In Buenos Aires, everyone has an opinion about tango. The corner of Boedo & San Juan is home to two cafes that still exist, both of which claim to have hosted early 20th century tango stars.
Around the world with two suitcases
Buenos Aires is constantly changing. As in other cities, older buildings of 2-3 stories are being replaced with new ones that are 10-20 stories tall.
The Argentine eoonomy relies on ranching, while farming is not as strong a tradition. We have found very few markets of the type that are present in every Peruvian town, a central place with stalls that sell meat, fish, vegetables and fruits. In our Boedo neighborhood, we found the market, though very little of it seems to be still in use for selling food:
Perhaps more discomfiting than anything else is that everyone in Argentina looks like everyone in the US. A concerted campaign to exterminate native people that began in 1870 was largely successful, and as a result, most Argentines are descendants of Europeans, as are many people in the US.
QED: We all look alike.
Next question–why do many Americans have much easier lives than many Argentines?
One of the distinctive structures in Buenos Aires is the widest highway in the world, Avenida 9 de julio that runs through the middle of the city, up to seven lanes each way.
Unfortunately for us, we rode up and down this landmark both directions while searching for the exit to the neighborhood of our rental apartment. We discovered that highways may have up to three different names AND a number and that all or none of these may appear on road signs. We drove past our exit various times, finally getting off after about six tolls that we didn’t want, but had to pay in order to turn around and head back toward the city.
We found it, and the good news is that our apartment is lovely, on Colombres in the Boedo neighborhood.
Rio Cuarto to Rosario was a day of driving in the rain. We stopped to look at birds, but not much happened on the road. There are some unusual signs along the highway:
I finally saw the nest of the national bird of Argentina, the rufous ovenbird, named for the shape of their nest made of clay. This was on a power pole:
We were hosted in Mendoza, by Carolina Lopez, who manages three apartments rented through AirBNB. Here are a few pictures:
Best ice cream in Mendoza: Ferruccio Soppelsa
Argentina has many surprising works of public art and architecture. We passed a few of them along our way. There were some unusual pieces of art, such as a gigantic ugly statue in a roundabout, a very large metal sculpture of a bicyclist by a bike path, as well as a stupendous new dinosaur museum in San Luis.
This was near a science museum.
After a long-ish day we found our hotel in Rio Cuarto, on the outskirts of town. The Plaza Mayor hotel is arranged around a nice pool, even if it was not very clean during our visit. We have a large room, big bed and new-looking bath. I’d rate the bed one of our best so far. We are at the far end of the building, and the wifi doesn’t work, but who knows whether it works elsewhere. There is an in-house restaurant that serves dinner from 9-11:30 pm. I guess we’ll see whether we stay awake long enough to have dinner.
Details: Weather started overcast and 70s, became clear through 1 pm and then increasing clouds, high in the high 80s. Traffic light, several tolls.
We had breakfast at Maria Antonieta, very good cappuchino. I had a submarino, hot milk with a bar of chocolate melted in it. Very nice, though I might prefer it made with coffee. American style breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon (pancetta) and orange juice for JH, but they had no scones, so I drank my submarine then went next door to Delicia (or something similar) and bought wonderful tiny cookies, lemon gel filled chocolate dipped shortbread and chocolate dipped, manjar blanco filled star-shaped sandwich cookies, both with a walnut half on top and without. A great midmorning snack.
We returned to our apartment, 488 Martin Zapata, Mendoza, and loaded up. Carolina arrived in time to say goodbye and we headed for Rio Cuarto, navigating first out of Mendoza and on to Route 7. It runs east-southeast across the valley and is definitely wine country.
Along the way we saw a variety of birds and we were definitely on the pampa, wide open spaces of high scrub, fields of corn, beans and alfalfa, and herds of cattle and sheep.
Because of the vagaries of the roads, we could not go on the most direct route, but had to work around one area. We drove to San Luis, then on toward Villa Maria. Our map didn’t show all the roads and we had to guess a bit, but we ended up on the correct route and made it to Rio Cuarto by 4:30 pm, 488 km.
We went to the Walmart looking for an adaptor for the Argentine wall outlets, and failed to find one, but found roast chicken and decided to opt for that vs. the restaurant that opens for dinner at 9 pm. We watched “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. I didn’t realize that Martin Freeman and Zooey Deschanel were in it (or John Malkovich or that long haired English guy I’ve seen in something else). We laughed a lot.
Friday, Feb.6, 2015 Last sips of wine
Since we must continue our journey tomorrow, today was our last tasting opportunity. We made an appointment to visit the Norton winery and taste sparkling wines at 11 am. After several wrong turns, we got onto the big highway (40), and made our way to Norton without much trouble. None of the wineries are well-marked and all publicity seems to be individual, so you are not sure whether there will be signs or not—usually there are few to none.
