After a successful road trip up north, we again packed our bags and took a 19-hour bus south to the wine country capital of Mendoza. Nick had been there five years ago when visiting a friend who was living in Valparaíso (across the border in Chile) and remembered it fondly, and I knew I wasn't going to miss another opportunity to try some of Argentina's finest product! We decided to give couchsurfing a shot for the first time here too. Since this trip started, we hadn't been planning our accommodations far enough in advance to organize a couch, but we had wanted to do it, so we finally got our act together and found ourselves a host for our three nights in Mendoza. We had our own bedroom which was nice, and John, our host, had an asado (barbeque) the first night we were there, so we got to taste all sorts of delicious cuts of beef cooked by an expert.
As I've mentioned before, Argentina feels very European to me, and Mendoza in particular had a very Euro vibe: tons of cafes with outdoor seating, a gourmet wine or cheese store on every other block, more bakeries and gelato stores than my waistline cares to remember, and several nice plazas and parks. It's a pleasant city to just walk around and spend some time park-sitting, and of course, eating. The biggest park, San Martin, has tons of perfect picnic spots, jogging trails, and a lake with a restaurant on it. It felt a bit like a mini-Central Park.
However, the main draw to this area, for me at least, are the nearby wine-producing regions of Maipú and Luján de Cuyo. As an introduction to the area's wines, we did a tasting at The Vines, a fancy wine tasting/shopping 'experience' in Mendoza. They expertly pick all their favorite wines from the regions and put them together in different flights, and will also ship to anywhere in the US. Nick was dealing with spring allergies (thanks, Southern Hemisphere!), so he couldn't taste much, but I tasted seven wines and figured out what I like (fruity Malbecs as well as Malbec/Cab Sauv/Shiraz blends) and don't like as much (anything containing Merlot). I'm normally a Pinot Noir person, but those grapes don't grow so well down here because of sunny and dry conditions; the grapes that do well here are of the stronger variety (i.e., Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon).
Just 30 minutes away by bus is the Maipú Valley, the closest winery region to the city of Mendoza. Naturally, we spent a day biking around the area visting various vineyards, an olive oil producer, and a gourmet food store full of locally-produced treats. The scenery toward the north part of Maipú looked oddly industrial, but the further south we went, the more and more our surroundings looked like the winery regions we've seen before with rolling hills, rows and rows of grapevines, and beautiful trees lining the two-lane streets (not to mention the snow-capped Andes in the distant background). We've been to several wineries before in California, Oregon, and Virginia, and these weren't incredibly different, except that they really don't produce much white wine. Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon are their specialties, and they stick with that they know and do it well. To me personally, those wines are amazing with meat or robust food, but they aren't exactly sunny-afternoon-on-an-empty-stomach-easy-drinking wines, so you have to be careful! Besides visiting the Tempus Alba, Carinae, and DiTommaso wineries, we also stopped at the Laur olive farm where oil is produced. I haven't been near that many olive trees in years, but I was delighted at how amazing the whole area smelled. After stopping at a restaurant for a steak lunch (of course), we ended our day at A La Antigua, a gourmet food shop where we tasted dozens of locally-made dips, oils, jams, liquors, and chocolates. Not a bad ending to a wonderful day!