We arrived in Argentina after a full 30 hours of traveling from British Columbia. After clearing immigration in Mendoza, we went to pick up our bags – all 5 of them (traveling with a baby means lots more bags and gear) except only 4 were there!?. The bag missing happened to be mine and it also contained all of our 4-month-old son Taylor’s items as well as my own. All I felt like was a cool shower and clean clothes – I guess I will have to settle with the shower! When it finally did arrive (2 days later) I found out that the baby items had been stolen. I am sure they must have really needed the baby clothes but it’s a real hassle for us. It is just another reminder that Argentina’s economy is struggling.
We picked up our run down tiny Fiat rental car (expensive and biggest they had!) then we headed for the house we rented for our 2-½ week stay. The house is on a beautiful estate with a pool and beautifully manicured gardens that smell absolutely lovely after coming from cold wintery weather. The owner of the house also owns a winery and was gracious enough to leave us a couple bottles of Malbec wine from his vineyards – which turned out to be an incredible drop. Yani, a local woman who is taking care of the house for the owner (as he teaches oenology at a California University), greeted us. She is very friendly and welcoming, offering to help in any way while we are here.
After a good long sleep we all wake up feeling refreshed and excited to explore this beautiful world-renowned wine region. We are staying Lujan De Cuyo, which is in the heart of the wine-growing region. The locals call this area “Malbecs’ Dirt”, which of course sounds much better in Spanish. They believe that the best Malbec grows here – which is lucky for us. We have tasted several Malbecs, some are big company, pretty uninteresting, one dimensional wines but some are truly incredible which makes me realize why Argentina is cleaning up with international awards and becoming such a successful region.
As we tour around and get ourselves oriented, we realize that making appointments is absolutely necessary. Unlike most other regions we have visited, you cannot just pop into the local wineries for a tasting – they will not accept you without an appointment. Most of the wineries are heavily gated with full time guards. You must fill out all of your details and they have to call into the winery to ensure your appointment has been booked before opening the gates. Although this is a huge hassle and doesn’t allow for any spontaneous tastings, the reception we received from each winery was well worth the effort. Most wineries gave us the full tour of the facility as well as a detailed tasting.
Yani, who just lives a street over came over to help us make appointments with winery owners on Marcus’s list. Between her English and Marcus’s Spanish we were able to book appointments for the next week or so. Looks like we have a very busy schedule planned. Argentine people are so incredibly friendly, gracious and hospitable. I think they are probably the friendliest people we have come across in all the regions we have traveled.
Yani pops in again the next morning with a hand drawn map of the area with more winery suggestions and places to eat, she also informs us she has arranged to have a chef come over the following evening to cook us a traditional BBQ called parilla. I am truly blown away with the hospitality; they are really giving us the royal treatment. The chef cooked up a feast – the most tender and delicious meats we have ever tasted. We invited him to join us for dinner and a glass of wine and had one of the most enjoyable evenings in Argentina. The only glitch was that he didn’t’ speak English and I don’t speak Spanish so Marcus had to spend the evening translating.
After this wonderful welcome we settled down to a daily routine of appointments, and tastings. We travelled all over Luyan, Agrelo and the Uco Valley. We were almost killed numerous times by Argentina’s terrible drivers and we got to see some spectacular desert and vineyard scenery at the base of the magnificent Andes Mountains. The weather was a stunning 30-35 degrees Celsius every day, with the occasional evening storm. Travelling in Mendoza is definitely a cultural experience, while the scenery can be beautiful; there is also extreme poverty and all that goes with it. That being said, Argentina’s wine industry has it all – from huge multinational owned state of the art facilities right down to small quaint family owned wineries. We saw it all – and tasted it all too. Before we headed to Argentina I was doubtful I would become a Malbec lover, since unfortunately our liquor stores here in Canada tend to stock the shelves with big company wines that underwhelm at best. What I have realized is that there are some incredible wines in Argentina and some amazing Malbecs, which I can honestly say, blew me away. After all the tasting it is safe to say Malbec is a variety that has found its’ home in Mendoza. We also found wonderful Torrontes and Chardonnay, which proves Argentina isn’t just a one trick pony. We were very fortunate to find small producers with a passion for the grapes they grow and the wines they turn into. I loved Argentina in many ways – the amazing people, beautiful sunshine, the “mate” (Argentinean herb tea) and most importantly the incredible wines. I am looking forward to filling our cellar with them!