Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Argentina part 1: Steak and red wine...


Finally we had reached the land of fine red wine and huge steaks! Mendoza was our first stop after a trip over the Andean mountains… again, a region that is home to 70% of Argentina’s wine production and the country’s best vineyards as far as the eye can see!

As we arrived at the bus terminal multiple men whispering ‘cambio… dollars… change’ confronted us, notoriously between the boarding gates 27-33 of which we had arrived! Welcome to the blue market, luckily we had heard about this and prepared in Chile by getting out around $1150 dollars ready to change. After changing just a little to get a cab and the first day's bits and bobs we headed to the main street and changed the whole lot in a Rolex shop… which obviously didn’t have a Rolex in sight. We got AR$9.10 per U$1 for 20 dollar bills and AR$9.15 for 50’s and 100’s! The national official rate is around AR$6.5 for U$1. In short we managed to earn about £300 in a few moments. Dollars are worth a lot in Argentina, this is down to a steep increase in inflation and the country on a constant edge of recession.

We were staying in Hostel Emperado which provides free all you can drink red wine every evening between 7 and 8pm! This is also where I got my first commission to make a promo film for the hostel owner Eduardo; Hostel Urbano Punto was a new hostel of his round the corner, in return we got a week’s free accommodation! 

Here is a link to my film: http://vimeo.com/82793373

And so it began, Argentina’s world famous steaks and stunning Malbecs were to be consumed by us for the next month pretty much on a daily basis.

The Asados (traditional BBQ) are delicious, Bife De Chorizo and Bife de Lomo are our favourites, fillets and rumps.

I also had a chance to deepen my love affair with Malbec, which I originally found at a wine tasting event at Borough Market whilst filming some Tango a few years back. 

Over 3 days cycling we visited 10 bodegas (wineries) tasting Malbecs galore, Cabernet Sauvignons and Syrahs. 

Hannah fell in love with Argentina’s only home grown white wine; Torrentes. Known as the ‘liar’, this wine smells sweet but is actually a dry wine to taste. Delicious. When the red wine tasting all got a bit much in the 35 degree heat, this white wine was a welcome refresher as were the Roses and the Sauvignon Blancs…phew!

The tasting process...

Swill...                                                                         Smell...
Taste...                                                                         Suck...

We had tours in most of the wineries we visited, learning a huge amount about the process from grape to bottle. There is various time required for maceration which is the contact between grape and skin; this determines colour depth. We got to learn about and see the distillery vats where fermentation takes place, determining the wines strength and taste. 

Then there are the different barrels, usually 30% French oak and 70% American, which is more cost efficient. Although for the reversa wines, the percentages of the barrel can be 100% French which is considered the most desirable. It is here where the aroma of the wine develops. 

We learnt about the length of time that different wines are aged; usually between 6 and 18 months as well as 1st time use of the barrels for the top dollar reserva’s, 2nd for premium so on and so on. Barrels are usually re-used about 5 times before being sold onto cheaper wineries or for furniture!

All the different processes reflect price ranges. 

As well as where and how the grapes are grown. Malbec is Argentina's only true grape variety (the rest are imports from France and Italy etc) and thrives on the Andean mountains' high altitude and sunny climate, producing thicker skins and larger grapes.
Basically, we got a shit load of information that initially went over our heads but when repeated (with slight differences) at all the different bodegas it all started to sink in and make sense.
The greatest thing about these wine tasting days is that we did it all under our own steam and resisted paying for the overpriced tours to do exactly the same. We travelled around and in between the wineries on bicycles which we hired from Hugo’s Bikes. Although the traffic in some places was a little dodgy, after the first two bodegas you are basically pissed and just looking forward to getting to the next one. Perhaps a little dangerous in retrospect but great fun! 

Some highlights...
Tempus Alba

This was where we had one of our favourite meals on the whole trip so far!

Bodega Pulmary
A family winery. We had a private tour with the son of the family. The tasting process was very different; we got to taste the wine from the vats and then from the oak barrels and finally the finished product

We stood inside an old vat/room that once held 300,000 litres! There were alcohol crystals still forming on the walls.

Familia Di Tomaso
This winery dated back to the 1830's

Alta Vista
We did some premium wine tasting here! Just stunning!
The middle of their barrels were painted with Malbec!
We bought a bottle of their Malbec Reserva for Christmas day.

The biggest wine producer in Argentina

 There used to be a railway connected to it for distribution
 The cellar below!

They were pretty tiring days....!

We also went to an olive oil making place. Sampled oils, jams, pastes, liquors and chocolate.


In restaurants we witnessed a very foreign custom that we gave into in the end which was putting ice cubes into your red wine! It was just so warm!!

One day we took a trip out of town to Potierillos where they is a big resovoir 12km by 3km wide. We enjoyed a boozey picnic by the lake, admiring the stunning mountains surrounding us. 

After a spot of swimming, the sun disappeared and the dark clouds rolled in accompanied by the sound of thunder and a light show! Massive forks of lightening were hitting the mountains surrounding us as well as in the middle of the reservoir. For a while we sat on the rocks just watching and listening, thinking how vulnerable we were as there were no trees around, just water, rocks and us – perfect conductors! The cracks were the loudest we had ever heard and right over our heads.

Exhilarating is an understatement, we were in hysterics! We could see and hear hail drawing closer and continued to film the show until it was overhead and we experienced a deluge of water. We found ourselves running for cover wherever ‘cover’ was! The rain was so powerful it hurt. After about 10 minutes the clouds cleared and we were back to normal with blue skys and hot sun!

We moved onto Cordoba next (a night bus north east).


One word… Boiling! Out first evening we had some heavy rain and more deafening thunderstorms. We had 3 days here, which we spent wandering the city…. We weren’t blown away and could have missed the city all together. Cheers Lonely Planet guide book… this was not a highlight of Argentina.

We did enjoy a lot of these though... Empanadas (basically the Argentine version of a Cornish Pasty)!
The one highlight that we found near Cordoba was the small town of Cuesta Blanca and its picturesque river with glittery (flakes of silver sediment from rocks, similar to fish scales) sand. This is where I introduced Hannah to the joy of building dams in the rocks, she wasn’t 100% convinced of the point of the activity. But nevertheless Han helped for a bit before retiring back to the horizontal. I battled on, bum in the air all afternoon.

By making my super cool dams I forced the water to create a jet stream chair, complete with beer holder.

It was a good day, apart from the burnt bum and lower back from 5hrs of being bent over. Ouch.

Next stop Buenos Aires for Christmas and New Year!! Part 2 coming soon!

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