A Brief Stay in Wine Country

After an overnight bus to Mendoza, I was overwhelmed by the arrival in another city. Longing for verdant hills and the quaint colonialism I had imagined, I choked on the heavy fumes and looked unhappily upon the rows of ugly commercialism that seemed inescapable and were only compounded by Santa Fe and Florida Boulevards in Buenos Aires. Confused as to why we chose Mendoza over Iguazu, we began to look into wine tours to assuage our doubts. We did learn some valuable lessons, the most important of which I think is that expectations can truly shape your perception of a place and that can affect your entire experience in that locale.

The next day a jolly Argentinian named Mr. Hugo picked us up along with two lovely British ladies and we drove away from the hustle and bustle to quiet Maipu. We rented bikes, planned our route of vineyards to visit and took off on the bumpy road. You may be thinking, bikes and wines, this is a terrible idea! And you my friend, would be quite right! After a perilous ride along a bumpy road with no sidewalk, bikepath or shoulder to turn onto, I became quite used to sharing the road with buses, trucks, crazy motorcycles and the like. Add this to about 4 wines per tasting and you have a recipe for distaster! Luckily, we are still intact and much more knowledgeable about the succulent, bright, fruity Malbecs that the Mendoza region has to offer. We stopped at two amazing vineyards worth mentioning. The first was the Familia di Tommaso where we had our own private tour of the facilities, stood in giant wine vats and touched crystals of lactic acid remaining from the old brick and concrete fermentation barrels. We tasted two Malbecs, one Cabernet Sauvignon and one Rose, all delicious. The young wines were undoubtedly harsher and more intense, while those aged for a year or more in oak barrels were smooth, creamy and sweeter with hints of berry, particularly plum and strawberry. After that we wandered through the vineyards picking Malbec and Cabernet grapes, filling our mouths with the sweet juice of post harvest season sun drenched fruit. The second vineyard had a much larger operation and was a less personal experience. After a self guided tour we sampled 6 different wines on the roof of a building overlooking their vineyard. Their wines were tasty but lacking the individuality of the previous vineyards. We tasted a Merlot which was unexpected and a light, fruity Malbec Rose which stood out. There we ate a delicious lunch of brie, chicken and pesto sandwiches and lamb burger. Then it was back on the bikes, many glasses of wine deeper and a ways from Mr. Hugo´s. I have never biked so fast in my life. My rationale was that the less time on the road, the lower the probablility of swerving into a bus, yes this may have been a wine infused delision, but I´m still intact so maybe I was right!

That night, a lingering headache in tow, we boarded the bus for San Salvadore de Juyjuy (pronounced hu-huy) which has a river running through it called the Xibi xibi, your guess is as good as mine on that pronunciation. Twenty three hours later we arrived. Let me tell you a few things I have learned so far after this experience. Everything I said about "chic travel", well, forget it. Not changing clothes for three days or more at a time is completely acceptable, showers are a privilege and hand washing my unmentionables in the sink is the norm. Mirrors are for making sure there is nothing in my teeth, hence why I was shocked to find a giant mosquito bite on my face yesterday that has probably been there for several days. After arriving here we hopped in a cab and headed to a hostel that thankfully had rooms! We have definitely left central Argentina, you can tell by the faces of the people, the popularity of the llama (llama empanadas, llama treks, llama paintings, llama sweaters...), the proximity of dense cloud forest and small villages with archaelogical remains of indigenous cultures. I am excited to be far from the city life and looking forward to trekking and camping in the beautiful scenery. Today we are heading to some verdant, cloud forest Andes and then we will be going north toward Purmamarca. Humuhuaca and Iruya as we make our way to the Bolivian border. That´s all for now, pictures of the vineyards and wine to come!

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