Red, Red Wine, Goes to My Head

Trip Start Oct 29, 2011
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Trip End Jun 01, 2012


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Flag of Argentina  ,
Sunday, December 25, 2011

We travelled from Buenos Aires (1000km) to Mendoza on an overnight bus. This one was booked by Helen and was the very highest standard. Each seat reclined completely into a bed and you got your own TV from which you could choose your own programmes. Once again a really nice meal, wine and champagne before you go to sleep.

The city is in the foothills and high plains, on the eastern side of the Andes. Two of the main industries of Mendoza area are olive oil production and wine making. The region around Mendoza is the largest wine producing area in Latin America. So basically it has great weather, the Andes (including Aconcagu), steak, wine and a North Face shop – This is my kind of town !!!

When we arrived we spent the first afternoon going around all of the tour agencies trying to organise activites for the next few days we were going to be there. The first night we went on a cookery course. A wonderful Argentinian chef called Laura Pinna helped us cook a feast of empanadas (Pasties basically), t-bone steak and a quince tart thing. Oh and of course they give you a lot of wine. Also on the course were two really lovely guys, Clive, an American and Ricardo who was from Sao Paulo.  We had an absolutely brilliant night and the food  was amazing (basically Laura did most of it while we drank). Clive and Ricardo were really lovely and we had a such a laugh whilst we were attempting to cook.  As Ricardo is from Sao Paulo, he and Helen had a lot to chat about and Clive had done exactly what I was doing in terms of the giving us work and a house to go travelling. He was really great to chat to because he really understood and made so much sense to me. He said what he loved the most about the whole travelling experience was that it gave you chance to step away from your normal life so you can see it with different eyes. It gives you chance to get things into perspective so that you can what is working and what is not. After all of the cooking (well drinking really) we then sat down to a divine three course meal with even more wine.

So onto the next day and we had booked a trip into the Andes so we could see the mountains properly and hopefully get a glimpse of Aconcagua. So we piled into a minibus with our guide Carolina and then drove around and around Mendoza picking various people up from different hotels and hostels.  Two hours later we arrived at the first stop  at the Picheuta Bridge in Uspallata Valley. This is a small replica of the stone bridge General Jose de San Martin's army built on their way through Uspallata calley and pass to Chile to fight for Independence from Spain.

Next stop was the famous Puente del Inca  "The Inca's Bridge", which is a natural arch that forms a bridge over the Vacas River, a tributary of the Mendoza River. It has the name of Puente del Inca because it was used by the Incas before the colonisation of  this part of the America's by the Spanish. Scientists speculate that interaction of extreme elements like ice and hot springs was involved in the origin of the formation. They suppose that in ancient times ice covered the river and acted as support for avalanches of snow, dust and rocks. So the dust over the ice over the river would have served as a path for the sulphurous water and petrified the surface, so when the snow melted, the bridge remained by itself.It looks like the bright yellow colour has been painted onto the side of the rocks. However, throughout the years a transformation in colouring was triggered by the sulphur compounds and numerous minerals within the hot waters that flow through the ruins.

The final stop was a glimpse of Aconcagua, which unlike most of the mountains in the area is not a volcano. It is the highest moutain in the the Americas at 6 962m (22,841 ft) and also the higest mountain outside of the Himalayas. It is is also one of the seven summits.

The next day was a wine tasting tour in the Valle de Uco. So here’s a bit of a low down on Argentinian wine for you all. The Jesuits first planted vines in Northern Argentina 500 years ago, but it was the arrival of French, Italian and Spanish immigrants in the 19th century that really changed things. These winemakers brought with them grape varieties from their home countries such as merlot, cabernet sauvignon and the grape that the region is now most famous for, the Malbec. However, it is only in recent years that  the wine industry has become more sophisticated and is producing better quality wine. Back in the day it was all about quantity and producing table wines (which were mostly drunk with the addition of soda to take the edge off). Today the wineries are using oak barrels imported from the U.S. and from France to age the wine.

Once again we piled into a mini bus and did another thirteen lap tour of Mendoza picking up people. In our group was a British couple called Ashley and Paddy, a Polish couple and Shoshana an American travelling by herself. The group was led by the lovely guide Pamela and was run by one of the top wine tour companies. We were going to be taken to some very sophisticated wineries (what else for such sophistated ladies as Helen and myself).  So we made our first stop at 9.30am at the Pulenta Estate. This is a boutique winery owned by an Italian family which makes some very nice wines. On arrival we were greeted by the winery’s guide – she had amazing English – turns out she’s from Missouri. So at 9.30am we had our first wine to try – the Rosé. Now we were a little bit concerned that 9.30am  was too early to start drinking but we decided to pretend that we were in the UK and as it was 12.30pm there so this was more than perfectly acceptable. After our tipple of rosé we headed down to a tasting room where the first activity was a blindfolded smelling game. The guide gave us different aromas to try to guess. They were all things that you should be able to identify when you smell wine. There was cinamon, apple (no idea at all on that one), chocolate (got straight away) and grass (that well known ingredient in wine!). We were pretty useless. As she was passing round the same 10 items we just started shouting out the names of one’s we knew others had already had before.  Then onto the wine – we got to try four types. Their sauvignon blanc, a malbec, a cabernet sauvignon and a cabernet franc . Each one was of a better standard having been aged for longer in the oak barrels. Needless to say my favourite wasn’t the most expenisve (seriously I need to get myself more expensive tastes).

