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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

ARGENTINA: VISITING THE WINE COUNTRY

TUESDAY, NOV 28/06

MENDOZA: Gran Mendoza is the regional metropolis of the Cuyo Area of Argentina. It is the most important city in the west of Argentina and one of the most affluent with a wide cultural, commercial and industrial development and of course all those vineyards producing the country´s best wine.

The distant view of the Andes, thelarge swathes of green spaces and tress on every street create a beautiful natrual and urbanlandscape. Mendoza is laid out flat so it make it easy and pleasant for strolling on the neatly paved avenues which are lined with restaraunts, shopping malls, street markets and many well kept hotels.

The viticulture regions arund Mendoza include Goday Cruz, Guaymallen, Maipu and Lujan de Curyo. There are hundreds of wine cellars that welcoome tourists and also a number of museums and historic sites. The area produces grapes of the highest quality because of the exceptional landscape and climate conditions.

THE VINEYARDS

Today we headed out early for a visit to the National Wine Museum at Maipu, a small town abut 16 k. from Mendoza. We managed to find our way by local bus, the only hassle being that they require exact change fare and it is nearly impossible here to get (and keep) small change in coins. Some kindly passengers contributed to what we didn´t have and were very helpful showing us where to get off the bus. From the highway it was a short walk down a tree-lined lane to find the Museum. There are tours (free!) at various times so we didn´t have long to wait.

It was an interesting tour explaiing the history of wine making in Mendoza. The first vines were brought from Italy in the 1700´s by an Italian named Felipe and now the vineyard (San Felipe) has over 250 acres of vines. The entire production from old times til now was explained by the guide, a fascinating and interesting tour, seeing the wine making equipment and giant vats and hearing how the various wines are produced. After the tour you get to taste some of the vino tinto and cabernet savignon which they don´t export. I bought a couple of bottles to keep for a special occasion.

After the tour we went back down the road to a very appealing little bodega we had spotted earlier. This turned into a fabulous meal extravaganza, and all for 25 pesos including the tip )which is about $7.50)

This was a day for remembering Roberto Hallberg, my soul-brother and Gemini friend who I spent so much time with during my stays in Athens. He, like Anibal, was an exile from his country due to the military junta in 1978 and always longed to return. He spoke constantly about his country and in particular regaled us with stories of the great wine they had in Argentina. This day brought back so many fond memories of him. Robbie always raved about the food, and food service in his country. He would often cook for me when I was away at lessons, and when I returned home he´d produce thee marvelous gourmet meals served like they did ├ít home´ So today it was a feast to honour Robbie. First, the salad bar which was offered free and had a wide variety of salads and relishes´; next we were served baskets of delicious warm sliced bread, then plates with 3 types of sausages: one plain, one stuffed blood sausage and one I´m certain was pig´s tail (a bit too chewy for my liking). Next came a plate of hot little pastries stuffed with spicey ground meat; then a dish witha piece of veal and a tender slice of beef steak followed by a plate with pork. All the while we were reminded to fill up at the salad bar Finally, a dessert which was half a pear and half a peach with a dollop of caramel syrup on them I had a glass of good red wine with my meal. We were amazed at the service and the elegant way it was prepared (just like Robbie used to prepare meals). I talked about him to Patrick while we dined. I really felt his spirit there today and felt sad to think he never lived long enough to share this adventure with me. Nor, like Anibal, did he ever return to his beloved country, but died of cancer in Athens six years ago.

The only thing that spoiled our wine tasting morning and the fabulous feast at the bodega was when I suddenly got an attack of touristas. Oh my god! What a problem that ended up causing me all day. How embarassing and inconvenient. I wondered how I´d make it back to the city and our hotel and actually I didn´t. It was all quite a disaster. Patrick had some pills on him and I hoped they´d help but it was quite a long seige. Eventually we did get back to Mendoza, took a cab from the bus depot to the hotel. Cleaned up, got some meds at the pharmacy and took a chance of going off to find a craft market we wated to visit. Got there OK and did some shopping, then had to hurry back to the hotel.

Eventually the attacks began to lessen and we went out to stroll in Independence Plaza, a lovely park across from our hotel. There were lots of craft stands set up there, better marchandise than the market we had been to, so we did more shopping for Christmas gifts and souveniers. (I forgot to mention that just before I had gone shopping in one of the many terrific shoe stores they have here and got myself some nice pant boots for only $30. This really is a shoppers paradise and the shops are full of beautiful, stylish clothes and shoes.)

Then, back to the hotel for a good nights sleep and hopefully an end to the stomach troubles as in the morning we plan a trip to the Andes.

NEXT: LOS ANDES and Puente del Inca

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