Tuesday, January 22, 2008
A great place to visit and get some exercise in Mendoza is the Cerro de la Gloria. It is a tall hill that sits behind the Zoo with a great footpath to the top.
At the top is a monument representing San Martín and his army that crossed the Andes to liberate Chile and Peru and ensure the independence of Argentina.
It is not a big hill and it is dwarfed by the foothills to the Andes just to the west. However, it does provide some great views of Mendoza City.
The top is about 1 kilometer above sea level. Although, the climb up the cerro (hill) is only several hundred meters. Still, a good little workout with a reward at the top.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
One of our favorite bodegas in the Valle de Uco (Uco Valley) region of Mendoza is a small boutique bodega called O. Fournier.
O. Fournier is named after the spanish owners, the family of Ortega Gil-Fournier. It looks like a french name, but is spanish and pronounced as four-knee-air, not four-knee-ay.
Wow! We were blown away by our visit.
First, the place is a wild looking modern masterpiece. It rises above the surrounding vineyards and looks more like a UFO launching pad than a winery.
But the design is a masterpiece of technology and architecture with a single purpose—to use gravity and not machines to process the grapes and avoid pumping and introducing harmful oxygen into the process.
Second, our guide was friendly, warm and passionate about O.Fournier's wine and philosophy. This was in stark contrast to our guide at Salentein from earlier in the day.
Finally, O. Fournier's flagship wine, the 2002 Alfa Curx blend was awarded a Wine Spectator rating of 93 and was rated as #86 of the top 100 wines.
So when we got to the tasting room, were we given some low end experiment that they had unsold inventory of like at Salentein? No. We were given tastings of their two flagship Alpha Crux wines—the blend and the Malbec.
And man were they good.
The spanish are fond of their Tempranilo grape. O. Fournier thought the conditions of the Uco Valley would be good for Tempranilo. And if they blended it with Malbec, they could make a wine that was differentiated from the 1000s of Malbecs being made here.
Their gamble paid off. I don't know how much is due to the grape and how much is due to the marvel of architecture and the innovative technology built into their winery.
The ramps you see in the first picture bring the grapes up one story above the ground where gravity does its gentle magic on the grapes and minimizes the need for machines and pumps.
Gravity helps the wine through all of the wine making process until its final resting place in the cellar 3 stories underground.
Not only is O. Fournier's technology innovative, it is beautiful to look at. They have perfected the art of wine making to a minimalist modern masterpiece.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
This week, we made the trek down to the Uco Valley about an hour and half south of Mendoza to visit the the bodegas of Salentein and O Fournier.
Both were designed by the same architect and are a tribute to the fine art of modern winemaking. The first up on our trip was Bodegas Salentein. (I'll blog about O Fournier later. )
Salentein is situated at the foothills to the Andes and is on route 89 near the town of Tupungato. It is a long hike from Mendoza especially given the fact that there are hundreds of other bodegas within a short taxi ride from downtown. The hike is well worth it. Though not for the winery tour.
Salentein is large and their operations on the bodega include Killka—a fabulous modern art museum and large restaurant, Posada Salentein—an estancia/inn, and a small chapel. Oh yes, and the winery.
When we showed up, we had to pass through the art museum to check in. Although we were the only visitors and there were several employees, the only ones willing to speak to us were the imposing security guards that looked more like they were ready for the next military junta than security detail at a winery.
When one of the Salentein soldiers... I mean guards finally showed us where to go, we started our tour with a young twenty something guide who schpeeled the corporate line with about as much enthusiasm as a Koala bear on qualudes.
Salentein has some great premium malbecs and even some great low end malbecs. But were we offered any of the good stuff to sample? No. They pushed on us an O.K. Sauvignon Blanc and a miserable 2007 Merlot.
Our boring tour guide could of won an Oscar for the convincing lines he spewed about how great the Merlot was. We drove all this way to sample some of the best Malbecs from Argentina and were offered this crap?
The wine tour was a let down given our friends from The Vines claimed, "at this cross shaped monument to winemaking, guides conduct dramatic tastings from behind an impressive marble alter."
There was nothing dramatic about it.
Don't get me wrong. As cold and sterile as the place is and as bad as the wine tour was, it is still worth the trip to Salentein especially if you are in the Valle de Uco region.
The restaurant was outstanding and had some awesome views of the Andes. I can't imagine what it looks like in the winter, spring and fall with snow covering most of the mountains.
Modern art and architecture lovers will like the place too. There is wonderful art throughout the property and The Killka museum was impressive. The place was designed by the same architect that designed our favorite Uco Valley bodega, O Fournier. The cellar in both feature his trademark cross shaped design.
Friday, January 18, 2008
Any wine trip to Mendoza should begin and end at The Vines of Mendoza. The Vines is a great tasting room and information center right off the main plaza and across the street from the Park Hyatt.
I am ashamed to admit that we had been here a week already and had not made it to a single bodega (i.e. winery—the Argentines us a different word for everything here!).
That doesn't mean we haven't been educating ourselves on the best of Argentine wines. The Vines has been a great place to get our bearings on who's who of wine in Argentina.
Our first visit to The Vines was on our second day in Mendoza. We popped in that afternoon to have a good glass of wine to relax and escape the heat. They introduced us to a great Malbec from MonteCinco. It was wonderfully complex with intense oak flavors.
