Mendoza: Land of Sorpresa

Jessica Duska
August 24, 2017
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Our first long weekend meant a journey to the bodegas of Mendoza (that translates to "cellar" on Google, but for our purposes a better translation is winery). Why a long weekend you may ask? Argentinia loves to celebrate, especially when it revolves around San Martin who is basically considered a god around these parts. San Martin's death fell last Thursday which meant Monday was a national holiday, and for us it meant our first adventure to Mendoza.

Mendoza (according to Google) is 13 hours and 2 minutes from the city of Buenos Aires (I mention this because it is false unless you are driving in a car without stopping or traffic). Seven of us made our way to the Retiro bus terminal on Friday night with way too much time to spare because the busses are announced 20 minutes before they leave. Don't let this fool you, however, because the busses do leave promptly.

While I'm on the subject of busses, I just have to say this was the most comfortable travel experience I've ever had. The bus ride ended up taking closer to 17 hours with stops and traffic but I was by no means dissapointed. The Via Bariloche bus experience was an adventure in itself: business class seats that reclined, terrible food, and an alfajore for breakfast. I slept better on the way to Mendoza than I do in my bed at home!

This is cute little Em passed out and hooded up for the ride

When we finally arrived in Mendoza around 2pm (only 3 hours later than expected) we were without direction, but didn't really care. For future trips I recommend planning a route to your accommodations, but the bus terminal was actually very central and only a 30 minute walk to our hostel. Along our slow stroll (Em and I took our sweet time meandering behind the group) I had my first exposure to a city I wasn't expecting.

Mendoza is a small city, much calmer than Buenos Aires (tranquilo as they say here) and very colorful. It was a holiday weekend, but the walk from the terminal to the hostel was unpopulated and peaceful, the city definitely has a casual feel. The city is about 2 hours from the border of Mendoza the province, something that confused us greatly when we first thought we had arrived in Mendoza. All the buildings are short, so you almost get a little small town feel as you wander along.

After dumping all our stuff at Hostel Alamo (and mentally preparing myself to be disappointed with every hostel in the future because Alamo was so nice), we headed out for food. Some friends had already arrived and recommended Patricia's Cafeteria, which looked adorable on the outside and had amazing risotto according to our compadres, however, it was closed. Without fretting we headed across the street for some of the best and cheapest bolognese of my life. The noodles (tallerines in Spanish) at Rincón Cuyono were thick and homemade and definitely hit the spot after the 'pan de carne' or 'mystery meat' that they served us on the bus.

Really close to lunch was a feria in what happened to be the center of the city (something I didn't know at the time). We definitely have these in Buenos Aires but the artisan crafts in Mendoza were just as incredible as those in Buenos Aires. This stuff is superior to any artisan fair in the US, I guarantee it, and much cheaper too! It is safe to assume that any major city will have at least one if not many ferias on Saturday and Sunday of every weekend. Rain or shine (thank goodness it was shine), many vendors still come out to show their crafts.

Meet Caela, she is three years old. This is the face of pure bliss on a sunny Saturday

While my research for this trip was definitely lacking, the city was a mere bonus to the main event... We finished up the night with an amazing dinner and walk through the city all in preparation for the heart of Mendoza: wine country.

After an amazing sleep, lukewarm shower, and free breakfast at Hostel Alamo (seriously a great choice) it was only 8:30 am and the Ampora van arrived to pick us up. According to Ampora, wine tastings are best in the morning when your taste buds are fresh so the journey through the bodegas of Mendoza started early. The tour we chose was through Uco Valley, a slightly farther route than the alternative in Luján de Cuyo but the bus took us right up to Andes Mountains and the Chilean border (and by right up to I mean ~150km from the border). I've never been to Luján de Cuyo but you really cannot beat the views of Uco Valley.

We started at Bodega Masi, a company from Italy that decided to make its way onto the Mendoza wine scene. This bodega was special for many reasons other than this incredible view. For one, it dries its grapes prior to the fermentation process. Since the air is so dry, it takes much longer for the grapes to dry in Mendoza than it does for the same company in Italy.

They also uses a combination of Italian and Argentine grapes in the same bottle, for example Masi's Tupungato Corbec is a combination of the famous Malbec and Corvina varieties... Corvina + Malbec = Corvec. At Masi we learned that the climate in Mendoza is very dry so most of the grapes develop super thick skins. This makes the flavor and colors much stronger in the skins that contribute to the overall flavor and color of the wine. Because Mendoza's climate is consistently dry, most bodegas use an irrigation system to keep the crops consistent. We also learned that 2011 and 2012 were great wine years for Mendoza because of la niña (the drought). This made the grapes much smaller and their flavor much more powerful. 

We had an amazing wine and cheese pairing, and of course there was water too. The tasting portions are as generous as the people in Argentina. They push wine here like they push food.

The second stop was Bodega Solo Contigo. Solo Contigo is a boutique bodega on what is called "el camino de vino" in Mendoza. There are a bunch of bodegas very close together and people own shares of the land until they have enough to start producing their own wine. Solo Contigo was started by an artistic Canadian couple so the inside was very sheek, yet also very homey. The bodega is relatively new so they only have limited varieties but the collection of Solo Contigo wine is themed: first love (primera amore), affair (affaire)... I'll let you guess what comes next. The more developed "relationship," the more mature the wine variety.

The views of the Andes from this area are insane and apparently much crisper in the morning. The guide here recommended Mendoza in November when the weather is nice and the patio is in full swing.

Insanity hit with our last stop: Bodega O'Fournier. It was nearing 2:30pm and we were all very hungry. Lucky for us, we walked into a gourmet restaurant and had a 5 course meal amidst the most beautiful scenery. O'Fournier was designed by the famous Eliana Bórmida (the same as Solo Contigo) and looked like a UFO landing upon arrival. O'Fournier began as a winery but quickly gained a reputation for its restaurant as well. Despite the fact that we visited in the off season, the restaurant was full of visitors, which was no surprise to the staff because of its gleaming reviews.

After we stuffed our selves full of meatballs, gourmet empanadas, ravioles, osobuco, sorbet, and more, we made our way down to the wine cellar. O'Fournier was much larger than the other two bodegas and had a variety of wine tanks: one directly in the wall (apparently this regulates the temperature better), some in traditional barrels (for that traditional chocolate/tobacco aftertaste), and some were even painted on the outside (just for kicks, don't worry it doesn't affect the wine). The cellar itself was also full of art and apparently home to many special events. 

Meet Maddie, put up with me all day. This was our view from lunch at O'Fournier

One of five courses and easily the best empanadas I've had while in Argentina

Meet Benjamin, this is how he felt about riding back on the bus in his semi-cama seat. Seriously kids, go executive cama. (In all seriousness, the cellar of the bodega was full of pieces like this).

We said a quick goodbye to the mountains and made our way back to the bus with only 3 minutes to spare. The cab driver told us the whole way that we weren't going to make it but with sheer will and his overestimation of the "traffic" in Mendoza, we made it back to Buenos Aires by 11am the next morning. Any regrets? Not spending more time in the beautiful countryside. Some people headed up Thursday night and spent a day meandering around the foothills outside the city, so for future travelers they only had good things to say about their explorations.

As far as my impressions, I am amazed we made it back in time for the bus and am more than pleased with our tranquil weekend. Mendoza is a must for any travelers and while it was definitely more brisk in the winter month of August, it was nice to see the area without hoards of tourists! 

Stay tuned for the next adventure :) 

Meet Gus, bus buddy for the way back. Too bad I fell asleep for the whole thing because the bed/chair was literally so comfortable