So onto the next winery which was a lot smaller called La Azul. Here we got to taste wine directly from the barrel. By this stage we thought we were becoming experts in the wine tasting process.

The final winery was Salentein, which is owned by a Dutch couple and has these rather bizarre buildings, with great big cellars for storing all of the wine. The only way I can describe it is a cross between a holocaust museum and the bat cave (I’m sure that is exactly the image they were going for when they built it). We had a bit of a tour, more information on wine production and then a lovely four course meal with even more wine. .So another amazing lunch – empandas, steak etc. Just to mention – when the Argentinians do steak, they really do steak. You get the most amazing quality meat and it is literally half of a cow. So following the meal it was the the 1hr ˝ minibus journey back to Mendoza. We were all feeling incredibly full, a little tipsy and all having the same thing in mind – it was sleepy time ....

However, the minibus driver had other ideas – it was karaoke time and he started us off (whilst still driving the bus!) with a rendition of New York, New York. He even had disco lights in the bus – it was like being on Doobie Duck’s Disco Bus. So lovely ,shy Pamela then steps up and doesn’t an amazing rendition of a traditional Argentian song – yes she can sing as well !!! Then Miss Helen Devine did 'Fly Me to the Moon’. This was followe up by the whole minibus attempting to the Macarena – but we had the usual problem in that we couldn’t remember which actions were the Macarena and which were from Saturday Night (Helen was doing the Birdie Song I think). I loved the way that this tour had deterioated from a very sophisticated, high class event to the journey back on a coach from a day out in Weston-Super-Mare. The driver then put on his DVD of rock classics from the 80’s and 90’s and we all had a big sing-a-long, with dancing (it was at this point we all realised quite how much wine we had consumed). Occasionaly there would be song we didn’t recognise – some Euro pop type thing. Fortunately we could just turn around and invariably the Polish couple knew exactly what it was. Scarily the biggest cheer was when a bit of Rick Astley came on.

Next day was Christmas Eve and were on another wine tour, this time on bikes !! (Yes I know alcohol and riding a bike don’t mix – and no I obviously hadn’t learnt my lesson from Amsterdam). We were only on a half day tour and visited 2 wineries. This was a far cheaper tour and the wineries were not as boutique. I think that Helen and I had visions of us cycling around the countryside with tree lined avenues and French music in the background. Was thinking along the lines of the Allo Allo theme – had to choose that one as it’s the only French music I can think of apart from Joe le Taxi or Chanson l’Amour (Rat ta tat ta tat – Remember that legendry ‘Are You Being Served’ episode?). Ooh and there’s that Seirge Gainsborgh thing but that wouldn’t be appropiate.  It was a nice half day, but as it was the cheap tour you got far less wine and it was of a far lesser quality (please note we are now complete experts –can tell a merlot from a malbec at 20 paces !).

So onto the evening – now in Argentina they celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve with a family meal and then everybody shuts up all shops and restaurants on restaurants and goes into the mountains with the family for a picnic. Not great for the tourists though as most places are shut. Fortunately the lovely chef Laura knew another chef with a great Italian restaurant who was opening and got us a table. We also invited along Shoshana – the American from the first wine tasting day as she was going to be on her own.  We had a lovely evening with fantatic food – fish thank God – I couldn’t face another steak) and at midnight we toasted in Christmas Day with the staff at the restaurant (we were the only customers left !) We only tumbled into the hotel at 1.30am.

So Christmas Day and we each had a chocolate orange left by Father Christmas.  Then we went white water rafting. We decided to do a half day on the Rio Mendoza. Also there was Paddy and Ashley who we had met on the wine tour and then another British couple Bushra and David. The river only had up to Class III rapids so it wasn’t too scary (the Zambezi and White Nile had been up to Class V). We had a lot of fun though as our guide Lucio seemed on a mission to get us as wet as possible. When we had finished we had a couple of hours to kill before our transfer back to Mendoza – so we sat down with a few beers and enjoyed the sunshine (it was well into the thirties).  We had a great chat with the two British couples. They both lived in London but Bushra was originally from Burnley so we have a brilliant north vs south conversation. She has also been at UCL and was now a barrister in London but was desperate to move back to Manchester. It was really good for me as it made me realise that I think it’s time for me to head back to my semi-northern routes. Not too sure if that will be the Midlands or further north but I think my time in London is definately over -  There’s just not enough gravy.
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Comments

Lisa Wyatt on

I love reading all your news, you make me laugh and cry all at he same time! All the wonderous things you are seeing and doing are amazing, I am so happy for you!! and good girl for all that wine tasting -now that's my kind of traveling...making my way around as many wineries as possible..never had one that tastes like grass though (brake fluid maybe- but not grass!) anyway, keep at it sweetie! love every minute xxx

Catherine Snoad on

Hi Liz!

Really enjoyed reading your update and it sounds as though you are having an amazing time out there-adventure after adventure!
Slightly concerned about the amount of wine though....and bike riding while pissed...how very irresponsible Miss Sandell! ;-)

MARG on

Liz are you trying to outdo me by having glasses of wine on all your holiday photo's? - you seem to be having a really good time hope you can remember it all!! x

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