Published: January 31st 2010January 11th 2010
One thing I never thought I would find myself doing is banging on the door of a cave looking for champagne. But this is exactly what we did on the eleventh of January this year, as on this day twenty-eight years previous, a terrible beauty was born! (I know she will appreciate the Yeats reference.) This birthday couldn't be more different to that cold snow white morning in 1982 that Joy once told me about. 2010 in San Juan, Argentina was a clear muggy day, roasting hot with temperature of over 45 degrees.
A public bus had dropped us close to the cave. It all looked so strange and deserted. We tried the bell a few times but got no answer. A sign read ¨Be patient, it may take a while for someone to answer the door¨. So patient we were, dodging the sun under the shade of a rock.
Twenty minutes later the door to the Cavas de Zonda was unlocked. We entered the cave. The temperature inside was chilly and a great relief from the heat. Cavas de Zonda is 16km west of San Juan and produces champagne exclusively. The roof of the bodega is a mountain.
Very intriguing and the only place like it in the world according to the guide. Because it is a cave, the temperature is always 18 degrees regardless of the temperature outside. The guide ran us through the whole process of making champagne. At the moment of sampling - poured direct from huge vats - we raised a toast to Jessica on the day of her birth. A bottle found its way back to San Juan for more sampling later on that day!
Mendoza is famous around the globe for its vino, especially malbec. Jessica and I spent a day cycling around the wineries of Maipu. We had a great time and enjoyed a few glasses of wine with some friendly Argentinians, which are never hard to find. Mendoza isn't just about its malbec though. We also sampled sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, bonardo, and my favourite, tempranillo. I thought Jessica brought the camera and she thought I brought the camera. Result: no camera and no snaps of Mendoza wineries!
When we visited the vineyards of San Juan, that mistake was not repeated. Instead of cycling, we took the bus and walked between the wineries. There were more places to visit
in Mendoza but the tours in San Juan were much more personal and in-depth. What malbec is to Mendoza, syrah (AKA shiraz) is to San Juan. We had tried syrah before but didn't think much of it. This time we were impressed by the syrah produced by Las Marianas vineyard. In the Viñas de Segisa we even came across a new grape - torrontes, a dry white. One to keep an eye out for.
So after all the sophistication of wine tasting, what we really needed were some fumes and noise. Luckily the next day the Dakar Rally was in town. Due to security threats, the 2009 and 2010 Dakar Rally has been held South America instead of the tradition route from Paris to Dakar. Fifteen days of off-road racing through rough terrain and desert covering 9,000km across Argentina and Chile.
We made our way out to the end section of the Santiago-San Juan stage and watched the cars, jeeps, bikes, quads and trucks heading for home. The finishing line was an hour bus ride from the city. As with most places in Chile and western Argentina, the Andes were a constant-presence in the background. We clapped and
cheered alongside a big crowd, the Argentinian drivers getting the biggest cheer of course. But it was another suffocating hot day and after five hours we had enough - our clothes were saturated in sweat, covered in dust and we were fading fast. As soon as we got back to our room in San Juan we collapsed.
Hunger woke us up at 10pm. Luckily late night dining is normal in Argentina. As we ordered our meals at 11pm, the parilla (steakhouse) was only beginning to fill up. Honestly! I don't think I will ever get used to eating a big juicy steak at half eleven at night no mater how tasty it is.
There are more photos below