The tasting at Norton was very interesting; most are charmat method where the second fermentation is in a pressurized tank rather than in the bottle (champenois method). We tried sparkling blends that had different levels of bubbles, and a bottle of sweet, strawberry pink sparkling wine that was so good that we dry wine drinkers bought a bottle. What a wedding toast it would make (with cheesecake anyone?}
After we visited Norton, we went into Lujan de Cuyo and had coffee. Afterward we had a picnic lunch and a nap in a shady lane. At 3 pm we stopped in at Trivento and asked if we could visit. They began at 3:30 pm and we had a good visit, tasting some nice wines. The Amado sur is a blend created for the US market, and while it may sound cynical, it was really, really good. Especially when you find out that Trivento is owned by Concha y Toro, a huge Chilean company.
From Trivento, we returned to Dolium to have a “vertical tasting” of Malbecs from different years. We started with 2013 and went back in time, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2008, 2006.
Our host, Ricardo, after a difficult week, was happy to discuss wine.
Details: The day began overcast, went up into the high 80s, and cooled a bit when it rained. The rain fell when we were indoors visiting wineries (Norton and Trivento). On our way to Norton, I stopped in at our money changing contact, and though the rate was down slightly (12.90 AR pesos =US $1), that is more than the official exchange rate. We continued on to the bric a brac market in Parque Pelligrini, where very little was set up at 10 am. What was there suggests this market is similar to the market in the center of Parque Kennedy in Miraflores on weekend evenings, so I felt better about not staying.
When we returned to Mendoza it was already after 7 pm. Jonathan made risotto with peas and salami, it was delicious.
Feb. 5, 2015, Though the high temperature of the day may have been 89 F, the day was pleasant as long as you stay out of direct sun. There was rain in the mountains but not in town.
A vacation is when you are in a really interesting place but you do NOT feel that you have to get up and rush out to visit six places in order to take full advantage of the visit. We had a leisurely morning, visited a winery, prided ourselves on returning home relatively rapidly on a desirable route, having a delicious dinner (lamb cutlets, sauteed leeks with chopped green olives, delicious Argentine wine), and a stroll around the neighborhood for ice cream. Does life get better than that?
Having been out late, we slept in and then went to the main Mendoza market. We found that this is not a market that sustains the city, but a market for people having lunch and for tourists. The street, Las Heras, is also for tourists, full of travel agencies and souvenir stores. Since we didn’t need a mate cup, silver straw, blankets, ponchos or other items, we looked but purchased little–some olive oil and fruit. We decided against taking the “Wine Bus” Bus Viniviticola. While it would save us driving, we would have to be ready for pickup at 8am at a nearby hotel. By sleeping late we would be able to go out for a winery visit at 2 pm, but only one winery. In that case, we decided to take the car. We ran out of phone time in the middle of trying to get a reservation to visit Norton winery, so among our errands was to top up the phone.
After lunch back at the apartment, we set off for Achaval Ferrer, a winery we’d heard of that seemed to not be very picky about reservations, and we could not find a phone number for them. We arrived around 3 pm, and were greeted cordially. They had both English and Spanish tours about to begin, and we joined the English group. A couple from Boston were there with friends from London, all very pleasant. Our guide, Cecelia, spoke English pretty well and was very knowledgeable about the vineyard. Unlike some others, Acheval Ferrer was begun by a consortium of 5 people who purchased existing vineyards and rehabilitated or reoriented their production. They own vineyards in three different zones, the area east of Lujan de Cuyo, the area we visited in Lujan de Cuyo and a slightly higher altitude vineyard that also is affected by volcanic ash. Most of their production is Malbec and we tasted a malbec from each of the three vineyards, two from barrels (pre-bottling–the wines age 12 months in bottles), one malbec blend.
What we tasted:
Quimera-blend of 40% malbec with varying amounts each year of Cabernet sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet franc and Petit Verdot
They bottle a small amount of each of the varietals that go into the Quimera and sell those separately. After telling us how exceptional the Cabernet Franc was, she noted that it was sold out.
Malbec Altamira, from the barrel, lots of tannin,
Malbec Bellavista from the bottle
Malbec Mirador, from the barrel, lots of tannins
All of the wines were quite expensive compared to what we have had in Mendoza, from 350 to 1300 pesos per bottle or more.
Wednesday Feb. 4, 2015, 32 C (89F) It doesn’t feel as hot as 89, probably because it was overcast most of the day.
We decided to visit the thermal springs in Cacheute, outside Mendoza. When we arrived around noon, the place was packed with hundreds of cars and people. After a walk around to look at the situation we decided this was not what we wanted to do, so we cruised back toward Lujan de Cuyo and I called to see whether we could get a tasting at Chandon. They don’t answer their phone, but I was able to contact their neighbor, Dolium.
