Our time in Cafayate and Mendoza. Both home of wines in there own right and have an excellent drop.
03.11.2015 - 11.11.2015
We left Salta and it was still raining. It seemed like the rain was never going to end. Our bus was for four hours and then we would arrive in our first vino town in Argentina, Cafayate. Our ride along the way was stunning winding through the valleys of Quebrada de Cafayate on Route 68. Cafayate is a extremely small town and due to it being low season was quiet (More quiet than we thought and we were stoked). The town is famous for their white wine, torrontes. It is tasty and even Lewis was partial to drinking it while feasting on empanadas (our main activity while in Cafayate).
We stayed in a quaint hostel called Casa Arbol. It is a great spot and I would definitely recommend it if you come to the area, especially if you want a hostel with plenty of areas to relax in.
We hired bikes our first day and jumped back on the bus to Salta. An hour later we got off and started the long trip back to Cafayate. In my mind 40kms didn't seem too bad....Well my mind was wrong!!!! What I didn't realise was it was actually 57! And when we arrived so did the wind...the wind that would gust against us the whole way back to town. In my defence the views were stunning and our bikes being pretty rubbish were part of the issue.
We did a water stop on our way back into town at a local ranch that runs horse riding tours. The owner took pity on us and brought us free delicious empanadas to help us complete the last 10km into town. They were amazing! We continued on and by the time I got to town my legs were so heavy I could barely pedal. Haha. Our first mission when we returned into town was to feast on ice-cream. The idea of alcoholic wine ice-cream didn't really excite either of us so we got the typical normal ice-cream..
Most evenings and/or lunches we headed to La Casa de Empanadas. The lady that ran the place would grin when we turned up (I think at the time we were who best customers). She sold 12 different types of empanadas and most had blue or goats cheese in them, as I am not the biggest fan of either we opted for the carne (meat) versions, the basic saltena, the arab tangy one and the vino cooked version. Lewis and I would get a dozen with wine for 145 pesos and were stuffed and merry by the end of it. You could see into the kitchen and everything was made from scratch, no pre-made dough here. The restaurant itself was covered with notes all over the wall of love and affection for the empanadas. We loved this place and would love to go back.
Our final full day we headed out to the vineyards. The amazing thing about Cafayate is most vineyards are walkable. We headed to Domingo Mollino and were in heaven. We arrived and were the only ones there. The lady was lovely and organised our tasting (70 pesos). We opted to try as many of their wines as possible so we each tried seperate ones and then tried each others. Choosing our favourites to purchase was hard work! In the end we opted for the torrontes and the malbec. The amazing thing about this winery is that they will let you use your tasting price on wine. In the end once we took off the tasting we spent less than $10NZD on two bottles of wine, hopefully one of them ends up making it back to NZ. On our walk back into town (8km downhill) we stopped at Piattelli.
A large commerical vineyard that has wineries in Mendoza and Cafayate. The commercialism of the place wasn't our thing but the tasting (80 pesos) was great as we were able to compare the flavours of torrontes, malbecs and cabernet sauvignon from Cafayate and Mendoza. There was a distinct difference. The grape had a more intense and less oaky flavour from Cafayate which is apparently due to the thicker skins from the altitude (more sun ) and the wind than the wine from Mendoza. We were sold on Cafayate and it's wine at that point. It really seemed that it didn't matter what you brought it was spectacular. The place had charm and wasn't too touristy. We loved it there and could have stayed longer...just to explore more vineyards.
It was our longest bus journey yet the next day. We had to get over 1000kms to Mendoza. We left Cafayate on a 5.5hour bus to Tucuman; a place that seemed like it wasn't anything special. We then had to rush to get tickets for an overnight bus to Mendoza as soon as we arrived. We managed to get the last two seats on the bus that was meant to leave at 8pm. They were at the back and they were cama seats. Cama seats are those that recline to 180 degrees. We decided if we were going to be on a bus over 13 hours that we needed that added luxury. Our bus ended up being an hour late due to a flat tyre but once inside we played bingo for a bottle of wine and had roast beef and mash for dinner. I slept like a baby that night so really I have no complaints.
