As part of our journey to South America, in addition to Chilé, we had the pleasure of traveling overland, through The Andes, by way of a terrifying bus ride, to the bewitching land of Mendoza, Argentina. Those of you who have been, know of which I speak. It is just different there. Mendoza was the penultimate for so many reasons, to say nothing of this being the location of the wedding of our friends, for whom we had traveled to be with on their special day. The wine flowed in wine country. I was not even certain that we would be able to squeeze in a visit to the vineyards, but luckily, one member of our party spotted a deal at the hostel he was staying in, and 3 of us decided to go for it: a half day, 2 wineries and an olive oil factory for $25 US dollars. Was there even a question?
Drinking wine in Malbec...
Before we even arrived in Mendoza, I kept referring to it, not intentionally, as Malbec, as in, "When we go to Malbec...oh, I mean Mendoza." You know what was on my mind. And yes, this is land of Malbec. That is what they are known for. Though we consumed a fair amount of Torrontes. It was very warm and the whites were appropriate. But seriously, they have so many options: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc. All of it is affordable by American standards. It was in Argentina that I really noticed that restaurants don't exactly offer a "glass" of wine. It is a bottle, dear. With prices often starting off at $6.00 US per bottle, you can't afford not to. And do not be concerned about the quality. This is also where I eradicated the descriptor, "cheap" from my vocabulary when speaking of South American wine. Affordable, yes. And also, extremely high quality, complex, balanced and overall, delicious.
Things to keep in mind.
The day we went to the wineries, we all three met at Hostal Mora at which our friend was staying, though coincidentally none of us were guests there. He, our friend had made the wine tour reservation for us, for four people. One of our friends could not go at the last minute so we were asked to pay a fee, something like 25% or $7.00, not sure. I mention this here though, in case anyone else does decide to book this tour through this hostel and a member of your party or all of you, cancels. The other thing to note is "South American Time". We left about 30 minutes later than the given departure time. I would not run the risk of banking on this phenomenon and being late yourself, however, expect things to run off schedule, and by that, I mean, later than you were told. It is all part of the experience. Time is a social construct anyway, right? What is time to wine? Everything.
The 3 of us were the last to join the packed tour bus. First thing I noted: a much younger crowd than what we experienced in Chilé. Could have been the cost, or the fact that it was booked through the Hostel. It was a separate company but I did not catch their name, and they are not listed on Hostal Mora's site, though the promise of a wine tour is, which I imagine is the consistent company. We had a driver and a guide. Both seemed nice enough, though we barely interacted. It was a short drive to the first winery, maybe 30 min. Mostly freeway, but a Mendoza freeway, so it was bearable.
First Stop: Vistandes
Vistandes is a fun made-up name reflecting their real estate: vista means view in spanish and they look right towards The omnipresent Andes. View of the Andes. Vistandes. Pretty good, right? They are located in Cruz de Piedra, Maipú, which is wine, olives and happy relaxed people. Vistandes has a big formal entrance and is a very modern structure. They are a newer winery, established in 2007 but already garnering recognition. The tour began with a talented and affable bi-lingual guide who was able to easily move between the languages, keeping the entire group informed. It commenced in a room amongst the stainless steel fermentation tanks. They have an interesting system in which the tanks are connected to vats in the cellar, from which they can procure the wine. Kinda like the most giant wine dispenser ever. I'm in.
The tour was brief but informative. We headed to the cellar next where we heard more about their history, saw some aging and that cool dispensing system. We then headed upstairs for a view and tasting. We tasted whites (Torrontes) and reds, from all 3 of their tiers in ascending order: Alto Las Tacas, Vistandes and Gradum. The price point reflects the complexity and balance, but all were good and especially from a U.S. Dollar perspective. Their reds are Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere. Each bottle is 100% of it's specified varietal. The grapes are all sourced from Argentina, but not all from Maipú. Some come from La Rioja, to the north.
Final thoughts on Vistande.
Our group ended up purchasing 6 bottles to take to the wedding, a mix of Torrontes and Malbec, in the varying price-points. There was a discount for 6 or more. We so would have bought more but the bus travel was cumbersome. We all 3 thoroughly enjoyed this winery visit and most importantly, the wine. I recommend stopping here. The view is beyond, they are welcoming and the wine is quite fine.
Next stop: Pasrai
Departing from Vistandes, we made the brief journey to an olive oil company called Pasrai. This was a pleasant interlude. The tour was short, both in the length of time and the amount of surface area covered. We saw the inside of the tiny factory, heard about their process and history. We then went into their store to sample! The oils were yummy, with many different flavors. They also offer several beauty/skin-care products that we could sample. My only complaint was at the end, when our tour guide was herding us back to the bus, my friend wanted to purchase some green olive tapenade, and the person at the counter could not ring us up. Tour guide getting impatient....all of sudden South American time had picked up the pace. Finally someone with cashier capabilities appeared and we were off, tapenade in hand. It was neat but honestly, I could have skipped it, or replaced with another winery. The olive oil was good but not "sell your mama good". I wonder if they wedge that in though, to curb potential drunkenness?
La Ultima: Cavas de Don Arturo
From the moment we drove onto the premises, I liked this place. It is in a far more rustic area than we had been before, you know, kinda like "the country". Imagine lush, overgrown green everywhere. Fresh air. Old buildings. You sense the history of this location immediately. The buildings and equipment are time honored. It is quaint. The guide was effusive, admitting that she had 3 glasses of wine already, her cheeks getting rosier as she spoke. It was all perfect. We had the expedited tour, but still fit in the cellar, the de-stemmer, and the vineyards. When we entered the main house to taste, I recognized the gorgeous floor tiles right away. We had observed some similar in Puerto Rico months earlier and were told they were from Argentina. I was enthralled.
Then we tasted. Oopsie. All the air was let out of my balloon. It was not terrible, just not terribly good. It like, didn't match. All this charm, proof that they have been doing this for a while, which is usually an indicator that there is some skill. The wine was, for lack of a better term, flat. Not much depth on that palate, in terms of flavor and complexity. We tasted reds only. Syrah and Malbec. So sad. But hey, it was still ok wine in a gorgeous setting in Argentina.
As the tasting concluded, we were led into the gift shop and given the hard sell on one of their premier, discounted Malbec wines, but no taste. We took the risk. I think we all wanted to show them some love. They were clearly living in the past, but not in all the right ways: no website, no phone. If we wish to stay in the game, we have to keep up with the times, to some degree. I liked visiting, but did not love their wine. But all told, it was a meaningful visit.
You get what you pay for. To do it again, (which I intend to, to maximize that reciprocity fee with Argentina, good for 10 years!), I would go with a longer day of tasting/touring, with a different company. Probably one that costs more but comes with all the bells and whistles. If you can swing it, it is worth it. But I am so glad that we went on the tour and got to see more of Mendoza. I really do love it there and look forward to going back.