Best Kind of Lost

Best Kind of Lost

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Que Syrah Syrah: Our Mendoza Romance

by Noelle
March 17 – 25

 

Ah, Mendoza. Where the wine flows like…wine.

Grapes copy

A land ripe for a holiday romance, and oh, dear readers, did we have one for the history books.

It started in Chile. We had fallen head over heels for our travel partners, Caitlin and Jeff, and we were ready to bring it to the next level as we hit the Mendoza border.

The stage was set with a romantic eight hour ride on the most comfortable bus we’d been on in 12 months (seriously, the accidental $3 upgrade the boys made in the catawampus Spanglish conversation they had with the bus company paid off in spades. We were sitting pretty in plush first class seats as we cruised through the Andes), but our sweaty palms betrayed our fear of rejection. Did they feel the same? Then, as we hit the border crossing and the Immelways held the bus while I was being questioned about the visa that no longer matched my last name, we finally exhaled (for more reasons than just feeling relieved I wasn’t thrown in a Chilean prison). We were finally sure the feeling was mutual.

Mendoza bound.

Dave’s smile betrays his relief.

Arriving to our palatial love nest near the Mendoza “suburb” of Chacras de Coria (located in the popular Luján de Cuyo wine region), we settled in for a few days of nothing but blue skies and good company.

Turns out we’d have to settle for the good company.

This year’s rainfall and cold temps has sent viticulturists into a tizzy with fears that they’d miss the harvest window. No joke, the region saw more rain in a handful of March days than they usually see all year (the dry climate is one of the reasons the region is usually so ripe for wine growing). However, with four A-type personalities, there was nothing to do but soldier on with our bicycling winery tour plans. Plus, what better way to solidify this budding romance than with a jaunty wine-tasting tour of the countryside?

Home Sweet Home.

Home Sweet Home.

View of the Andes from the balcony.

View of the Andes from the balcony.

Donning cute dresses (Dave and Jeff, of course) and hopping on our seemingly trusty 2-wheeled steeds for the day, we set off for a day of wine tasting in this mountainous region of Argentina.

Spoiler Alert: It would only end in tears (again, Jeff and Dave).

Not only was it about 50 degrees (rendering the dresses absolutely ridiculous after 5 minutes), but most of our ride was on uneven gravel roads with no bike paths to be found, meaning we weaved precariously between traffic as we navigated the miles between vineyards. A flat tire and missing bike pedal later, we were ready to give up on Mendoza wine tasting. SERIOUSLY. YOU’RE TOTALLY RUINING OUR DATE!

Our fearless leaders…

To be fair, the three wineries we visited were really wonderful. The first, Vistalba, was a picturesque vineyard that literally made you stop and say, “We should get married here.” (Which we did propose…to the Immelways. They were oddly tentative.) (EDITOR’S NOTE: Let the record show that the first wine tasting was at 9:30. In the morning. Because wine apparently takes priority over time of day in these parts. So when in Rome…) With a dimly lit cellar and atmospheric tasting room (complete with a glass wall giving a peak at the rocky soil that somehow makes Mendoza wines so ridiculously delicious), this place was exactly what you wanted an Argentinean vineyard to look like.

A morning stroll through the vines.

A morning stroll through the vines.

Our cosy tasting room. (The tasting was accompanied by chocolate. Breakfast of champions.)

Our cosy tasting room under the vines. (The tasting was accompanied by chocolate. Breakfast of champions.)

A glimpse of the rocky soil through a glass wall in the tasting room. How anything grows here is amazing.

A glimpse of the rocky soil through a glass wall in the tasting room. How anything grows here is amazing.

After a quick change to jeans and long sleeves (SO not what I pictured for my South American wine-tasting ensemble), we made our way to Pulmary, the family-owned, organic vineyard that churns out a mere 40k bottles each year (in context, the vineyard we would visit next bottles 2 million per year).

