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Eating (and drinking) through Mendoza

A glimpse of our rental showcasing those Andes!

DAY 35-41: Mendoza, Argentina

Wow!  I thought the food and wine was excellent in the Napa Valley… but in Mendoza, the bodega (winery) visits combine the best of both.  While just about every winery in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys cannot contain a restaurant (although a few are grandfathered in), it seems that the opposite might be true with regards to the Mendoza bodegas.  Every day in which we visited a bodega to taste their wares, lunch was an important part of it.

But first… we had to get from SCL to MDZ!

SCL to MDZ must rank as one of the shorter International flights in the world.  Although the distance between Santiago and Mendoza is only 121 miles – that distance flies over the Andes.  It was one of the scariest 50 minutes of flight that the Bepkos can remember.  The turbulence was NOT FUN, and the pilots announced after takeoff that the flight crew would remain seated throughout the entire flight and no beverages would be served.

This wasn’t just losing and gaining altitude, put the plane was experienced pretty severe yaw and roll motions as well.  I’m not looking forward to ever flying this route again – luckily our journeys will have us continuing to fly East!

We arrived at MDZ and it was such a cute little airport.  7 gates but pretty modern.  Too bad that it took us about an hour to get our bags and snake our way through Immigration & Customs.

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We rented a car from Hertz… and it was the sketchiest rental car I’ve ever received.  Nothing automatic; door locks, windows, trunk, etc.  And the tires appeared so thin and worn.  More on the tires in a moment.

Then we were off and on our way to the Finca Ogawa, our home for the next 6 days.

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The four of us (and one of our luggage bags) cramped in the rental

While the house was only about 60 miles away from the airport, it would take over 90 minutes to drive there… with the last 1.6 miles being over one of the worst “roads” I’ve driven on.  And the tires appeared so thin and worn.  More on the tires in a moment.

The house was – with the exception of the horrible road leading up to it – absolutely perfect for the Bepkos.  It had a decent kitchen, a huge fireplace, and plenty of space around for running through the barren vineyard.   The only issue was that we determined we would only leave the house once per day due to the rock-strewn road.

Prior to visiting the region, I had only planned on one bodega (winery) visit.  Chandon has a Mendoza branch.  Having visited the Napa winery many times before, I was looking forward to tasting the wines.  During the tour I found out that there is also an Australia and Brazilian branch.  So in addition to touring the original Moet & Chandon locale in Epernay, France, I have now been to 60% of their wineries.  And we should be able to visit the Australian locale when we are staying in Melbourne come February 2018!

The visit to Chandon began with a lunch prior to the tasting and tour.  The hostess suggested I start the lunch 2 hours before the tour… but I told everyone that I couldn’t believe the lunch would take two hours.  Famous last words.  This lunch turned out to be an introduction to the awesome world of Mendoza winery/bodega lunches.

The meal was awesome and the paired wines were quite nice, including a rose natural sparkling which we had never had before.  The final tasting was a sweet sparkling served on ice.  Needless to say, Jeni and I didn’t finish that one.

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Run away, Run away!

During the tour, we discovered that the Argentineans apparently like their sparkling wines sweeter than the French and American wine drinkers.  The names of the different types of sparkling and champagne wines – Extra Brut, Brut Natural, etc – were all shifted to a sweeter level.  For instance, regular Brut wines in the United States have roughly 3 grams of sugar/L (dosage) added, and Brut Natural wines have zero added sugar.  However, as far as I understand, the Brut Natural for Argentina sparkling wines is 3 grams of sugar/L and the regular Brut is around double that.  Just a little confusing – especially for Jeni who prefers her sparkling on the less-sweet side.

The second day in the region was slated for lunch at a posh resort about 5 miles from the house (although it was almost a 20 minute drive).  The resort was called The Vines and the restaurant was one of Francis Mallmann’s establishments.  Mallmann is a famous Argintinean chef who focuses on open-flame cooking and he was featured on one of the episodes of Chef’s Table on Netflix.

The resort was incredible.  So much so that I immediately started looking at prices to see if we might spend a night there… a little chance to live in luxury away from the rental house.

The meal was INCREDIBLE and probably the best start-to-finish food we have had on our journey.  Everything was awesome.  The kiddos’ steaks were tasty and Jeni and I split a dish of pork ribs that had been cooked by an open flame for 6+ hours.  We were able to eat outside and we had an perfect view of the snow-covered Andes mountains.  This lunch was around 2.5 hours and was capped by a bottle of their reserve blend – a bottle so good that we risked airline baggage fees to take a single bottle of it with us to Buenos Aires.

Luckily, we planned our 3rd full day at Finca Ogawa as a school day for the kiddos – with no plans to leave the house.  Good thing… because remember when I mentioned how thin and worn the tires looked?

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The replacement tire looks MUCH better than the original tire

So we had a flat tire (I forgot to take a photo for the archives).  At least we had a spare, and the spare tire looked twice as good as the flat one… so I just had the original tire repaired and went the rest of the trip with the spare.  Luckily, no more flats!

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Roads like this were likely to blame for the flat time – and this was one of the better ones

We were loving this 3-hour lunch and wine thing, so Jeni found a great family owned bodega called La Azul for our next visit.

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Small area for the winemaker to work

After a quick tour of the winery (which took about 20 minutes), we loosened our belts and sat down for an incredible meal of meats and meats and meats.  In between courses we could go and chill out in the sun and sip our wines.  The pours never stopped… even when we took a break from the eating.

Out last full day was… you guessed it!  More of the same.  We were already planning our return trip with a few of our wine friends.  But until then, our last meal/tasting was at a place recommended by our hosts at Finca Ogawa.

Bodega Gimenez Rili was also one of the Valley de Uco wineries, and was about 5 miles away from our house.

This bodega also contained a small boutique hotel with a few rooms and a great outdoor area with views similar to the Vines (but the grounds weren’t as nice).

Lunch was also a multi course affair with accompanying wines.  The main course was cooked over coals in plain view of our table and the meat was (surprise!) incredible.

…and while in our meat coma, we decided to join our first wine club from a foreign country.  We won’t even be able to drink our wines for another year.

Just a few thoughts about our rental house.  The sunsets were AMAZING!  And I don’t think we will ever forget the views of the Andes as we left the house for our morning runs around the vineyards.  This place will truly be with us for the rest of our lives.

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Sunset at Finca Ogawa
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The daytime view

Finally, the day arrived to pack up again and head off to the airport on another travel day.  I’ll be honest – I was pretty nervous on the 90 minute drive back to the airport as I was hoping that the spare tire would hold up.  We left in plenty of time in order to change any potential flat… and we arrived at the airport with 3-hours to spare.  Plenty of time to relax in the VIP Lounge there which was available to Priority Pass members.

 

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Time for one.  Last.  Malbec.

Next stop is Buenos Aires.  At least we won’t have to deal with Immigrations & Customs on this leg of our travels.

TOTAL MILES TRAVELLED TO DATE (DFW – MDZ) : 8681 miles

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