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.

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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.

What’s Your Favorite Place in the Whole World?

I am asked this question a LOT, as I’m sure you are. And while you’d think I’d have an answer to this by now since I write about and dissect all my travel experiences, turns out I still hesitate whenever I’m asked. So I bring to you a top five list, based on some non linear and completely arbitrary criteria. Enjoy!

1. Morocco

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This is usually my immediate answer to the favorite place question. This was one of the best trips I’ve taken and Morocco is one of the most interesting, compelling, mysterious and beautiful places I’ve been. What makes it number one? The way I felt after the trip. It’s the country that inspired me to start this little blog. I wanted so badly to immortalize the experiences I had there, to encourage others to go. The people I met there were incredible and if I could go back this instant I would. I would eat at Earth Cafe, go back to Ben’s farm, visit the Jardin Majorelle and go talk to some of the most amazing women I’ve ever met.

2. Negev Desert, Israel

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I am a city girl. Sure I grew up in the suburbs and we had trees and grass there and I even saw some mountains growing up when visiting my grandparents in upstate New York and taking annual ski trips. But when our bus crossed into the vast desert in Israel and we were surrounded by wide, flat, sandy desert on all sides, my face was pressed up against that window so hard and I was trying desperately not to blink for fear of missing this glorious landscape. I took a million photos when we went outside to explore Ben Gurion’s grave, and when we came across a waterfall in the middle of a hike I thought I was experiencing a mirage. This one again makes the list because I will never forget the awe I felt when first hit with the shocking beauty of this incredible place.

3. Mont St. Michel, France

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Speaking of being shocked with awe inspiring beauty while young and on a tour bus, the image of the beautiful island of Mont St. Michel in the distance will forever be etched in my memory. It was more than a decade ago, on my first trip outside the US (after begging my parents and working weekends at a bagel store to pay for it) and my best friend Allie nudged me awake so I could look out the window. Seeing it from the distance was amazing but once inside this former secluded monastery, it was completely unlike anything I had ever seen. Not that I had seen much at the time because as I said this was my first trip outside the country and actually the first time I had ever been on a plane, but still, we’re going with the wonderfully arbitrary rule of listing my top places based on how I felt when I first saw them, so this one most certainly makes the list.

4. Lagos, Portugal

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Our trip to Lagos was so hilariously clumsy, but after all the little mistakes we made in trying to reach the Point de Piedade, I will never forget Randi looking up at me as I crouched, clinging to the narrow stone staircase I was attempting to walk down, saying “Amy, you’re REALLY going to like this.” This was one of the most beautiful spots in the world, and after making so many errors in judgement that trip, it was a much needed travel victory.

5. O’Fournier Winery, Uco Valley, Argentina

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I never wanted to leave here. As soon as we arrived at this massive Argentinian winery and sat down to our meal and wine tasting, we looked out at the lake, which reflected the vineyards that had turned a gorgeous vibrant red in the fall as well as the monumental Andes mountains just beyond the vineyards. We sat at the winery’s restaurant eating the delicious olive oil bread I had become obsessed with when we ate at the winery owner’s wife’s restaurant the night before (got all that?) which was dubbed the best restaurant in Argentina (post about this coming soon.) The fact that I got to eat this olive oil bread twice was such a delightful treat, and then I was served the best steak of my life. On our last day in Argentina, to be sitting in this experience, eating delicious food and drinking amazing wine, staring out at this surreal scenery (oh did I mention the clouds were irradescent?) was an experience I hope to one day re-live.

Have you been to any of my top 5 places? Do you agree with this list? What are your favorite places in the world?

An Overlooked Argentinian Delicacy

We expected to eat a lot of really delicious steak in Argentina. And we absolutely did. But with all the hype about Argentinian steak, there is one really incredible dish that just doesn’t get enough attention. So after always playing second fiddle to steak, I dedicate this post to the often overlooked Argentinian delicacy: The Empanada.

On our second day in Buenos Aires, as we were wandering around downtown and intentionally getting lost in the city, we stopped into a restaurant on Puerto Madero that came highly recommended (though I wish I could say we stumbled upon it accidentally. But really, there are reasons people recommend places and guidebooks write about them. It’s ok to be unoriginal). At Cabana Las Lilas that afternoon, we sat down at a table in this massive establishment that overlooked the brownish waters of the Rio de la Plata (still pretty though!) and ordered. I wasn’t super hungry, so I went with the veal empanada appetizer as my meal. I’m not sure what I can say about these empanadas other than – they were among the top things I’ve eaten in my life. Biting into that super flaky bread and tasting the warm juicy meat inside was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I savored every single bite of those empanadas, and was even generous enough to share one with Matt. He was super jealous because his pork tasted like cardboard after comparing it to my empanadas. And so began one of the greatest love stories of our time.

I had my second “this is the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten in my life” experience on that last day in wine country when the amazing people at the Giminez Riili winery served us empanadas while we were tasting wine. I was informed that the crust had butter in it, and as a lactose intolerant person I’m supposed to avoid foods like these, but after one small bite, there was no way I was going to be able to control myself and not eat the rest of that empanada. Matt went crazy over these guys, too. My vocabulary is too limited to find an accurate word to describe how strongly I felt about them. We had a lovely time at this winery and sampled amazing wines and looked out at the beautiful scenery in front of us, but eating these glorious meat pockets was the hands down best experience we had there. Tied with the Cabana Las Lilas empanadas, they were quite possibly one of the best things we ate during the entire trip.

So, yes, Argentinian steak is delicious and all, but when I think back to the cuisine of that country, my salivary glands long for the empanadas. Until we meet again.