But before that, we obviously (as the day’s events had been trending) got lost. Shockingly, the hand drawn map by our Mendoza host (who lived in the house next door) was NOT as clear as we had insisted it was. A moment of clarity: our host hand drew the map because maps of the area don’t exist. WHAT SORT OF WINE TASTING REGION DOESN’T HAVE WINERY MAPS?

Our first clue...(my favorite is the part labeled "mountains.")

Our first clue…(my favorite is the part labeled “mountains.”)

Dave asking directions from the man with 8 loudly barking dogs who only spoke Spanish. You can imagine how that conversation went.

Dave asking directions from the man with 8 loudly barking dogs who only spoke Spanish. You can imagine how that conversation went. (EDITOR’S NOTE: To be clear, the dogs and their owner spoke Spanish. And for the record, “woof” in Spanish is simply “woofé.”)

Our many detours paid off in spades as we rolled into Pulmary (after a personal, near-death experience with an SUV), and took a tour of the humble winery led by one of the owners, Ramiro. Tasting wine from a cask, a wine thief (a long metal syringe that pulls wine from barrels – brilliant name) and unlabeled bottle, we were sold. Add to that an incredible grilled meal in the winery’s gardens with a bottle of their Torrontés (a white wine grape grown only in Argentina and Chile and frequently called Liar’s Wine because you expect it to be sweet, but upon taste, it’s dry) and we were back in our happy place.

The objects of our affections.

The objects of our affection.

Ramiro pouring a Malbec straight from the wall casks.

Ramiro pouring a Malbec straight from the wall casks.

Jeff showing his extensive interest in the wine making process. Swoon.

Jeff showing his extensive interest in the wine making process.

Wine Thief. Comes in and steals yo' wine.

Wine Thief. Comes in and steals yo’ wine.

Lunch in Pulmary's pretty garden.

Lunch in Pulmary’s pretty garden.

The tools.

The tools.

The ingredients.

The ingredients.

The results.

The results.

Poncho is not impressed. Although he was VERY impressed with the bite of Dave's steak he refused to take no for an answer for.

Poncho is not impressed. Although he was VERY impressed with the bite of Dave’s steak he refused to take no for an answer for.

A final stop at Alta Vista Vineyard capped off the day with a “mass production” experience (robotic tour, industrial feel, but EXCELLENT tasting), and we were on our way home. Our 1 ½-hour, sweaty, unpaved way home.

The well-oiled machine, Alta Vista, produces over 2 million bottles of wine per year.

The well-oiled machine, Alta Vista, produces over 2 million bottles of wine per year.

Staying warm among the Alta Vista vines.

Staying warm among the Alta Vista vines.

Aaaaand this.

Aaaaand this.

Filling up a flat.

Filling up a flat.

You know, just trying to get the pedal back on the bike. (From these photos, it seems Dave was trying to woo them with his engineerial skills.)

You know, just trying to get the pedal back on the bike. (From these photos, it seems Dave was trying to woo them with his engineerial skills.)

Our dejected return. Via foot.

Our dejected return. Via foot.

Not to be deterred from our seduction tactics (and really, it was an amazing day, despite the continued comedy of errors), the next day, we hobbled into town (seriously, you spend a day on a bike, and we’ll talk) we headed into downtown Mendoza to see what exactly “downtown” had to offer. A stroll through town showcased lovely greenspaces, beautiful tree-lined streets and – of course – delicious culinary offerings.

An irrigation system devised in the 1500s brought water from the mountains, allowing more people to live in the city. The system is still used today. (These wide trenches, or acquias, run along all city streets, watering the approximately 100,000 trees.)

An irrigation system devised in the 1500s brought water from the mountains, allowing more people to live in the city. The system is still used today. (These wide trenches, or acquias, run along all city streets, watering the approximately 100,000 trees.)

The thriving trees line the streets of downtown Mendoza.

