Wine Not

25th Nov. 2016

Note whose glass is empty!We did start the day with a plan (well, an idea or two) – but somehow what we ended up doing wasn’t necessarily what we expected. Charitably, you could say that we were just being flexible and responding to opportunities as they arose! We’re in Mendoza, the heart of Argentina’s wine country and we’re very keen on comparing what we experienced in Chile with the Argentine approach – not (just) tasting the wines, but seeing the terrain and the vineyards and understanding the similarities and differences in approach.

Wine tours for GringosHaving done our research, we know that there are expensive, gringo, organised trips out to wineries in Lujan de Cuyo or Valle de Uco, 150km or so outside of town but they sound a bit far away and not really our style anyway. Looking on the internet, though, we find that Ampora Wine Tours not only does these tours but has a paired tasting of wine and empanadas in their premises. This would combine two our favourite South American delicacies and so we are immediately keen on this. The only small snag is that we would have to do this tonight (as they don’t offer it every night of the week).

Fountain in Plaza IndependenciaAmpora becomes our first destination of the day and head more or less in a straight line for it. We do get a little distracted at Plaza Independencia which is essentially double sized (two blocks to each side) with an impressive fountain lined with bronze statues in the middle. Heading out, we see that the ubiquitous Hop On, Hop Off tourist bus is advertising itself as a wine tour, but we move on knowing that we can do better than this. When we get to Ampora though, the bad new is that they aren’t running the empanada & wine tasting this evening (and we won’t be around for the next one on Sunday evening). The owner helpfully suggests that we do a tasting at the nearby (and well named) Wine Not as he has heard good reports of them. We file this away as they don’t open until this evening so we have time to reformulate our plans.

Hidden away museum for San Martin“Never mind” says Janet, “let’s go to the Museo Historico de General San Martin”. San Martin is to Argentina as O’Higgins is to Chile – their libertador, the man who led their army to independence from Spain. We already know that his name is marked in squares and buildings up and down Argentina and apparently, he based his army here in Mendoza for a time. For such a famous man, we were expecting a more imposing museum not an annex to the library with a locked front door that was only opened on demand. Still, what the museum lacked in style or grandeur it made up for by having a set of original artefacts from San Martin – a set of uniforms in display cases; a series of flags from his campaigns along with more prosaic items like his bed and his writing desk.

Yer man on his horse in his plazaSurrounding Plaza Independencia like the dots on the ‘5’ face of a die are a set of four smaller plazas which we make a (with hindsight) perfunctory effort to explore as we only get to Plaza Chile and Plaza San Martin. In retrospect, I think that we were still trying to digest our impressions of Mendoza and to assimilate how different it feels from the Chilean towns and cities that we have grown used to. My view, is that Mendoza feels much more European than anywhere else we have been in Latin America – some of it is that there are more lighter-skinned and fairer haired people than elsewhere. It also helps that they take their coffee a lot more seriously here than in Chile. We shall see if that is unique to Mendoza or more widespread in Argentina.

Fountain in Plaza ChileWhilst not exploring, we start planning the rest of our time here and resolve that we’ll do a self-propelled, self-guided wine tour in the nearby town of Maipu tomorrow and that we should give Wine Not a go this evening. What an inspired decision that turns out to be! Matthew, the proprietor explains the setup to us – we can choose either a 5 or 7 wine tasting (or 5 wine paired with food) and he will choose a set of wines, based on what we say about our wine preferences – but all the while trying to stay off the beaten track and to show the breadth of wines produced in the region.

He succeeds fantastically well, and whilst we get generous glasses of wine to taste, he explains about the region and the wines and a little of his background. We tasted:

·       Pinot Grigio – With some of the apple and citrus flavours of a Sauvignon Blanc but balanced with some of the body and minerals from a Chardonnay;

·       Cabernet Sauvignon – My personal favourite which I thought had both leaf and fruit flavours from blackcurrant without being too heavy or full-bodied;

·       Syrah – Richer and fuller bodied. Perhaps more blackberries and with peppery overtones;

·       Malbec – Well we couldn’t do a tasting in Mendoza without trying a Malbec! This one was from the cellars owned by the Huentala Hotel where we are staying;

·       Petit Verdot – More rounded / riper fruit but with more tannin. As this was our fifth glass, keeping track of the different wines became progressively more difficult.

Tricky 'guess the smell' gameWe also got chatting to an American couple on the next table who yesterday had been on one of the wine tours. They had a great time and their tour included a 6-course lunch with paired wines for each dish. Sounds great, but it cost them US$150 each!!! Whilst we were talking, Matthew breaks out the ‘sniffing box’ – 16 small bottles for us to guess the essential oil by smell alone. Whilst a couple were easy (e.g. Clove) some were very difficult (even the Plum). Still, a good way to relate to some of the flavours of the wine and better still to break the conversation ice. So, to any of our friends who end up in Mendoza, we would say to them – Wine Not!

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