I enjoyed a big sleep in after my first night in the big, comfortable hotel bed, waking with just enough time to get to the buffet breakfast. I then had time to send a few emails to set up my reservations for Valley de Uco in two days time, and make a few calls to confirm reservations for that same day.
The local No. 1 bus to Chacras de Coria conveniently left from just around the corner from the hotel, and costs less than two pesos. About half an hour later, I got of the bus near the centre of the town and went in search of my first winery, Clos de Chacras. It wasn’t that easy, with very few street signs and a tiny map ripped out of the corner of a magazine page, but I found it about 15 minutes later, arriving right on 1pm. I had booked a tour for 1pm, followed by lunch in the restaurant but, for some mysterious reason, the tour guide had left with the tour 15 minutes early. They offered to give me a tour after lunch instead, but I had another reservation in the afternoon and, when they told me that their degustation menu included four glasses of wine, I decided to skip the tour and tasting altogether.
Despite the heat, I decided to sit outside for lunch under the shade of an umbrella. The setting was so beautiful, I couldn’t resist. From the deck, I had a nice view of the old winery buildings on one side, and of a pretty small lake and ivy-covered wall on the other.
I was presented with a my first glass of wine, a crisp and not too oaky Chardonnay, a handmade bread basket (always excited when you get good bread in Argentina!), and a small crostini with cheese and chives.
Then, the first of my five courses arrived – a fresh salad featuring marinated zucchini, confit tomato, and finished with a soft poached egg. Delicious.
Next up was an entrée of provoleta on a homemade cherry wholegrain bread, with a pine mushroom pate. The combination of the fatty and salty cheese with the slight sweetness of the bread, lessened by the wholegrain, was delicious and not something I ever would have thought of. The wine was a 100% Merlot and accompanied the strong flavours beautifully.
The first main course was a smoked deer lasagna with roast vegetables and bechamel sauce. I was looking forward to this dish but the smoked deer was a tiny and almost indistinguishable part of the dish, buried in the ricotta filling, and the bechamel overpowered it a bit much for my liking. The pasta itself was cooked perfectly though, and the roast vegetables were good, and the accompanying 2009 Malbec was nice.
The second main, remembering that I’m still in Argentina, was Bife de Chorizo, with a mille feuille of pumpkin, sweet potato and potato. Yum! The piece of beef was a nice size – not too big to be off-putting after the other courses, but not tiny either. This course was served with the piece de resistance wine – 2008 Gran Estirpe (“great lineage”) Blend of Malbec, Cabernet and Merlot. This was a beautiful wine that would have definitely ended up in my winerack if I were not travelling!
I moved inside for dessert to get some relief from the rising heat, and enjoyed my dessert on one of the comfortable sofas in the front of the dining area. For some reason, my dessert was not exactly what had been described on the menu but came with some of the same elements. It came served in a chocolate basket, which wasn’t to my liking, and contained a small serve of the burnt butter parfait that I’d been expecting and a syrup fig. It was nice, but not as nice as the menu offering sounded.
Overall, this was amongst the best meals I have eaten in Argentina, and as you know, I’ve eaten a few! Although there were a couple of elements that weren’t to my liking, I thought the execution of all the dishes was perfect, and the flow of courses was smart and well considered. I enjoyed all the wines, some more than others, and the location is pretty. I would love to be sitting on that deck with a group of girlfriends and simply passing time!
After all that food and wine, I wasn’t sure I needed my next wine tasting visit, but it was just up the road and they were expecting me. I got to Viamonte Winery by taxi, being too far on the other side of town to walk, especially in the heat and with a full belly!
My host, Jorgelina, was waiting for me and I had the place to myself. It was another pretty setting, with a view over the vines towards the mountains. We took a quick look at the vines, and I learnt that Malbec is distinct in that it has three different shaped leaves. Who knew! Well, probably a whole bunch of winemakers, grape growers, and the odd sommelier, but I certainly hadn’t.
We escaped the heat and retired to the cool tasting room, where Jorgelina poured me three different wines, starting with a 100% Malbec rosé. Now, I don’t usually like rosé but I have had a couple in Argentina that could almost convert me. Made with a strong red grape like Malbec, and retaining quite a dry style, they are flavoursome, easy to drink in the Argentinian heat, and not too sweet. This one was no exception and was enjoyable.
Next up was a big, meaty 100% Bonarda, not my favourite grape but I’ve had some nice ones, and this one would probably be amongst them.
Then the 2011 Malbec Reserva, which was full of deep red fruits, balanced well with its time in french oak. At a very reasonable AR$80 (A$16), it was the wine that convinced me that I could surely manage to transport a couple of bottles in my suitcase to Chile and this would be one of them.
It’s worth noting that, unlike many wine regions around the world, Mendoza does not really have “bad” years. The climate is very stable (i.e. very hot and dry), irrigation is from controlled canals delivering melted snow water from the Andes, and there is very little rain all year round. Though they are susceptible to the occasional hailstorm, the best vines are protected with nets so, really, every year produces a consistency in harvest and every vintage is a “good” one.
After the tasting, and a long chat with Jorgelina during which she helped me with my plans for a couple of days later, I had time to look around the grounds while I waited for a taxi to deliver me back to the bus stop for my trip back into Mendoza. After such a big day of delicious food and beautiful wine, the big, comfortable hotel bed was looking pretty attractive for a siesta!