wine, truffles, basically everything. The small bottle in this picture is also a port-style wine that we loved by Familia Zuccardi called Malamado Red.

We finished off the day with a wine and tapas party at the Park Hyatt hotel in Mendoza. The hotel is beautiful and we had fun dressing up to go to the party, but the event itself was disappointing. The concept was promising, they offered 3 or 4 wines and had waiters passing a 5-course tapas menu. My disappointment started with the fact that we couldn't find a seat. I mean really, this was a reservation-only, paid-for event, how are there no tables?? Luckily we ran into my Brazilian friends from the first winery who offered to switch tables with us so that we could all have a chair. The wines served were was all incredibly sweet, and this was magnified by the fact that we had just undergone the chocolate class. The food was good, but they somehow ran out of a course or two and made up by passing around lots and lots of desserts. Not to mention that the "main" dish, a lamb item rolled in a small tortilla, had a chocolate sauce. It's absolutely not their fault that we had just eating our weight in chocolate before coming, but seriously, does everything have to be sweet?? To wash down the sugar, we asked one of the waiters for water and he brought us just that. One water. For four people. Fernanda and I went to the bar to ask for additional water and in a wave of generosity they gave us another 2 glasses. No worries, out of that awesome day, something had to go wrong.

It was a busy, crazy, remarkable first day in Mendoza - hard to believe we left Buenos Aires at 7:30am and were all still awake. Uncorking Argentina did a great job organizing the day's events and we arrived back to our hotel rooms with little sweets (which we saved, I couldn't possibly have eaten more sugar...) and the next day's agenda waiting for us. Bliss.


  1. Stank and BlakelyJuly 15, 2010 at 7:52 AM

    Dude -- this whole day sounds awesome! Even if you did have something go "wrong" by not being able to get some water while at the Hyatt :)

  2. Exactly - the day was remarkable, with or without the extra water :)