The thriving trees line the streets of downtown Mendoza.

I call this the Adult Happy Meal. Take note, Chicago.

I call this the Adult Happy Meal. Take note, Chicago.

Local ice cream is amazing. Our stop at Famiglia Perin gave us the sugar rush  needed to keep us to the next meal.

Local ice cream is amazing. Our stop at Famiglia Perin gave us the sugar rush needed to keep us to the next meal.

First up on our continued commitment to eating our way through the city was Anna Bistro, where we lazed in their vine-draped courtyard for a delicious meal of ojo de bife (ribeye), stuffed ravioli and lasagna (luckily, we’re all sharers). Burning the calories with a quick stroll through the massive city park, we quickly returned to our wonton ways in the form of a couple penguin-shaped carafes of wine at Palenque.

Anna's Bistro highlights.

Anna Bistro highlights.

Who needs Match.com when you have Mendoza?

Who needs Match.com when you have Mendoza?

Outdoor seats at El Palenque.

We found it very amusing that the wine pours from the penguin's mouth. It's the small things, you know?

We found it very amusing that the wine pours from the penguin’s mouth. It’s the small things, you know?

This was followed by what can only be described as knock-down, drag-out A+ meal meal at Siete Cocinas. No really. If you’re in the area, make like Nike and just do it. The meal started with succulent sweetbreads clay oven cooked on molasses and purple pizza made with Api dough, arugula, cheese and pistachios, both of which were immediately shamed by the veal tail tortellini, rabbit confit in leek soup, clay oven roasted Patagonian lamb and roasted goat main courses. The chef made a regular hangout of our table, and we left with drool-crusted chins wishing we could take Mendoza home with us when we went.

The lamb.

The lamb.

The goat.

The goat.

My hot date.

My hot date.

And to really test the boundaries of consumption, the next day we visited MUN restaurant at Casarena Winery. Located on the sprawling, 249-acre vineyard with stunning views of the snow-streaked Andes, we would have been pleased enough with spending time on the patio alone. But when a glass of champagne was put in my hand as I crossed the entry threshold, I was happy to oblige the move inside.

The stunning view of the Andes from MUN.

The stunning view of the Andes from MUN.

Dave showing off with the camera.

Dave showing off with the camera.

The unique table shape made for ample opportunity for longing gazes.

The unique table shape made for ample opportunity for longing gazes.

Bauers + Immelways 4Eva

Bauers + Immelways

The 5-course tasting menu paired with local wines brought palate surprises dish after dish. Not only did we gaze out on the Andes as we supped on fresh sushi, perfectly prepared filet and crisp, flavor-fueled greens, but we did so as we sipped on the best wine in the land. This holiday romance was shaping up to be one for the long haul.

Crispy greens, cherry tomatos, mandarin orange, cashews, wontons and served with a vial of orange honey-mustard dressing. Yes a vial. It was awesome. This course was paired with a 2012 Chardonnay.

Crispy greens, cherry tomatoes, mandarin orange, cashews, wontons and served with a vial of orange honey-mustard dressing. Yes a vial. It was awesome.

Chilean Salmon nigiri & Yellowfin Tuna on crispy rice. Paired with Resreva Pinot Noir 2011, this was hands down my favorite course.

Chilean Salmon nigiri & Yellowfin Tuna on crispy rice. Paired with Resreva Pinot Noir 2011, this was hands down my favorite course.

Dim Sum Pork Buns

Dim Sum Pork Buns

Korean-style rib eye paired with their Reserva Malbec 2011. Yes.

Korean-style rib eye paired with their Reserva Malbec 2011. Yes.

The meal was capped with a Lemon Panna Cotta with Strawberry Coulis & Cocoa and a cider wine.

The meal was capped with a Lemon Panna Cotta with Strawberry Coulis & Cocoa and a cider wine.

