As we leave Argentina and head up into the majestic Andes to Santiago by bus, we have the opportunity to reflect on the last week in Mendoza. As wine lovers and Saffers who are always partial to some meat over a fire, there is little not to like. It’s a quaint town, picturesque, lots of good restaurants and “asados” (basically they have huge fires in the kitchen where the meat is cooked). The centre of the town is on a grid so fairly easy to navigate without looking like too much of a ‘tommy the tourist’ looking at google maps all the time!
Given the town’s focus on wine, the comparisons to Stellenbosch are unavoidable. The town has a similar feel to the Dorp Street precinct, with a Spanish hacienda overlay. Noticeably, in a similar way to Greyton, outside Cape Town, the whole town is characterised by water canals running next to each street and out into the winelands. This is because, unlike Stellenbosch, Mendoza is in the desert. The entire town is a man-made oasis with a carefully managed water and irrigation system. As one heads, out into Maipu and Luan le Cuyjo, there are hints of Windhoek, rather than the lushness we are used to in the Western Cape. Like the Cape winelands there seems to be a building boom with secure lifestyle estates and decentralised commercial nodes springing up everywhere.
The arid climate and over 300 days of sunshine a year, creates intense concentration in the grapes and produces world renowned Malbecs and some amazing Cabernets and Shiraz. Talking to locals, the evolution of the wine industry mirrors SA, possibly lagging a few years. The early 90’s saw a rejuvenation of the wine industry from the volume driven co-op type environments of the late 80’s to today, over 1000 boutiques and “projects”(the Argentinian equivalent of a garagiste wine maker) . International investors have piled in, now accounting for about a third of the winery ownership. Notable investors include the Rothchilds and Diageo (world's largest producer of spirits and a key producer of beer).
Why is the obvious next question. The answer seems to lie in value. Like South Africa 10 years ago, in our opinion, there is an entrenched under-rating of Argentine wines relative to the rest of the world. Apart from the likes Acheval Ferrer who can charge R1500 a bottle, having achieved 98 Parker points for their 2013 vintage, of the many great wines we sampled and recorded into the Vivino app most were rated 3.5 stars or less and had price tags to match. To illustrate this, in restaurants it was difficult to find a wine for more than R500, regardless of boutique (vineyard) or vintage.
To our mind this makes Medoza an undiscovered gem and a must for impoverished South Africans who want to make their ‘randelas’ go that much further. Our only caution is that navigating the winelands and getting into the top estates, especially as a non-Spanish speaker is tricky, imagine arriving in Cape Town only speaking Spanish! To this end Mauricio the owner of Mendoza Private Driver was amazing. (he spent 5 years in SA so gets the braai and rugby thing too) and had lots of ind-epth knowledge of the region and the producers.
To make it even better, the legend around Argentine beef is true. At the risk of being labelled heretics by our Afrikaans friends, Argentina takes the obsession with red meat, over a fire, to a whole new level. In both method and volume, braaing is the poor cousin to ‘asado’. So if the idea of volumes of great quality braaied meat, washed down with copious quantities of good quality, reasonably priced red wine is your idea of a good time, them Mendoza should be on your ‘places to travel’ list. We found a pearler of a restaurant that we ate twice in our 5 nights in Mendoza, if you visit Mendoza, it’s a must. Here’s the link to their Facebook page El Asadito.
If you do make the trek, the high priest of ‘asado’ has to be Francis Mallmann. If you haven’t watched the Chef’s Table episode on him, on Netflix, do. It’s very worthwhile. He has a restaurant called 1884 in Mendoza or Siete Fuegos further out in the winelands of Mendoza. He alos has several other restaurants aurnd the world. Admittedly given his international fame, 1894 more European priced but worth it as a dinning and visual experience.
Traveling as a family means balancing experiences that we enjoy and Charlotte will enjoy. There has to be some give on both sides. We included a visit to a small olive oil factory supplemented by an olive oil tasting during our day out wine tasting,.Charloote really enjoued this part of what was a rather adult focused day. Her other highlight was a visit to the thermal springs and water park at Cacheuta, about 40km out of Menzdoza.
Whilst Charlotte enjoyed herself in Mendoza thanks to a nice little self-catering apartment with a pool area that was a godsend of hot afternoons, on balance we would suggest Mendoza as an adult break away. Wine tastings, good food and a culture where siestas are compulsory, is good for the soul.
On a lighter note we are getting the hang of Spanish, we can even order of a Spanish menu with only and few hints from Google Translate! We've
being doing lessons daily (well almost daily) on Duolingo which is also helping our understanding.
Below are a few pictures of our time in Mendoza. I am working on a bit more of an organised gallery with comments... watch out for the new tab "GALLERY" on our website coming soon!
Now, let’s see what Chile has in store at the end of this 8 hour bus ride!