Day 32, 01FEB2017
Welcome to the second month of our world travels!
This morning we enjoyed a brief breakfast among the bright colors of our AirBnB before Trout and Wine Tours picked us up.
We set off grabbing two other couples and a single traveler who had just summited Aconcagua two days prior. The bus arrived at our first winery at 0930 after an in depth historical description of Argentinian wine by our guide Ricardo.
Wine at 0930? Why not?
The first winery, Matervina, specialized solely in Malbec. Malbec is a glorious wine, anyone who knows me knows I adore the varietal. Argentina is most famous for its Malbec, hands down. The grape was brought from France and prospered in Argentina’s climate and soil construct, thus Argentina now holds international medals for the premier Malbecs.
Matervina had a storied history of Italians and Argentinians collaborating and then separating. While the story was interesting, what was fascinating was the numerous pockets of Malbec growing regions the estate now owns as a result of shifts in its corporate structure. As a result, the winery can focus on a single type of wine, but produce variations of taste and aroma due to the terroir whence the grapes are farmed.
Set in a beautiful and vibrant green setting in line of sight of the Andes Mountains, this winery is fully “off the grid.” That is, they produce their own energy and renewable water resources, making them one of the first to do so in all of Argentina. Their story becomes even more intriguing when the actual wine tasting began.
By 1015 the seven of us were seated in executive lounge chairs upon an outdoor balcony overlooking the splendid vineyards and mountains. In front of us we were presented with plates piled high of Malbec grapes, freshly cut from the vine. And then we were introduced to the finished product. Four wines in total, each representing a different region where the winery grows their grapes.
Perhaps most fascinating was the stark difference between the wines! Grapes grown in the vineyard we visited tasted drastically different from those grown in drier regions, or those grown in even wetter regions. We were on a geographical journey through the Malbec grape.
After our glasses we piled into the bus and disembarked for Renacer.
Renacer was owned by a Chilean-Italian family and their massive vineyard produced a whole gamut of varietals.
We began our tour here at 1130 and it took us through the vineyards, over irrigation canals, to the men sewing drying racks for the late season harvest grapes, to the fermentation tanks, the bottle labeling line, the tasting room for high-paying clients, and finally to our tasting room.
We tasted six wines at Renacer. Starting with a crisp and clean Sauv-Blanc comparing it to the oak-finished Chardonnay. We then tasted an entry-level Renacer Malbec (so named because the wine is not aged, it goes from fermentation to the bottle and is light and easy to drink), and compared it to a Reserva Single-Vineyard Malbec. Clearly the distinction was obvious, the reserve wine with its aging tasted more robust, smoky, and full.
As a fifth wine we were challenged to combine the previous two and using a graduated cylinder measure our own Malbec blend. I chose 17ml of the “oaky freedom” as I named the reserve, and 7ml of the “entry fruit juice.” My result was vanilla bacon.
Our sixth wine was a finished product from the drying racks. Renacer late harvests grapes already sweeter than the usual grapes and dries them on racks made of finely sewn mesh further sweetening the fruit before fermenting. This product is then blended so that the sweetness is not overpowering. Josh gave this wine three checks, he really enjoyed it; I found it to be too sweet for my liking.
Before departing the winery we played with the vineyard dogs – their one job in life is to protect the vineyard’s ducks from stray dogs.
The next stop was absolutely THE finest.
At Casarena we were treated to a seven course fine dining meal paired with five beautiful wines. Our lunch began at 1300 and we continued well until 1500, sharing stories and experiences around the table. We all sort of just clicked, granted wine does that for strangers, but in truth we really did all get along.
Our starter was Chardonnay 505 paired with a “pear and cucumber soup with citrus and almonds.” The soup was presented in a cute little pottery shot glass and served just above frozen such that when the chilled soup met your tongue it melted presenting an amazing sensation and taste. Along with the Chardonnay we were also served “Italian squash ravioli, lemon and watercress.” The ravioli was actually made of thinly sliced zucchini and the filing was a perfect balance of salty and creamy ricotta.
Moving on we were treated to a pairing of Rose 505 with “red beet terrine, three ways: strawberries, balsamic and pink pepper.” While I enjoyed this wine, this portion of the meal itself was my least favorite, albeit still delicious.
Our third wine pairing was that of Ramanegra Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon with “Pastrami, chickpea puree, black olives powder, black pepper, red onions and sage.” This wine was hands down my favorite at Casarena and the meal served on a tree slab was my second favorite. There is something fantastic about a great wine pairing when the food and the wine combine its just magic.
The main course for today was a Casarena S.V. Petit Verdot paired with “grilled filet mignon, radish, leeks, spunta potato, red tomato confit, and a Malbec-honey emulsion with fresh oregano.” Read that description again.
Heavenly sounding isn’t it?
To be completely fair this was, and will be the best steak Josh and I experience in all of Argentina. Our guide facilitated all our non-Argentinian requests to have medium rare steak prepared for us and by goodness was it successful! This steak was crispy from fat and salt on the outside, yet tender and juicy pink on the inside. This steak didn’t need wine, it didn’t need an emulsion, or potatoes, but it came with all of it and that made it all the better.
Truly, a masterpiece.
Our final wine today was the Ramanegra Sidra Espumante paired with two dessert profiles. The first was a “granny smith apple and zafron granite” which was chilled and mushy but surprisingly delightful. The second dessert was “dulce de leche and toffee ice cream traditional alfajor.” The final dessert was also served with espresso if one so chose, I certainly partook because we still had another winery to tour and having nearly finished two bottles each by this point in the day I needed a pick me up.
After Casarena we were all very talkative and excited. This lunch truly made our vacations that much better!
The final winery was Alta Vista, a short tour led us through the storage cellar and past rows of the family’s oldest prized wines, and then in the tasting room we were treated to four wines.
Unfortunately, by this moment we were all a little past wanting to try more wines. Josh and I did procure a bottle from Alta Vista, which turned out to be exceptional, but we don’t remember any of the wines we tasted being that great.
Returning to Mendoza our bus of rapid friends decided to meet for a second round of tasting adventure. This time we opted for beers during the Irish Bar happy hour. Six of us returned to the drinking game, and only after tacos and margaritas did we go separate ways at 0100 in the morning.