We spent that final evening in the most picturesque country hotel in the area – a surprise treat from Caitlin and Jeff that we lapped up like a kitten and its mother’s milk a fine Argentinean Torrontés (that felt more appropriate here). We have some pretty great friends. A last supper spent in the quiet kitchens of our scenic abode and hours chatting and laughing over more good food and great wine, we felt pretty damn lucky. We had met…The Ones.

Cue angels.

Cue angels.

THESE FACES!

THESE FACES!

And then just like that, it was over.

You can imagine the scene. Anger and betrayal bled to desperation and begging for a second chance. Heartbreak set in when we realized the split was for keepsies.

We waved goodbye to our dear friends as they boarded a bus heading back to Santiago to catch a flight. Drying our tears we realized we were, once again, alone. Our holiday romance had ended.

Mendoza Sign copyLeft in pieces, Dave and I spent another 4 nights in the little town we’d learned to love, giving us time to nurse our broken hearts. We were listless, with no clue of our next move. We had spent our time in New Zealand, well, enjoying New Zealand or planning the visit with Caitlin and Jeff, and in any free time, drawing hearts around “Immelways + Bauers 4Eva.” Now we were left stranded in Mendoza with 5 weeks left before we had to return home ourselves.

It was time to reevaluate our future without them. Head north to Salta for more wine tasting and national parks? Head south to Patagonia to brave the cold as we hiked peaks as Dave longed to?

We spent our first breakfast eating our feelings. Medialunas (basically glazed croissants) and dulce de leche (basically caramel sauce) seemed to do the trick.

We spent our first breakfast eating our feelings. Medialunas (basically glazed croissants) and dulce de leche (basically caramel sauce) seemed to do the trick.

Well, we’d have 5 days for that sort of contemplation, and between long hours spent online and nose deep in our SA Lonely Planet book, we managed to enjoy Mendoza to its fullest capacity. Already satiated on red meat and wine tasting, we spent the next few days…well…eating red meat and wine tasting. (IT’S MENDOZA PEOPLE, WHAT’D YOU EXPECT?)

After our last experience with wine tasting in this yet-to-be-finessed rocky region, we were tentative (and yet, oddly determined) to venture out into the second wine “suburb” of Mendoza – Maipu. 5 hours, 2 bicycles, many potholes, countless angry, honking cars, one closed restaurant AND ONLY 2 VINEYARDS later, we had to accede that perhaps Mendoza could benefit by spending a little more time on its wine tourism industry that is currently focused on exportation (not that we don’t TOTALLY appreciate those efforts while in America, shopping the rows and rows of Mendoza wines at Binny’s). But just a little more road maintenance and consistency in hours could do wonders for this grape-rich mecca.

The two vineyards we did get to were really lovely. Carinae had a peaceful garden where we enjoyed one of their incredible Octans wine after the tasting (sold only from the vineyard) and an impromptu basic, but tasty chorizo and cheese plate (see above: closed restaurant). This respite was necessary as it took nearly an hour and a half to pedal to the vineyard from our bike rental pick-up spot. Sigh.

Cozy Carinae Winery. They name all their wines after constellations, scoring big with us loyal star-gazing fans.

Cozy Carinae Winery. They name all their wines after constellations, scoring big with us loyal star-gazing fans.

A bottle of Octans in the gardens. Gathering our energy for the next ride.

A bottle of Octans in the gardens. Gathering our energy for the next ride.

And with just enough time to enjoy the last tasting of the day at one of the oldest vineyards in Mendoza, Familia Di Tomasso, we gladly sipped their delicious Malbecs and Cab Savs and admired their nearly century-old brick fermentation tanks. More importantly, we proved to ourselves that we could find happiness outside the confines of the Immelway vortex.

So the visit was absolutely not all for naught, but we were ready to throw in the towel. The rest of the wines during our stay would be purchased from the local liquor store.

And of course, you have to beware of...these.

And of course, you have to beware of…hamsters?

