Trip Start Mar 31, 2010
Trip End Mar 31, 2011

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Saturday, January 22, 2011

The first thing we noticed on arriving in Mendoza was that it was incredibly hot.  The second was that on a Saturday afternoon, there was  nobody to be seen anywhere.  We went out for a walk at 6pm and still no-one.  Only by about 8pm did people start to appear; it seems that the Mendozans outdo the Spanish in siesta taking.  Likewise with eating late: we went out for dinner at 10 and found dozens of restaurants with rows of vacant tables outside.  Only when we came home at midnight were people really starting to go out.  It's no wonder, because even then it was too hot for us to sit outside and eat.  The next morning was a Sunday and early on in the huge and excellent park were lots of people out walking, jogging and cycling in the relative cool of the morning.  Certainly the weather almost dictates a siesta, but the obvious problem with it is that you have to wake up and get out of bed twice a day.  And gettng yourself up early in the morning after a late night eating steak and drinking wine has unfortunate echos of Friday mornings at home getting up for work after a late night out.   Later on Sunday we tried to have a light lunch but found that all the cafes and convenience stores closed for a noon-until-5pm siesta as well!   

The people were also different as we crossed the border.  Our lovely boutique b&b was run by a couple who were some of the warmest and friendliest people we've stayed with.  We were greeted with a kiss on both cheeks and enjoyed talking to them about rugby and their recent honeymoon in Europe.

We went on a tour of the Maipu valley near Mendoza by bicycle.  The bike trip was very popular with the foreign tourists, whilst the Argentines travelled by car.  How right they were; the temperature reached 36c with very little shade on the busy road.  These were unfavourable conditions for tasting rich red wines and we found ourselves with a hangover after almost the first sip.  The wineries themselves were perfect for tourism.  They were more accessible than wineries in France and less commercial than in the US.  There were short guided tours and very good value tastings in lovely old adobe farmhouses.  We had found the idea of vineyards tucked up against the Andes to be a romantic one, but the reality in Maipu was a little disappointing.  The scenery was not as good as we expected and there was a sense of the wine production being a bit of a factory process. All the water comes from irrigation: however talk of the winemaker turning off the taps at certain times to achieve the results they want is no doubt good science but removes the feeling of the wine being a natural product of its environment.  There was a sense that someone had done a scientific analysis of the conditions and decided to plant vines based on the results.

The next day we did an excellent guided trip to 4 higher end wineries and these all felt far more appealing, with well-kept vines and a view of the mountains in the distance.  Our first visit and tasting was at 9.30 in the morning at a winery that, like most in Mendoza, was started by Italian immigrants in the early 1900s.  From there we went to a gorgeous restored vineyard that was owned by Moet & Chandon, then an olive oil farm for lunch and another winery in the afternoon.  We tried some very good wine but it was still strange to us to see grapes taken from all over a huge region and blended into a style that is consistent year after year.

One thing that is certain is that the food is excellent here, miles ahead of what we've had elsewhere in South America.  We enjoyed it even more after we accepted that unlike the locals, we can't eat a huge slab of beef at 11pm and tried eating some of the lighter options.

On the last day we hired a car and drove 100km to the Valle de Uco which is a more recently planted area closer to the mountains.  This was what we had imagined the region to look like, with dramatic snow covered peaks behind rows of lush green vines.  It was very idyllic and scenic.  We visited some very modern wineries and had an excellent lunch in one of them watching a violent storm in the mountains in the distance.

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