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Trip Report Argentina Trip Report: B.A., Mendoza, Cordoba

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Argentina Trip Report – 3/28/10 to 4/4/10

Husband and I just got back from a great vacation to Argentina which lasted about 8 days in country. Reason for our trip was for a wedding of an exchange student that lived with him in high school. Here was our overall itinerary:

Buenos Aires – 2 Days
Mendoza wine tasting – 3 Days
Cordoba – 3 Days (for a wedding)

Since we were visiting friends, they were able to rent a van and take us around B.A. the whole time, so we didn’t have to worry about transport. It was great to have a personal guide!

Buenos Aires Highlights:
Day 1 - Top on our list was a 14 flight tasting lunch we had at La Vineria de Gualterio Bolivar (+5411 43 61 47 09) in San Telmo district. The chef is Alejandro Digilio who trained in Spain at the famed El Bulli restaurant. This meal was AMAZING! For a tasting, there was so much food. You definitely do not leave hungry. Lunch was actually the only meal we had that day since it was so big and took over 2 hours. There were so many unique flavors we had never tasted before even though we are pretty well-versed travelers that travel for food as a main reason. It was about $50 USD pp, but well worth the price since something like that would cost several hundred pp in NYC. We would definitely go back in a heartbeat.

San Telmo was touristy with lots of souvenirs to buy. It’s an OK place to kill time and soak in the street scene and architecture. We’re not souvenir people, but if we were it would be heaven.
We also went to La Boca district which is the area with brightly painted buildings and Tango shows all over the streets (can’t speak to the quality of them since we did not partake), but fun to walk around in for a bit.

Day 2 – We drove around town to look at different areas, then went to Florida street where there are lots of shops and there is a big mall with international brands. The Galerías Pacífico mall is very big and has a huge mural in the middle. Since we weren’t in the shopping mood we did not really look around that much. Many of the stores were brands we could buy in the US, so we did not bother looking.

We then headed to Palermo for lunch at a parilla (don’t remember the name) and walked around the boutique shops. Shops are similar to Nolita area small boutiques in NYC that had mostly Argentinian designers. This was more of what I was looking for as far as shopping, but was still unable to find anything I was in love with as I think the styles are just different for women’s clothes. After Palermo, we went by our friend’s apt to pick up our luggage and make it to the airport to fly to Mendoza for 2.5 days of wine tasting! We were very excited.

Unfortunately, at the airport our flight got continually delayed from 8 PM until about 1:30 AM! We witnessed a small protest at the ticket counters for other flights that were delayed since earlier that afternoon. Apparently, the flight schedules just weren’t reliable flying out of the non-international terminal. Our airline was Aerolineas Argentinas. It was a terrible evening spent at the airport wondering if the flight would eventually get cancelled. The cause was an airplane broke down for another flight and they were just trying to combine our flight to Mendoza with a flight to Cordoba, which they eventually did. So, in the end, all the passengers from the cancelled flight got put on ours and we dropped them off in Cordoba first before we finally arrived in Mendoza around 3:30 AM! Didn’t know they were allowed to just combine flights and take people on a “tour of Argentina” in the skies. Cordoba and Mendoza are not in the same direction from B.A.

To our surprise, when we arrived in Mendoza, our guide who we hired for the next three days was actually waiting for us! His name is Ignacio Romero, and was just an amazing Mendoza wine guide. He had never done it before, so we were his first, but he was perfect. “Nacho” was a friend of a friend and also works at one of the wineries (Achaval-Ferrer) and agreed to take us around. He was perfect because he knows the area, speaks perfect English, and knows the wine and the industry from the inside and has a true passion for wine. Here is the itinerary he put together for us after we gave him feedback:

Tuesday - Uco Valley
Visit and tasting at Bodega Andeluna
Visit and tasting at Bodega La Azul
Lunch and visit at Bodega Salentein, (there's also a modern art gallery here)
Back at hotel around 5pm
Dinner downtown at Azafrán

Wednesday - Luján de Cuyo
Visit and tasting at Bodega Altavista
Visit and tasting at Bodega Catena Zapata
Lunch and visit at Bodega Ruca Malen
Visit and tasting at Bodega El Lagar (Carmelo Patti)
Back at hotel around 5pm
Dinner downtown at 1884 (Owned by famous chef Francis Mallman)

Thursday - Luján de Cuyo
Visit and tasting at Bodega Norton
Visit and tasting at Bodega Achával-Ferrer
Transfer to airport

We have been wine tasting through Yarra Valley in Australia and Napa/Sonoma in CA, so were very excited about Mendoza. It was also the perfect time to go since it was harvest time for many of the wineries. We stayed at the Mendoza Sheraton, a very nice hotel with wonderful medialunas (Argentinian croissants) for breakfast. I would have 3-4 there and then pack another 4-6 for the day! I know… Overkill, but these things were seriously awesome. There are sweet ones and skinny savory ones. Both very good and can’t quite get the same here in the US. They are not as buttery as croissants in the US.

