Lujan de Cuyo and Uco Valley

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January 21st 2013
Published: January 21st 2013EDIT THIS ENTRY

Good afternoon blogging buddies,I am back in Valparaiso and have another bus blog to post in the next day or so.Another loooong bus trip, but home again and wanted to tell you about the wine regions around Mendoza

I did what so many do when they get to Mendoza,touring the wine regions.There are a number of places you can sign up for wine tours but I chose Trout and Wine Tours and was thoroughly pleased and satisfied with my choice.I went on a tour of the Lujan de Cuyo region.just outside of Mendoza, on thursday and loved it so much I went on another tour Saturday to see the Uco Valley, which is about 90 kms away from Mendoza. The tours are not cheap ,running about 170 US dollars each for the day but you can pay in pesos and if you change foreign money for pesos from the man on the street who gives 6.8 pesos to the dollar versus 4.9 at the casa de cambio you can save some money.

The tours are small groups,6 of us on thursday and only 3 saturday! On thursday there were 2 Danes,2 Austrian and me,today there were 2 Americans and me.The guides are extremely knowledgeable as far as my winery knowledge could guage and it was a great way to enjoy the scenery,wine,history and get a great meal as well in amazing surroundings.

I toured small bodegas, as the wineries are called, and some large ones as well.Family owned going back many years as well as new wineries trying new things and learning new techniques.Wine has been in the region since the Jesuits arrived to bring Christianity and of course give the blessed sacrement along with wine.For many many years Argentina produced huge quantities of wine and drank it all.The average consumption in the old days was 90 liters per man, woman and child. now you must remember that this was before soft drinks,beer or any other substitutes for the red wines they produced.The wine was horrible by all accounts, and used to be shipped by train from Mendoza to Buenos Aires.The train stopped along the way to water and fuel up and as it did the locals would siphon off some of the wine and replace it with water so by the time the wine did reach Buenos Aires it was even worse than when it set out.The region suffered what they refer to as a beer crisis in the 70's when beer made a serious impact on the argentine consumer as well as soft drinks.The consumption plummeted and many vineyards went under or were plowed under to plant other things.It was in the face of this crisis that the new argentinian wine industry was born. Bodega owners got more serious about guality and less about quantity brought in expertise and knowledge regarding the production of first quality wine.The Malbec grape,which comes from France was found to be a superb grape for the "terroir" of Mendoza where the climate,soil and elevation turn what is a non descript grape in France into the king of the reds here.Other grapes also flourish in the wonderful sunshine and dry air.There is little need for fungucides as the air is so very dry and the climate alo contributes to few bugs to have to be rid of,making Mendoza wine almost organic. Watering can be carefully controlled because most if not all of the area is irrigated with the Andes snow melt so the conditions are controlled and quite perfect.Vineyards are irrigated with a flooding system which is as it sounds or a drip system wheer pipes of water drip onto the root systems of the vines.The only climate enemies of the wine here are hail and occasionally frost.To guard against hail they tuck the leaves and vines into a sheathing of netting that keeps the plant protected and also keeps birds away.Frost is more of a problem if it comes but it is very rare.

Other noble grapes grow well here and I had wonderful Cabernet Sauvignon,Merlot and Cabernet Franc red wines as well as Chardonnay.I saw an interesting thing at the Cabos vineyard where they were taking the vines and burying parts of them underground for a period of time,.What happens is the buried part of the vine produces roots instead of leaves and after a while you can cut the vine away from the mother stem and you have a cloned plant with all the same genetic quality as the original.They also were grafting different types of vines onto older stem and root systems,taking a cabernet sauvignon root system of 30 or 40 years old and graft malbec vines to it and over time it becomes a malbec grape plant!!

There is only one true Argentinian grape ,Torrontes,It grows best in the region of Salta. I bought a bottle but have not yet opened it up.People asked me if I was bringing the wine I bought home with me, and I just laughed.

I went to 6 Bodegas in the two areas,Kaiken which is an 80 year old winery with a mix of old buildings and modern equipment.Big and powerful wines to try here and a great way to start.We had three wines in each tasting,usually an entry level wine, their reserve wine then their prestige wine.We all had our noses into the glasses and swirling the glasses in fine style but I am not sure my nose is yet tuned for wine tasting. I do not yet get the scents of chocolate,leather,etc that seem to spring out into other taters noses.I am told I need to go to the grocery store and pick up I am everything in the produce section and smell it.Scent memory must be practiced and remembered for it to come back to you with your nose in a bottle. I am superbly suited for the drinking part and very enthusiastic about the tastes and colours!!!

