Drink It In: Argentina’s Wine Country

Argentina was amazing, but the absolute highlight of the trip was wine country. We had four days there, and signed up for two full-day wine tours, one of the Lujan de Cuyo region and one of the Uco Valley region. Both were beautiful, especially since we visited during their fall, which meant the harvest was over but the vineyards had turned into glorious fall colors. We also lucked out because the week before we arrived there had been a rare snowfall in the Andes which stand tall above the wineries. The snowcapped mountains atop the vast fields of reds, oranges and violets made for a very rare and picturesque landscape for us to enjoy all the wine.

Another key factor in making this portion of the trip so incredible was the company we used to book the wine tours. Ampora Wine Tours does a phenomenal job of hand picking wineries in each region that are very different from each other, from the massive ones who export all over the world to the smaller, family owned wineries. When you’re visiting 4-5 wineries a day, they tend to all blend together (no pun intended) – but with Ampora, we can recall each winery vividly and have really great memories that stand out from each one. To give you a taste (again, no pun) of our favorite wineries, I’ve compiled a list below. These are the must-visits if you’re heading to Mendoza:

Pulenta Estate, Lujan de Cuyo

This winery, owned by two dudes who love fast cars, had one of the best views in the Lujan de Cuyo region. The woman who gave us the tour was our favorite on-site guide by far, and we had an excellent wine and cheese pairing here. More importantly, Pulenta Estate had my absolute favorite wine. They don’t sell it in the US so I bought a bottle on site and somehow got it back to the states in one piece. The wine, a cabernet malbec blend, has a ton of different aromas and flavors, especially as you smell the wine and enjoy the aftertaste. I couldn’t quite determine one flavor that stood out most, so our guide pointed it out – green peppers. In a wine! Sounds weird, but it’s actually amazing, and like no other wine I’ve ever tasted. That bottle will be saved for a very special occasion.

Ruca Malen, Lujan de Cuyo

I can sum up what I loved about this place in two words: food and scenery. And when I told the folks at Ruca Malen I was lactose intolerant they created a very special menu just for me. Five decadent courses served outdoors in front of red and orange fields, snowcapped mountains in the background, with glass after glass of delicious wine made from the fields in front of us. This, my friends, is what vacation should be.

Gimenez Rilii, Uco Valley

This was a small, family owned winery. Aside from having the best empanadas in the world, we felt right at home here. We tasted the wine right from the barrel, and really got a feel for the entire winemaking process when there aren’t any fancy distillers to electronically control the maceration and fermentation stages. Gimenez Rilii’s wine is made almost by hand. There was also a really cute dog hanging out here.

O’Fournier, Uco Valley 

If there’s one thing I learned at O’Fournier, it’s that money actually can buy happiness! I’m kidding. Kind of. No really, I’m kidding. You already know that this is one of my top five places in the whole world, so there’s not much more I can say about it except, the olive oil bread, the views, the sweet but respect-commanding man who owns the winery, the wine itself, the views again, and the steak. And the olive oil bread.

Another key thing about Ampora is their selection of tour guides and commitment to keeping the groups small. We were told the most they’ll ever bring on a tour is 5-6 people, but since we were there outside of peak summer season, Matt and I actually had an entire private tour. The guides were amazing, and had such an incredible knowledge of the wine region, had grown up in the surrounding areas, and it became apparent that they had quite literally dedicated their lives to learning about and teaching others about great wine.

I had a really hard time coming home after this part of the trip.

 

 

Yes, I took this last photo myself. Color popping effects courtesy of instagram.

Advertisements

A Horse Named Loco

On day three in Argentinian wine country, we wanted a bit of a break from drinking in between our two full day wine tours. We walked past a sign in town that showed a picture of people horseback riding in the mountains and it was decided. We asked our hotel to set something up, and they graciously took care of everything. We were driven up through the mountains, through completely desolate land for what seemed like hours, until we came across a tiny little village and our driver let us out at a little log cabin with a horse barn next door. It was like out of a freaking fairytale.

