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Published: August 3rd 2017
On our second day in Mendoza, Saturday, we started early with a heavy breakfast at the hotel restaurant. Much to my delight, their buffet had what I call Happy Hour food. That is, delicious bread, cold cuts, and cheeses. I always end up eating more than I should at these type breakfast bars.
Our wine tour guide from Ampora Wine Tours was picking us up at 10 minutes to 9, to take us to our first winery in Lujan de Cuyo Valley. This valley has some of the oldest, most established and classic wineries. In this instance our Ampora Tour guide Floreana (Flor) showed up punctually to pick us up in a very comfortable van. Flor was a pretty young English teacher, who enjoys wine and working for Ampora on the weekends. She appeared to be a little disappointed to be doing a tour in Spanish, and we deduced that for her to conduct the tours in English helps her to practice.
Our first stop was in the outskirts of the still populated area, and it was a surprise to cross the gates into the winery and feel totally isolated from the outside world. The vines extended
far into the distance, and it was pastoral and peaceful. The street that it was on was the main street of this area, and it was the only paved road that I could see, and not even all of it. There were small, modest businesses, tiny houses, some no more than huts, and all had an air of rural lower middle class, with some poverty mixed in.
We were told there are a lot of Bolivians settling in this area, and their occupations are related to working on the fields of the vineyards, or construction.
Bodega Lagarde was established in 1897, so it meets the 80 year minimum to qualify for the highest designation, but that designation also limits them to the more restrictive method of flood irrigation, and it keeps them from using hail protection, which is a risk. The grounds are beautiful, which was a good thing because when we got there early due to lack of traffic being a Saturday, there was nobody there and we had to cool out heels for much longer than anticipated. When the wine guide, Lorena, finally showed up she apologized explaining that there had been some miscommunication
between her and a coworker, each thinking the other one was going to be there.
Hmm. Not a very auspicious start to what ended up being an extraordinary day.
The tour itself followed the guidelines of some of the other wineries I've been too. They are proud of the standard of their wines in all their lines, and that they grow and use their own grapes, grown in what is supposed to be the best zone for producing wines. After the tour, we went back to the front bar of their restaurant and conducted the tasting of five of their wines, all splendid, starting with their Champenoise Extra Brut, their pioneers Viognier and Cabernet Frank, since they were one of the first vineyards to experiment with those varietals, and some delicious Malbec. The setting for the tasting wasn't particularly special, but their wines were.
The pours were extremely generous, but I drank it all. However, I decided after this tasting that I was going to have to be a little bit more conservative in the tasting of the wines, no matter how much it pained me, or I was going to be carried out
of the last place.
Our next stop was Pulenta Estate, which was further out in the countryside, 30 miles from Mendoza. Although the family arrived in Argentina from Italy in 1902 and been in the wine business since, Pulenta Estate was established in 2002. We were met in front of the main building by the wine guide, Constanza (Connie) who had a bottle of a delicious Sauvignon Blanc waiting for us, to pour us a glass to start our tour of the winery. Connie was a very knowledgeable guide, and very excited about the winery and the wines they produce. Smaller in production than Lagarde, they are not subject to some of the limitations that Lagarde has to adhere to. They have both drip irrigation, and also protect their vines from hail.
We were very priviledged, thanks to Laine's interest in engineering, to visit parts of the production area that other people do not go to. We climbed on top of the cement vats, and examined the construction from a totally different perspective.
Another interesting thing about this vineyard was the owners' interest and tradition in car racing. We were told that there are
many races that only use Pulenta wines for their victory toasts. One of our areas of inspection contained many photos through the years of cars, drivers, and they had the engines on display of some outstanding racing vehicles.
Our actual tasting was in an inspired setting. Out on a small open terrace overlooking some of the vines, it was also a cheese pairing with four of their outstanding wines. Connie wanted to know which wine was our favorite between their Gran Malbec and Cabernet Frank. Wow! That was a hard choice since they were both so good. However, I thought the Malbec was an easier wine, the Cabernet Frank was all complexity. All in all, Pulenta was a highlight of the wine tour.
In a very happy frame of mind, we rode on to our third stop, Bodega Dante Robino. In an isolated countryside of Lujon de Cuyo, the van had to wade some water in a couple of areas from too much rain. This vineyard was established by an Italian in 1920. Our guide, Francisco, took us through the winery, which was a beautiful building. Here, one highlight was being served an Espumante right from
the tank. It was very good! No surprise there. They lead the production of sparkling wines in the area, and are the second exporter of sparkling wines in the country. Their tasting was in a beautiful room, almost luxurious, where we could see the surrounding barrels through the glass walls, and their wines were excellent. Here, once again, I moved on to each wine as he introduced them, even if I had to leave some wine in the previous glass. Boo!
Here, we tried one of Argentina's great varietals, Torrontes, and also the Bonarda. Bonarda is the second largest crop in Argentina, after Malbec, and a delicious wine. We expressed surprise that it is not better known under the circumstances, and they laughed and said they were hoping it would spread by word of mouth, because most of the advertising is spent on promoting the already well known Malbec.
Before we got to the fourth and last stop, Bodega Casarena, Flor informed us that we'd had enough information for one day, and now it was time to just sit back, drink some wine, and have some food to go with it. It sounded good, and we
were delighted when she took us to the wonderful restaurant in Bodega Casarena, with an open design, overlooking a gorgeous landscape. We did not know what their definition of a gourmet lunch was, but did we find out! Six courses of delicious food, accompanied by six wines. We started with a sparkling, and ended with a dessert wine that I could have just drank straight out of the bottle, it was so good! We could not believe that this kind of meal was included in the tour. Really, I cannot say enough about how top notch it all was.
The only downfall was that when we got back to the hotel, after practically passing out on the ride back, we had to admit that we could not do justice to another meal that night. The thought of showing up for our reservation at Azafran, another one of the top restaurants in Mendoza, was not an option. Optimistically, Patricia switched the reservation for the next night and, after one drink in the hotel, we decided to call it a night, since out pick up time the next morning was at 20 to 9, and we had been advised to
have another big breakfast to prepare for our wine tour of the Uco Valley.
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