As soon as we arrived in Mendoza we instantly noticed something we hadn't seen in northern Argentina, tourism. They are use to tourist here and so the blue market rate is terrible and most people quote astronomical amounts in USD. Goodbye to the days of sandwiches that feed both of us for $5NZD. The city is pretty with plazas everywhere and a gorgeous park. There are gourmet places everywhere and food prices were now at NZ prices.
As we arrived in the weekend there were events on in the parks/plazas. For us they were cultural Spanish and German fairs. On Sunday most things closed for the day so we spent the day exploring the area and the massive park. That evening we made Choripan (chorizo in buns). They were amazing and we were stoked with our efforts! A lot of our time over these days was spent in our hostel, Hostel Lao which had an amazing outdoor space and awesome hosts.
On Monday we were off to cycle around the vineyards. We opted to go to the Lujan area due to it being less crowded with tourists and a more beautiful area. We visited four bodegas and each was different. We stared with Carmello Patti, a one man show that had stunning wine. We were so disappointed we didn't buy a bottle while we were there. We will be back just for this man's wine. Carmello was a stunning man that has been blending wine since the 70's and has had his own label since 1994. He won't serve wine until it has matured to a great level as he understands that most people don't have a cellar. We ended up tasting 2008 Malbec, Cab Sav and a blend. All were sensational and smooth. The best part were they were only about $20NZD a bottle. (Which really is nothing!)
He explained how to tell if wine is good to cellar (look at the cork and it should not have wine soaked into and the wine level should not decrease. This means air is getting in. He showed us the different ways to remove a cork from the bottle (including with a lighter). He was fun and I would recommend this place. Even better was the tasting was free!
Our next stop was Lagarde. A large commercial production and sadly the most expensive yet our least favourite of the day. We found we didn't enjoy this as we were being pushed through, given un-exciting wines and only had three pathetic tastings for 100pesos! We left nearly as soon as we arrived.
We were off back into town next to an organic bodega called Pulmary. This place was hip and cool. We drunk wine out of the vats, explored the barrels and then headed up for steak sandwiches for lunch. They were delicious! The place had funky art everywhere and the owner had excellent English.
Lewis and I speed through town to our final winery for tasting (We were too late for a tour). This vineyard was meant to have an amazing torrontes (which it was) and we also managed to sample there blend and malbec. AltaVista is stunning we enjoyed the wine very much and the beautiful outdoor area. It was a quick ride back to town to try and beat the rain that was threatening. After dropping our bikes back it was definitely time for alafajore rellanos from the local bakery on the way back. They are my current sweet treat craze. Shortbread biscuits with a thick layer of dulce de leche and potentially covered in chocolate. Delicious!
That evening we got to catch up with old travel friends. We hadn't seen them in about three months so we had a lot to catch up on.
Our final day was meant to be another bike around the vineyards but this time in Maipu. Sadly it wasn't to be as the rain gods poured down that morning and it was chilly. It is another reason to come back and explore Mendoza further. If we did come back we would definitely stay out of central Mendoza in a smaller town like Charcas. Instead of the vineyard tour we ended up spending our final day in Argentina having a delicious steak lunch! Don Mario's in Mendoza is a great steak house and I can recommend them without hesitation. My HUGE eye fillet was delicious and cooked to perfection! MASSIVE delicious steak is another great reason to come to Argentina.
We are off to our final country in South America from Mendoza, Chile. Our first stop is Valparaiso. We had an eight hour journey through the Andes to arrive. The views of the Andes from the Argentinian side on the bus were spectacular so make sure you get a seat at the front of the bus on the top floor. Just also keep in mind if you go from Argentina to Chile expect to spend 2-3 hours at Immigration to get through customs and have your bags checked! Apparently the trucks wait a couple of days to get through this border so I shouldn't complain too much.
The two wine regions of Argentina we visited were a great contrast. If we had to choose I would say that Cafayate would win hands down. The vineyards are quieter and closer to town. We both personally preferred the wine in Cafayate as we like a more fruity, less oaky wine. Also Cafayate had amazing empanadas! (Lets be honest this alone is enough for it to win!). Our time in Argentina has been amazing and the vino definitely has helped. We can't wait to return and see more of this diverse and interesting country!