From Kaiken we went to Vina Cobos where an american wine maker named Paul Hobbs was one of the first to recognize the potential of the Malbec grape, and now produces some superb wines.The guide in this winery was very good and as we tasted and swirled she told us of the winery and about the area and we snacked on fresh walnuts grown around the bodega and goat cheese from down the road.What a life!!

It was now time for lunch and we headed for another Bodega, Tapiz but to eat, not to visit the winery.Upon arrival the screeching in the trees caught our attention, green swooping parrokeets everywhere.They are wild but not indigenous and seem to have settled in quite well in huge nests,what a racket!

Before we ate we stopped in for an olive oil tasting,Argentina is a huge producer of olives, and we were given small plastic cups of the oil.I made a mistake and drank mine quickly and immediately my eyes watered and I had to get some water down my throat!! It was spicy and quite a shock,I was careful with the next one. Lunch was served in a small upper room with just the 6 of us and our guide.Delicious gaspachio,juicy and tender beef,salad and superb icecream and fruit.Of course with a rose to start and a flight of wonderful reds to accompany the meal.

The last winery was my favourite of the day, a small bodega called Clos de Chakras.A boutique winery, as they call it, but with a long wine making family history. They had a wonderfully cool and dark cellar filled with wine bottles.This was the first place where we had actually seen wine in bottles and they were dusty and perfect.All the other places had wine in oak casks,french or american oak,aging and waiting to be bottled but clos de chakras had it sitting there where it belonged.

The superb tasting here was by a pond with fish swimming around and it was an extraordinary way to end the day in the Lujan de Cuyo region of Mendoza.

As I said earlier I had so enjoyed myself on Thursday that I went back to Trout and Wine on friday and booked a saturday tour to Vallee de Uco.The weather on saturday was cloudy and the odd spitting rain as we drove out of town to go south to the Uco valley.It was disappointing in a region known for such dry sunny weather to see the clouds and even more so knowing that the spectacular Andes were somewhere in the shroud of cloud to the west.Oh well there is sunshine in every bottle of wine!

The Uco Valley wineries are younger that the Lujan de Cuyo bodegas, there are new wine makers trying new things and we started with a visit to Pulenta Estates, again a superb guide to greet us and something different before our tasting.We were asked to close our eyes as she passed around glasses of scents for us to try and quess.there were things like vanilla in the glass,or cut grass, pepper corns,dried fruits chocolate.It was fun and I managed to get a few so there is hope for me yet apparently.The wines were again great and though the group was only the three of us we had a good time laughing at the scent off and enjoying the wines of the morning.Next was a tiny little winery named Azul,a man named Jimmy met us there and we sat at a rustic table outside a small building where Jimmy also coooks meals.The minimalist features of the experience were further apparent as we only had a single wine glass each to sample our three wines.None of this crystal sparkling in a line on the table for Jimmy.The best for last tradition continued, but it was taking wine still in the barrel to taste before moving off!

The contrast between Azul and our next winery was dramatic.We went to Salentein winery just down the road.designed like a temple to wine the area is landscaped with indiginous plants interspaced with art.The main building is a grand place with an art gallery a part of it and the cellars were truly grand with columns around a tiled floor with a large compass set in the stone and a grand piano to one side!!Everything about Salentein is big and they produce millions of bottles of wine a year.Owned by a Dutch family even the Spanish speaking guide had a dutch accent when he spoke english. We had our lunch here sitting on a patio,with the scent of freshed mowed grass and the Andes on the horizon! Another great meal was eaten and another flight of wonderful wines.

We drove back bellies full and I asked to stop at a shrine I had noticed on the drive into the Valley.Red flags marked the site and small shrines were scattered around the area.It was a shrine to 'Gauchito Gil' a legendary Argentine character who the story tells was a soldier in the Argentine civil war who was fed up with the war and deserted.He was found by the police and tortured and was about to be killed when he told his killer that his son was sick and if he prayed to Gauchito Gill he would be saved.The policeman slit Gauchito's throat and returned home to of course find his son gravely ill and dying. He prayed to Gauchito Gil and the son recovered and the policeman went back and gave Gauchito a proper burial.The miracle of the sons recovery and the story of Gauchito Gil have resulted in these shrines all over the country and pilgrimages to the place of his birth or death,I am not sure which.

Well it is always good to end a blog with a miracle so I shall end this one here.I have left Argentine and will write again soon about my trip back to Valpo.I am also going to Santiago in the next few days and will report on that as well. Bye for now.

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22nd January 2013

Great blog amigo. I can see you're turning into a regular wino. I'll advise Linda that Christopher's will have to order in extra wine for your return. Cheers, Roly

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