Well, here we are, getting ready to jet out of Buenos Aires tonight on our way to Cape Town, with the blog slogging along behind us, only just getting ready to cross IN to Argentina.
So I'm going to cover a fair amount of ground in this post. Literally and figuratively.
We bused out of Santiago on our way to Mendoza on a Sunday, a trip that should take about 8 hours.
It took 12. Why?
The Copa America, of course! Argentina hosted the giant soccer tournament this year, and on the Tuesday after we arrived, Chile was going to play Peru. In Mendoza. So we crossed the border into Argentina with approximately 20,000 of our closest Chilean friends. The border was overwhelmed, and we waited in line for almost 4 hours to cross.
The game also led to an extreme shortage of beds in Mendoza, affordable or not; Logan had managed to book us a hotel in town for the first night we'd be there, but after that you couldn't get a bed for love nor money. So we hopped back on a bus the next morning and headed out to wine country!
Through airbnb, Logan managed to track down and rent us a beautiful bed and breakfast on an actual freaking vineyard. Viña Maria was one of the nicest places we've stayed so far.
It didn't hurt that the Cavagnaro winery tasting room was right behind our little abode. And, since we were out in a fairly rural area, it was also super nice to have a kitchen! The Cavagnaro family provided a lovely and hearty breakfast, with meats, cheeses, fresh-baked breads, and homemade apricot preserves. They were super-nice people.
The thing to do in Maipú, especially if you're a cheapo backpacker like we are, is rent a bike and head down the road to the area's wineries. This time of year, the weather was just perfect for biking. Unfortunately, much of the road is under construction right now, and though this photo makes the area look bucolic, buses and trucks often thunder by uncomfortably close.
All told, we visited seven wineries in our two and a half days, and they varied wildly in quality. The area is widely known for its malbec, and we definitely learned a lot about the range of the grape!
At Carinae, we were wowed by their natural wines and learned a lot about the concrete tanks commonly used in the area.
We were lucky enough to be there during bottling season (just like when we visited Flat Creek outside of Austin). Like Flat Creek and a lot of the Texas wineries, Carinae rents the super-expensive bottling equipment on a need to have basis.
Di Tommaso is worth a visit, just for their beautiful and atmospheric bodega (originally owned by the Cavagnaro family, actually). They have concrete tanks as well, but the winery no longer uses them. There's one you can walk into that actually has a spiral staircase installed inside. The wines we tried? Uneven.
Bodega La Rural is one of the largest operations in the valley, and they have a few interesting implements from the early days of Mendoza wine. Here's a wine press made from just about an entire freaking cow. The wines we tried there were awful, and the tour was ridiculously crowded (and only in Spanish) but I hear their high-end offerings are good.
Tempus Alba, on the other hand, has a shiny sparkling new building overlooking their vineyards. It makes a nice stop for a snack, though again we weren't crazy about their wines...
By the time we headed back into Mendoza, most of the Chileans were gone.
Mendoza was a nice town for walking, with lots of little plazas spread throughout the center and a great bar/restaurant street called Aristides.
Although if someone really needs to open up a proper wine bar there - with all the wines being made in the vicinity, it's sorely needed! We tried out one place touted by Lonely Planet, and it was awful and mostly offered extremely overpriced flights. I ordered a glass of '04 malbec and received an '05, and when I pointed out the discrepancy the girl working there said "oh, the year never matters with wine anyway, they're all the same."
Huh. Face explosion.
We did eat and drink well there, though. House wine tastes good poured from traditional pitchers shaped like penguins (we bought one of these and just shipped it back to the States, we loved it so much).
We learned about the Gancia Batido - Gancia is a bittersweet herbaceous vermouth-based spirit, and a Gancia batido is Gancia mixed with lemon, soda, and a bit of sugar. I think this would do well in an Austin summer.
We lunched on panchos, or Argentine hot dogs. Though they can come with any number of crazy toppings, we really liked the simple ones from Aruca, with my favorite being topped with ham and cheese, salsa golf (here's more about salsa golf, including a taste-test a couple of our friends participated in), and other brightly colored condiments. Aruca did the best panchos we had in Argentina.
One night, we hit up a parilla (grill) called El Patio de Jesus Maria, which had been recommended to us by a native named Nacho and his Houstonian girlfriend, Shelley. Nacho told us to start off with a plate of achuras, which we've since done at pretty much every parilla we've visited in Argentina.
Achuras are, well, the most popular of the nasty bits. Here's a picture, helpfully diagrammed by Logan.
You'll be seeing more achuras on the blog in the coming days. The ones at El Patio were among the crunchiest we had. Also, I love sweetbreads. Still pretty indifferent on the kidneys and lower intestine, though I think Logan's grown to love them.
And for a Mendocino dessert? Try the alcayote squash marmalade with cheese - this one is from the terrific restaurant Casa de Campo in Maipú. It's a great, and very traditional, mix of sweet and salty. The cheese is fontina. We are going to recreate this for people when we get home, by the way.
And that's our whirlwind trip through Mendoza! Next, off to Córdoba, the student town with the ridiculously good choripan.
And for those of you who follow us on Twitter, yes, Mendoza is where we had the BEDBUG EXPERIENCE, which I hope not to repeat. Thank goodness it was just one bedbug, and the hotel (after a LOT of prompting) did the right thing and refunded our stay. We were also lucky to only be there one night. Shudder shudder ugh.