Argentina – The Glass Half Full

The bus to Argentina was a smooth ride – actually so smooth that we thought the bus driver forgot to stop at the border crossing so we could get our exit stamp out of Chile! Were we now illegal immigrants – oh gosh? Thankfully that wasn’t the case and we did get our stamps out of Chile and into Argentina eventually!! Legal again!

Our first stop was a town called Medoza. It is here that the best wine is produced and has now become known as the most famous wine region in the country! It was only right that we questioned this theory and booked ourselves onto a wine tour around some of the local vineyards.
We were picked up early by a bus full of a real mix of ages, we were definitely the youngest and the oldest probably was pushing 70. This didn’t seem to matter at all and we got on with everyone from the start! A good group always adds to the enjoyment of a tour.
Our first vineyard was called Domiciano, the smallest of the 3 we were to visit today.

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We were taken through the process of wine making from the growing of grapes to the distribution of the bottles. The girl, 4 years younger than myself, who showed us around, wowed us with her knowledge and her passion for wine really shone through. We think that she may have one of the best jobs in the world!!

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We tried one white and two red wines – not being a lover of red wine I had already made presumptions about the taste. We were taught how to prepare the wine before drinking including the dramatic swill of the glass to aerate the wine and the poncey nose in the glass to smell the aromas – what pros we were! Well something about that process worked as the wine had the most wonderful taste, even the red was full of flavours that I had never experienced from a drink before. I’ve clearly been drinking the wrong stuff at home!

Our next stop was a much larger vineyard who makes wine for mass production. We could see the differences when looking around the storage rooms. We were simply shown around their factory, it really was huge and the amount of wine they can store and distribute is phenomenal!

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We tried one rosé and two reds, one being their most expensive – the grand reserve Malbec! They can make this wine for around $9 but can be sold in places like America and Brazil for up to $400. How crazy is that, one of the best wines I’ve ever tried and I’ll never be able to afford! Malbec is the wine that Argentina are famous for and the taste of this wine explained exactly why!

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Two vineyards down and were close to turning into wine snobs!

Our final vineyard simply made sweet wines and nothing more.

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The factory layout was similar to the first in size however they are able to store hundreds of litres of wine in their colossal containers! I didn’t know desert wines were so popular.
Well it turns out Fran and I didn’t like them much but we sure gave them a good go. We were able to try 5 different types here; from mildly sweet to the teeth shatteringly syrupy, it wasn’t enjoyable. However our sweet toothed girl Leanne lapped it up and enjoyed every one that was offered!

All feeling a little wine heavy we were thankful for the lunch stop at a small local restaurant. 3 courses and a glass of red wine all included in the price – we were having the best day! Unfortunately the wine snobs in us came out and we turned our nose up at the mediocre tasting free wine but the food was really great and just what we all wanted/needed.

Lunch was only our half way point and we still had more to go. Well you can imagine after all the wine and then three huge courses all we wanted to do was sleep!
Thankfully there was no more wine tasting today but we were moving onto an olive oil factory and then a chocolate factory! We soon perked up!

The olive oil factory was as interesting as an olive oil factory can get, but the tasting after more than made up for it! At least 10 types of oil was laid out in front of us, each with its own bread plate for ultimate tasting! Our eyes were definitely bigger than our bellies here as we only managed to squeeze in a few before I felt like I needed to sit down! From what I tried, Mendoza does not only make good wine but their olive oil is putting up a good fight.

Did they save the best for last? Well it was time for the chocolate factory – doesn’t that sound like heaven? It was inside a small house and the business was run by two women who produce a myriad of sweet things, not just chocolate!

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The smell was overwhelming and we rolled our already rotund selves into the shop! The owner was a joy, a middle aged smiley women who spoke little to no English but got through to us with dramatic actions and what I would only call dad dance moves!
Another table of goodies was laid out for us to devour – none of us could say no! Dulce de Leche spreads, jams, marmalades and syrups it was a delight! Our last treat was a shot of one of their homemade liquors – I went for banana and Dulce de Leche – big mistake – I took one sip and nearly lost all my teeth, it was sooo sweet and way to strong for little old me! You live and learn!

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With not even an inch of room left for dinner that night we were dropped back at our hostel and didn’t move until the next day!

For our final day in Mendoza we decided to become cowgirls for the day or gauchos as there more commonly known in Argentina. The gaucho is as inherent to Argentine life as Malbec , and my final experience of Mendoza was to be from the saddle – we were excited!
The minibus picked us up from our hostel and drove us out of town and into something resembling the dusty outback, eventually reaching a lodge where we were to meet our rides.

Looking dapper in their traditional berets, historically borrowed by gauchos from Basque shepherds, our guides talked us through the plans for the evening. Our horses were then chosen for us and we were thrown a’top and pretended to know what we were doing.
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The sun was scorching and the horses were eager to start walking and so we were off.
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At first I thought I was in control of my horse, well I quickly realised that wasn’t the case and the big guy was in charge of me the whole time. If he wanted to canter he would, overtake the other horses he would or walk off into bush he would. He knew what he was doing so I just sat back and enjoyed the view – I was loving it!

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All was going well until Leanne who was in front of us suddenly looked as if she was standing up on her horse and then throwing herself off! What on earth happened? I thought the game was up, underfoot was huge stones and deadly looking cactus plants – surely she must be really hurt? Well next thing we see is her star jump into the air declaring all was fine and brushing herself down!
I ‘directed’ my horse over to her and she explained that the cluts of an animal was constantly stumbling on the rubble and this time completely lost his footing and took a tumble. So the acrobatic dismount was more of a life saving manoeuvre than the deathly fall that it looked like! Thank goodness!!

As the setting sun streaked beautiful pinks, blues and golds across the sky my horse began to pull at the reins, eager and excited to be nearing home. Well that’s what I thought, infact he knew it was time for some fun and an opportunity for a gallop. I’ve never galloped on a horse before but feeling like I couldn’t pass up the opportunity as well as my horse not allowing me any other option I lined up ready for some speed!
Turns out I was not ready and I may never do it again, the horse bolted like he saw pile of juicy carrots at the other end – oh my God, I’ve never been so petrified for my life. It was more of a sprint than a gallop, all I could do was hold on, I lost complete control of the horse and just gripped for dear life!
Thankfully there was a gaucho at the other end who at first shouted at me to pull on the reins, when she realised I couldn’t she shouted some magic word and the horse came to a stop! My mouth was dry, my legs were stiff and my heart was beating ten to a dozen – what a rush!! It was on the ride back that I was told that there were two naughty horses that just constantly want to go fast – turns out I was riding one of them!!
Once the sun had set and the horses were back in their stables we settled into the lodge for a huge BBQ feast! The chef took his grilling techniques to a new level that night and the huge pieces of prime beef that were cooked to perfection were devoured in minutes. With vegetables and endless meat being passed around it was the perfect way to end an exciting day – all washed down with a few tasty glasses of Malbec. I’ll drink to that!

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