But as they say – all can be cured with a bloody slab of red meat. You know them. They’re always saying that.

And while some would say that missing our beloveds had made food lose its flavor, we’re more in the camp of “eat to make you forget.” So not wasting any time, we booked a tasty meal at Azafran, consisting of ceviche, orange-infused risotto (amazing) and a perfectly-cooked pork dish. However, the real star of the place was the wine room. Before you order your meal, you’re invited to peruse their wine room to select the bottle of wine for your meal (assisted, of course, by the on-hand sommelier). Nice move Azafran.

The wine room. Ripe for the picking.

The wine room. Ripe for the picking.

Dave perusing our options.

Dave perusing our options.

The winner! Selected for label (me) and price point (Dave).

The winner! Selected for label (me) and price point (Dave).

And just when we though our foodie adventures couldn’t get any tastier, we went to the Mendoza institution, 1884. Chef Frances Mallman’s signature restaurant is in an old winery (established in – yep – 1884) and accessed only through an unmarked door, giving the whole experience a very mysterious and romantic air. Known for his fire-based cooking, a quick walk in the gardens reveal traditional Argentine barbecues and the chefs at work. It was here we had arguably the best steak in Argentina. After our innocuous arrival, we dined on marinated prawns, prepared-to-perfection ojo de bife and the succulent seven-hour grilled lamb. Had we found our new perfect match??

The door. OR IS IT???

The door. OR IS IT???

The shrimp served sizzling in an iron casket as an app was amazing.

The shrimp app served sizzling in an iron skillet was amazing.

Dave's order: ojo de bife (of course), I opted for the 8 hour lamb.

Ojo de bife and lamb. Nom.

Prepared to medium-rare perfection.

Prepared to medium-rare perfection.

Perhaps not, but we were back in the saddle. Literally. We made the decision to spend our last day a little closer to the mountains we’d ogled at from a distance for so long. We rode horses through the Andes. And yes, it was as awesome as it sounds.

Picked up by Nacho, our very own gaucho (the equivalent of our “cowboys” but way more badass), we and a minivan full of other lasso-dreaming outlaws headed to the foot of the Andes for an afternoon of hoofed adventure and asado (like our BBQs, but again, more badass). Poor Dave was partnered with feisty Maria who seemed determined to make him work for his dinner, while I was seated on obedient – although sassy enough to earn my affection – Gus.

My cowboy.

My cowboy.

Weaving through the Andes.

Weaving through the Andes.

A mild equine flirtation  was explored, but my guy was soon over Maria’s “look at me” tactics of bucking Dave, refusing to move and sprinting across the dusty flat stretches.

A mild equine flirtation was explored, but my guy was soon over Maria’s “look at me” tactics of bucking Dave, refusing to move and sprinting across the dusty flat stretches.

Gus.

Gus.

Our lead gaucho. Looking exactly as you'd think.

Our lead gaucho, Alejandro. Looking exactly as you’d expect.

Gone a-wanderin'

Gone a-wanderin’

An added bonus to the already awesome evening was our unexpected post-Immelway rebound – Dee and Zarius, a funny Irish girl (again with enough sass to make me love her), and a South African Matthew Fox (true story). We built a solid foundation on red table wine and grilled meat, and developed it further over fireside dancing. You know, the usual.

The four of us on the right. We look good together, right?

The four of us on the right. We look good together, right?

Campfire singing with new friends.

Campfire kumbaya.

Gaucho serenade.

Alejandro, bringing sexy back.

NACHO!

NACHO!

After sharing a final lunch of a greasy lomo completo the next day (the perfect meal for the day after such activities), we bid goodbye to our new friends (this time on our terms). Realizing we were finally ready to open our hearts again to the unknown, we hopped a bus to a place not even previously on our radar.

Buenos Aires.

Meat, cheese, egg. All you need.

Meat, cheese, egg. All you need. We were ready to go.

What do you think?

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