Our next night, we returned for their Monday night cheese and wine pairings. This was a great way to be introduced to some great wines beyond the ubiquitous Malbec. However, the cheese alone was worth the entry price.
Tuesday night we payed for one of their exclusive tastings in their private tasting room.
We highly recommend The Vines as an essential resource for learning about the 100's of great wines from around Medoza and Argentina. They can even recommend and book tours of the best local wineries.
Friday, January 11, 2008
Took my daughter on a full day rafting trip down the Mendoza river yesterday with Argentina Rafting Expediciones (www.argentinarafting.com). I highly recommend the outfit. We had fun despite a much more difficult trip than we bargained for.
I didn't realize the trip we took was rated moderate to difficult when we booked it. My daughter is only 13, and while she loves to do white water rafting, she is not the type who is into anything aproaching real exercise.
The Mendoza river runs fast. And when we showed up, the wind was blowing hard and fast upriver. On top of that, we only had four rowers on our boat—a couple from Spain, and my daughter and I.
The strong wind made it very difficult to maneuver our boat. A situation driven home by the fact that we were down two rowers. This river trip was the hardest one I have every done. By midday I was zapped.
Several points in the morning our guide was pleading, almost in tears, "Please, please paddle harder and faster... NOW!" as if we were going to die.
We broke for lunch and ate at the ruins of an old abandoned train depot. We regained our energy and reboarded our boats for the second leg. While getting in, I asked if it was going to be be easier or harder. I was told by our guide, "It is going to be more fun. The most dangerous part of the river was right around the corner."
I was worried at that point. But, luckily the wind died down to nothing and we no longer had to paddle 4 times harder than normal like we were in the morning.
The trip switched from hard to fun. We went through a class 4 section of the river with breeze. (We'll I almost fell out at one point, but my wife is not suppose to know that part. )
Near the end, we hit a small section of the river with a drop off. We handled it like pros. Our guide admitted after we passed it that he had flipped the boat over 3 of the last 4 times on that very same spot. Not very comforting. Though, I'm glad he waited till afterwards to tell us.
All in all, a challenging and fun trip. I was very proud of my daughter and how she stepped up to the plate. We even met some cool college kids on the bus trip back that helped my daughter realize what a great experience she getting by being here in Argentina.
That alone was worth the price of the trip.
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
My family broke up our move to Mendoza by taking a side trip to an Estancia north of Córdoba in the Jesus Maria region.
I have to say, our 4 day stay at Estancia Dos Lunas was one of the best stays I have had anywhere in the world. It was the perfect balance between relaxation and fun. It helped that for most of our stay we had the whole place to ourselves.
The estancia is run by Gonzalo and Lorena, a young couple from Buenos Aires who were very warm and friendly. They made sure that we were always taken care of.
The stay included all meals and several activities on the estancia. We mainly stuck to horseback riding and hiking. As you can see there were an endless supply of trails each with their own unique landscapes.
The area in parts looked like the hills and open spaces of Palo Alto, CA. Some of the red rocks and mountain parts looked like Colorado between Pikes Peak and Pueblo. But mostly, it reminded me of West Texas and the Hill Country.
I highly recommend a stay at an estancia if you ever make it to Argentina. It is a great way to see how an important part of Argentina's culture lived at one time.
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
This was the grand finally of our own little fireworks show in the park around midnight last night. You wouldn't believe the quality and size of fireworks they sell here in the city.
The fireworks were a great ending to a nice night with friends at our apartment in Belgrano. We had our Ecuadorian friends Gaby and Estaban and a family of fellow US expats over for diner, wine and fireworks.
Stuck In the Elevator after Diner
My wife made the best chicken tacos along with black beans and mexican rice. It tasted just like back home in Texas. And we found out that Malbec goes almost as well with Mexican food as Beer, but not as well as say a Shiner Bock.
We were having such a good time, we lost track of time. At 11:45 we realized we needed to high tail it the park about 4 blocks away to setup our fireworks show. We all grabbed the Champaign and fireworks and headed for the elevator.
At the last minute, one other person jumped in and the elevator got stuck at the bottom. We didn't realize it at first. We just kept chatting away. The other part of our party finally gave up and went down the stairs.
The extra weight and the power problems caused the elevator to freeze up. When we all started to realize what was going on, it scared Mijo. He started crying for his mother. At that point, we decided to force the door open and hop out.
Now, we only had 5 minutes to get to the park. We did some pretty fast walking and made it to the park right at the stroke of midnight.
Our Own Private Fireworks Show
We started with one rocket on a 5 foot stick that came with it's own launch tube. It was a real crowd pleaser. We also had a 10 pack of rockets on 3 foot sticks. These were not your wimpy bottle rockets. Think bottle rocket on steroids. They packed a loud explosion with plenty of light. We had various other canon like shells about the size of a coke can that made for some nice displays of light and sound.
However, the one in the pic above we saved for the last—and it was by far the best. For several minutes it sent up one spectacular display after the other. Just when it seemed it was over, there was a loud thud and up went the biggest and loudest display that rivaled what you see in the professional firework shows.
The park is surrounded by several large apartment buildings and everyone was out on their balconies. When the "Locura" finally finished, everyone on the balconies broke out in applause.
I was blown away too.