After only getting lost for a little while we arrived at Dolium and met Ricardo, the owner, son of the original builder of the winery. It’s distinction is that the facility is completely underground, or rather 2 meters deep and then built and covered with earth for passive cooling. There is a visitor center and tasting area above ground. It’s a small vineyard with small production, fewer than 10,000 cases per year.
Ricardo is very instruction-oriented, his first goal with visitors is to teach them to spit the wine out so that you can taste it without getting sloshed. We started out doing that, so saved him a lesson and got on his good list. We tasted two rose de Malbec, two cabernet sauvignons and three malbecs, a malbec reserve and a petit reserve (a smaller more select wine) and a late harvest Malbec that was excellent, even though I don’t usually like the sweetness of late harvest wines. This one had a big fruity flavor and sweetness but was not cloying. Ricardo pointed out that it has less sugar than most late harvest wines, and that may explain the difference. It proved a long afternoon, as we were at the winery from about 3:30 to 5:30pm, then took San Martin all the way home—the slow route in a straight line cross country.
We put our feet up for an hour and went to meet Tom and Sue for dinner. We ate at Azafran, just around the corner from their hotel, the Diplomat. They are from Ohio, ran a health food store for a long time and are on an adventure even more extensive than ours. We chatted about wine and travel, it made a lovely evening. The problem is staying up for a while after eating a late dinner.
Rose de Malbec (2) This was to show contrast between years within a single area. One was more mineral-scented than the other, with different flavors
Cabernet Sauvignon (2) The contrast between these two bottles was even greater. One was more brick red, with caramel/vanilla scents, the other purple red with herbal notes.
Malbec (2) Again, the contrast was notable. The bottle from 2003 was funky, cheese/moss scents, something that would go with mushrooms. The bottle from 2012 was fruity in scent, though not in flavor.
Tempranillo. This was tempranillo with a small amount of sauvignon blanc intentionally to add a spicy flavor, which it did, almost a clove scent and peppery. Ricardo serves this at lunch with salami, and when we were interested, he sent us down the road to the guy he buys his salami from. We saw a row of salamis and hams air drying, and the pigs about to be roasted. In 25 wood fired ovens, this farmer can roast 100 hundred pigs. I wondered what holiday would call for 100 roast baby pigs. The two going in to the oven looked to be about 15-18 lb each.
Malbec Petit Reserva. This 2011 wine has a short life. Ricardo pointed out the marmalade scent, caramel notes bordering on sherry-like. This means that despite its recent harvest, this wine is not going to last more than a couple more years. He doesn’t know why.
Late harvest Malbec. Delicious, see above.
Feb. 3, 2015 continued
We did not have a reservation for the Vistalba winery, but it was near Kaiken, and we met the bicyclists there, too. We did not take the tour, having just toured Kaiken, but we joined the group for tasting in the cellar where they’ve got a high-ceilinged room exposing one wall of the natural soil to show the “terroir”, pale fine earth over rocky (glacial cobbles from the look of it). The rock provides mineral flavors to the grapes.
Interestingly, Vistalba is owned by the brother of the owner of the Pulento Estates. Apparently the father had huge wine growing land under cultivation a generation ago when Argentina focused on producing wine in large volume, and not very good, either. Argentines drank a very large amount of wine per capita. That has all changed since the 1990s. Now the focus is on better wine in smaller quantities from smaller vineyards.
I tasted the “classic” group
Sparkling Tomero 2014. Faintly pink, rather acidic.
Malbec Tomero 2013.
Vistalba Corte C blend 2013. I like this blend the best of the Vistalba wines
and Jonathan tasted the “premium” group.
Sparkling, very smooth.
Tomero Gran Reserva, 100% malbec
Vistalba Corte A. Blend, Not as heavy tannins as other big reds
After this adventure, we wound around to find the Decero Winery where we had lunch. We were escorted to a dining room overlooking beautiful and extensive grounds, more than 200 hectares, of which 170 are under cultivation.
Fantstic lunch, green salad with mustard glazed chicken bits and sunflower seeds, carpaccio of zucchini with two perfectly broiled shrimp, the best filet mignon JH has ever eaten (so he says–a real Gil Garcia moment), broiled chicken with fine match-stick vegetables. Dessert was one loser, apple crumble (not much apple, and crumble not crunchy) and one winner, a ball of chocolate ganache with tiny bits of candied fruit and nuts in it–like eating the inside of a very fine choc/fruit & nut Easter egg.
At that point it was almost 3 pm and we decided to skip Pulento. Good thing, too, because we were offered a brief tour of Decero that was excellent. The young man spoke in Spanish but used English for technical wine terms, obviously comfortable in both languages. We saw steel tanks, gravity-flow bins and French oak barrels. All in all a lovely visit.
We got lost on the way home and arrived about 5 pm. Rested until our rental car, now repaired, turned up at 6:30 pm driven by the Alamo franchisee’s daughter and male friend. All seems well. After a day with all that wine and food, we managed to eat cucumber and carrot sticks for dinner and called it a day.