Wineries that stood out:
Andeluna – really great wines, Pasionado was exeptionally good!
Altavista – great tour that dove deeper in wine details we had never heard before, all really good wines, but especially the Alto! The color was so deep with a concentration of 3 vines per bottle, ranked one of the top wines in the world…
Catena Zapata – very good wines as well, but we did not do the tour and caught the staff at the wrong time when they were busy, so the overall experience was not as good. It’s all about the experience when wine tasting, so we didn’t end up buying any even though the wine was really good.
Achaval-Ferrer – The highlight of the wineries, Nacho was “at home” and was able to give us a private full tour of the winery. We got to see and taste things others on the usual tours did not. We were able to taste the grape mixtures at various stages of the fermentation process to discern the difference in the sugar levels of just a few days of fermentation. Achaval-Ferrer had the best wines overall, of course they are the most expensive too, but worth the money. We got 6 bottles there to bring back to the US.

Wineries we would skip next time (for the wine):
Norton – overall wines were a disappointment and the staff/tour person was not knowledgeable; we were very familiar with Norton wines since we get them pretty often in the US, but after tasting from so many other wineries in Mendoza which were better, we left with a new opinion of Norton.
Salentein – wines not great, but good lunch spot with beautiful view
Ruca Malen – did not try the tasting there, but had their wines during the 5 course lunch; the lunch location was perfect, overlooking the vineyards and the Andes mountains, but the food was only so-so. They had carrots as a primary ingredient in the 2 main course dishes, which I thought was a little much, especially since I don’t like carrots. I would expect in a 5 course menu, the ingredients should vary considerably or should be very different in taste. Overall for Ruca Malen: perfect location for lunch with an amazing view, but depending on the changing menu, you may or may not like the food. I did not, but others did. I preferred the food at Salentein much better, but the wine pairings portion at Ruca Malen was very enjoyable.

The dinners we had were both very good. Azafran was very good. The star dish we tried there was the gnocchi, super rich and cheesy with mushrooms and other veggies. We also had the seared tuna, the steak, and the salmon dishes (there were 4 of us), but those were not particularly memorable.

1884 was an amazing dinner. The restaurant is part of the “city’s winery”. We tried one of their “city” wines (don’t remember the name of the winery itself), and it was NOT good. Very tawny in color and taste. Probably one of the worst wines we had in Mendoza. However, the food was incredible. We ordered an egg appetizer with mushrooms, beef empanadas (to die for), steak, salt chicken, pork ribs, and salmon to get a good sampling. Out of the entrees, the chicken was a standout as well as the salmon. All the portions were huge! We were too full for dessert and had to roll ourselves out of there. Would definitely go back, but not order any of the wines made there. They had a full list of others to choose from though. There was surprisingly no markup on one particular bottle we checked (Altavista?) from the price that was charged at the winery.

Overall, our wine tour was very relaxing and fun, and it was all due to Nacho. He would call ahead to each winery to confirm or change our times as our schedule would change due to our wanting to linger longer at certain places and leave early from others. He was extremely knowledgeable on wine and winemaking, so the time spent in the car was spent asking lots of questions and really getting to understand the region’s grapes and terrior. He also tasted along with us, so we could get a more “expert” opinion which was always fun to compare our thoughts! If you are considering a private wine tour, I would definitely recommend Ignacio Romero as a guide. Again, we were his first, so you won’t see any other postings, but you will not regret it. We found out that he is an electrical engineer student graduating this year. This was a surprise to us since he is extremely personable, spent time living in Hawaii (his English is impeccable), and is a super laid back, but also totally responsible guy. Kind of the perfect package. We really couldn’t have asked for more! Just lucked out that a friend of a friend knew him and got him to do this for us. We enjoyed his company so much we made him have lunch with us both days. Although he doesn’t know what he wants to do yet with his engineering degree, he was OK with us posting his email for future tours.

Ignacio Romero: nachoromero@gmail.com

Who knows, maybe wine will have a place in his future…

The last 3 days were spent in Cordoba where we just relaxed, didn’t do much since it was raining, and waited for the crazy Argentinian wedding. It started at 9 PM and went till 6:30 AM! We only made it to 4:30 despite the “training”. You arrive, have drinks and appetizers, then there is a short 15 min ceremony, then more appetizers and drinks before you are seated for dinner. Dancing is after dinner, and then there was 3 AM pizza! It was over the top and a great experience!

That wraps up the trip. No issues with getting home. Each person can take 6 bottles of wine back to the US with no issues. We just brought back 2 x 6-bottle shippers which you can buy in Mendoza through a winery. Next time we’ll have to go down south to the glaciers and also go to Chile, Brazil, Uruguay. Hope this was helpful! Feel free to post any questions. I’ll try and check back at least for a little while.

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