We were told by Pablo, our guide, who spoke very little English, which horses to step up onto, and he demonstrated how to give them commands using the reigns. I had rode horses before, when I was very young, but this was Matt’s first time. Lucky for him, he got the normal horse who understood how to listen to commands. I nicknamed my horse “Loco,” since no matter how much I tried to control her, she would just gallop away down the path when she wanted, stopping to eat some leaves whenever she felt the need. Matt said one of the most hilarious moments was hearing my horse pick up speed galloping away while I screamed, “stopp!! stop it!!” Despite Loco’s wildness, she was a pretty good horse and could tell when I would start to get nervous and she did slow down just a bit when I pulled back on the reigns.

Aside from Loco’s little diversions, it was a lovely ride through the mountains. Pablo kept going off far ahead of us, and was usually out of sight so it sort of felt like Matt and I were alone with our horses, trotting through fields and mountains and looking out at panoramic views of the Andes.

We rode for two hours, and when we got back to the little log cabin, Pablo ushered us inside where there was a table and two chairs set up in front of a fireplace, with fresh steak cooking over the fire. The table was set with two place settings, a beautiful tomato salad and a bottle of red wine. He took the steak off the fire and served it to us, then excused himself and closed the door to the log cabin so Matt and I could enjoy a private lunch by the fire. We giggled a lot because the situation, as romantic as it was, was sort of ridiculous – we felt like we had the Andes all to ourselves all morning and now we were having a private little lunch in an adorable cabin together. Upon telling this story to friends when we got back, they said it sounded like an episode of The Bachelor, a show I’m embarrassed to admit I’m familiar with.

We enjoyed our bottle of wine, finished lunch and eventually said goodbye to the little mountain town we had spent the day in. When we got back to Mendoza, it was still early, around 4 pm, so we decided to check out the wine tasting bar across the street from the hotel. We were served our flight of Malbecs, and an hour later our buzz had taken us to the outdoor pool of the hotel and we were swimming even though it was 60 degrees outside. So much for our sober day in wine country.

Buenos Aires Beats: La Bomba De Tiempo

We were exhausted after our day in Uruguay. All we wanted to do was go back to our hotel and throw ourselves into bed. But we had heard of this supposedly cool drum show that only happens on Monday nights in Buenos Aires, and this was our last night there. So we carried our tired bodies off the Buquebus and over to the Konex Cultural Center where we entered what looked like a parking lot.

The show didn’t even take place there. We were led behind the parking lot to what almost resembled a dreary looking alley with concrete pillars. In the alley, a handful of girls dressed in ordinary cotton t-shirts, tank tops and cargo pants, one wearing a jean skirt with leggings, walked out to the center of the crowd. There was no way to know until they took their places behind the various percussion instruments that these were the evening’s performers. Leggings girl gave a little howl and they were off. Once they started playing, beating the crap out of these instruments to make the most awesome rhythmic experience for everyone around them, we understood the big deal about this show. I also loved that it was all chicks – one girl playing drums is somewhat of a rare thing to see but a dozen amazingly skilled ladies conducting and playing synchronized percussion? One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. Check them out – the ladies of Bomba de Tiempo

Watching the leaders as they took position in front of the group was another thing that captivated us, we couldn’t stop watching as they used the most simple hand motions to direct the whole thing, speaking their own language to each other and allowing us the audience to witness the beautiful music that came from it.

After about an hour the ladies were done and another group took the stage – all men, dressed in professional, matching uniforms, doing the same thing but on a much larger scale. By then the crowd had nearly doubled (I guess locals don’t come for the opening act) and the vibe of happiness and excitement in the space was palpable. Our exhaustion hadn’t completely gone away, but we just kept dancing, too busy getting caught up in the whole experience to care about how tired we were. The men put on an amazing show but the ladies who kicked it off deserve a ton of credit. I walked away thinking I should do everything in my power to bring this show to the states. But maybe it belongs here, in this alley in the back of a parking lot in Buenos Aires, where every Monday night, locals and tourists get to experience what is likely the best drum show in the world.