Thursday, April 07, 2005

Mendoza Wine Tasting

It’s a new day. It’s also 11 am, and I’m just waking up from our /link/ long night of undesirable experiences. We mobilized fairly quickly to get some food in our stomachs before the wine tour this afternoon. We walked down our street to San Martin, where we exchanged our remaining Chilean Pesos and then looked for a restaurant. There’s a McDonald’s at the corner, which sounded pretty good as comfort food goes. Both of us still have a queasy feeling from last night, made worse by skipping dinner and not having much breakfast. I’m now very glad that I brought my Tums along.

We had lunch at a café called /yelp/ San Pablo, which sported a very ‘80s mirror and wood theme. Even being a little sick to my stomach, hamburguesos con papas fritas still sounded good. They came in two sizes, and having not eaten in a while, we got the larger ones. The unique thing about these burgers is that they came with a topping of fried egg and—like everything else here—a slice of ham. Neither of us could finish the meal, there was just so much food.

We walked back to our hotel, arriving at 2pm. All of the stores were locked down tightly with metal grilles along our walk back, even though it was the middle of the day. “We don’t want your business” is their motto. Checked email until 2:15 when our ride (who was due to arrive at 2:30) showed up. Time really seems to be more of a suggestion here, unless it involves taking a siesta. Our driver took us around to pick up other tourists, including a Danish guy named Christopher, a Dutch girl named Monica who was tall and skinny (but even so I didn’t think she was very attractive), and a couple from Cordoba in which the guy had a voice that reminded me of “Bob Esponga” as Spongebob Squarepants is known here. It should be noted that we are the only ones in the group who aren’t fluent in Spanish.


One the group was assembled, our first stop was to a winery (bodega) that specialized in Malbec, the local specialty. Monica translated a few of the comments for us, but we were able to work our way through on our own. The hostess of the bodega also spoke some English. Back inside the winery, we tried some sparkling wine and Malbec before reboarding the bus. We drove on, then turned around and took another road. A wrong turn at the roundabout and we were at an olive grove.


The olive grove staff showed us (rather than told us due to the language difference) the old and new ways they make olive oil and olive paste. You couldn’t escape the smell of olives in the grove, or the light film of oil on all the floors…even in the gift shop. Both of these places had a refined Napa Valley winery feel to them, so our third stop was quite a shock.

We were driving down a road with high fences and walls with buildings behind them. All of a sudden, we turned into a gate and then around the back to a dirt courtyard that had everything you’d expect a drug cartel headquarters to have except for Danny Trejo and some heavily armed guards in sunglasses.There was a large warehouse with wooden doors and stucco walls, neglected facilities, a few random process equipment like wine tubs were sitting empty next to pulp on the ground. Then an old man came out of the office that was built onto the side of the warehouse and led us on a tour of the fermenting tanks.

This building looked like a leftover Soviet chemical/biological experimentation lab flown over when the empire crumbled. All of the epoxy was falling off, everything was damp, moist, and grimy. We climbed a set of stairs to gain access to the top of the tanks, where our guide said lots of stuff I didn’t understand. Then his assistant brought over a hose and I heard a pump kick on and wine flowed from the bottom of the tank through the pump and out of the hose to form a frothy layer over the dark burgundy mass of cabernet sauvignon in the tank. From our vantage point on top, we descended two flights to the cellar where we tried a number of wines in various stages of readiness.

This area of the winery really had the “forgotten insane asylum” feel to it with gray-green walls and dim lighting. The wine was okay, but will age for a few more years before being sold. By this time, we’ve all had five to six glasses of wine each. Kacey made a solid first impression with her first glass, which she chugged while everyone else was just standing around looking at her like she’s an alcoholic (which she’s not).
The next and final stop on the tour was a church and a nearby empanada stand. The church was a small town, thick-walled place that would fit in perfectly to a prelude to a fight scene in some modern western movie. I expected the doors to open at any moment to see Antonia Banderas backlit with some menacing theme song swelling in the background.

youtube link?

The empanada stand was in a house that seemed to have one wall that bounded the perimeter with a post in the center supporting the roof over the tables where a hundred clay lanterns were being sold. I was already shutting down by this point, not because of all the wine (which probably didn’t help), but rather because of Senor Spongebob’s ceaseless yakking behind me in the bus. It was like having 6-penny nails hammered through my skull and then cut off with a hacksaw. We survived the mouth-burning empanadas and made it back to the hotel.

Later, we walked down a neighboring street where the arts and crafts stalls were set up in the median. Kacey got some sandals, then we walked some more until there were no more craft booths. But there just so happened to be a brightly lit and inviting store  on the corner, so we decided to have a look. More arts and crafts, but of a higher quality that the stuff on the street. We found the wine we had at dinner the /link/ first night in town, and I bought a /link/ wooden llama and clay nativity set. They also had a wine coozie(SP?) made from a cow hoof, but I decided to pass on that one. We dropped our stuff at the hotel and walked through Plaza de Independencia and the pedestrian walkway before heading over to Villanueva for dinner around 10pm.

We’re on the local schedule now, so things are nice and lively. Stopped at a fairly generic bistro where I had some ravioli in meat and wine sauce. They have to work in the wine somewhere. While we were eating, part of the wall fell onto another patron. Well, maybe not “fell”, but swung out an hit him on the head. It seemed like your everyday wallpaper and lighting ensconced wall, but must have been an access panel that decided to break free. We walked back to the hotel, and there were still little kids playing in the park. Perhaps it’s because their schools only let out at 6pm. Yeah, we were on the wine tour when one school let out, and we were trapped in a sea of knee-high school uniforms.

I still have to pack for tomorrow, but my washed clothes have all dried out now, so I’m good to go.

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