Saturday, October 23, 2010

Experiencia Del Fin del Mundo

So, here it is the final entry for the South America sojourn. It's our last full day in B.A., the Big Apple, Buenos Aires and we had a few matters that still required attending to.

Other than shopping for gifts throughout the day, we needed to get back to the Casa Rosada. We'd previously driven by on our tour and we saw it all lit up at night but we couldn't get close enough for decent pictures - primarily because of all the fencing and military guards as there was one of the seemingly endless protests going on in the neighbouring Plaza de Mayo and the near-by streets.

Missing a full-on viewing of one of the world's most famous balconies just wasn't an option. After all, it's not only historical but it's been front and centre in both stage and film versions of "Evita" and it's played actual centre stage for both Eva Peron AND Madonna. Not to mention that I'd seen Patti Lupone perform the iconic stretch of arms during the original production of the musical on Broadway. I was afraid that, if I didn't get back to pay my respects, I might have to return my "gay card."

Another iconic location in the city was today's daily stop to re-caffinate Boo. Cafe Tortoni is perhaps the most famous coffeehouse in Buenos Aires and that's saying something because there is no shortage of coffeehouses here. Established more than 150 years ago, the Old World decor and feel is simply an integral part of B.A. lifestyle - whether you're a local Porteno or a tourist. It's not exactly the place to go for high end dining but it served the goods for people-watching and as a last chance to finish off postcards for the gang back home.

Despite the welcome rest and coffee, there were t-shirts to be found and leather to be located. Naturally, there were some additional monuments and statues passed along the way, but we'd pretty much reached the realization that, if we haven't seen it by now, whatever we were missing was going to stay missed.

One thing that wasn't going to be passed up, however, was our dinner that evening. I'd mentioned, in an earlier post, that I would have dearly liked to visit Bodega Del Fin del Mundo - the winery at the end of the world. I'd enjoyed meeting their rep at the Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival last spring but there just wasn't going to be any chance to make it down to Patagonia on this vacation. Diego had mentioned that making it to the "end of the world" can be a bit of a trial for many a visitor, so the winery came up with the idea of bringing a bit of Patagonia to Buenos Aires.

Many wineries - both in Argentina and throughout the world - now feature on-site restaurants as part of the whole vineyard adventure. Del Fin del Mundo has tweaked that concept and brought their winery to the people. They are the first winery to open their own restaurant in Buenos Aires. Featuring all levels of their wines and serving up specialty foods from the Southern province, Experiencia Del Fin del Mundo gives everyone in B.A. the chance to taste what Patagonia has to offer - even if they can't make their way out of the actual city.

Diego was going to be out of the country on business but he lined us up and we were heartily greeted at the restaurant by the manager, Federico, and by four glasses of wine from the end of the world. We decided to simply let the sommelier and restaurant take us where they wanted to - and it was pretty much heaven. There must be something to the fact that the New York Times identified Patagonia Wine Country as the second entry on an adventure travel list of "The 31 Places to Go in 2010."

I've mentioned previously that Bodega Del Fin del Mundo is a relatively new kid on the block. Certain parts of Patagonia have long been home to grapevines but those regions were better known for tree fruit than wine. Any wineries that were in the area were more experimental than commercial. Realistically, it's only the last ten to fifteen years that have seen the introduction of modernized wineries and - despite the continual appearance of new vineyards at a rapid pace - there's still only a handful currently operating. Del Fin del Mundo pioneered the new region of Neuquen and its first vintage was in 2003 - after years of establishing the vineyards.

Located in one of the Southernmost wine regions on the planet (Chile, New Zealand and Tasmania also make claims), the area is constantly windy. This helps keep the vines dry and more disease resistant, but it also meant that the winery had to surround all their vineyards with windbreak screens and even protect each plant with its own individual shell. It also helps create a climate that allows the wineries to successfully grow varietals - such as Pinot Noir and Semillon - that aren't regularly associated with Argentina.

Despite its recent arrival Del Fin del Mundo has already established itself as a major player. It has become one of Argentina's largest exporters and is estimating that total capacity may eventually hit 8 million litres. They already produce a full spectrum of commercial through premium wines - but, tonight, we were visiting the higher end. We were particularly pleased with their Extra Brut bubbly and the Pinot Noir and how they paired with the house pate and Patagonian prawns that we dined on.

We were rather thrilled when our entrees of lamb ragout and lomo beef were accompanied by a couple new glasses and a bottle that just happened to stay behind at our table. Good thing too, because we were highly motivated to keep refilling our glasses.

628. 2007 Bodega Del Fin del Mundo Special Blend (Patagonia - Argentina)

The Special Blend is one of Del Fin del Mundo's premium wines and was one of the wines that I got to try at the Playhouse Festival last spring. It was also a prime reason for my attraction to the winery. A "traditional" Bordeaux or Meritage blend of Cab Sauv, Malbec and Merlot, I didn't see a breakdown for this vintage but I did see online that the 2006 was apparently 40/40/20. I do know, however, that the wine was a smooth and wonderful last bottle on our trip.

We've done a lot of wining and dining throughout the vacation, but this was definitely right up there at the top. We were told that the restaurant has become a place for Portenos in the know and I can certainly understand why. Stunning decor, great food, friendly service and impressive wine. It was a great night - particularly after our cab ride home. In a city of countless cabs, our last trip home was perhaps our wildest. Maybe it was just a Friday night vibe, but our cabbie was as much a character as we could imagine (while not being able to understand him). He was bouncing away, having a grand old time, as he weaved through traffic, playing an endless assortment of remixes of Pitbull's Bon Bon (We No Speak Americano). I'd never heard the song before but it's now one of those tunes that will forever be associated with a particular place and time.

I wish we could bundle the whole Experiencia up and take it home with us. I guess we'll have to settle for some wine and memories for the time being. With any luck, we might make it back down here and maybe to Patagonia itself in the days to come. In the mean time, I guess it's back to reality.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Like a Milion

After a day at the ranch (well, maybe a couple of hours anyhow), we made it back to the big city. We hadn't known when we were scheduled to get back from the estancia, so we hadn't made any plans for the evening.

As such, we thought we'd just play it by ear and figured that we could start it out with a bit of stroll in the Puerto Madero area of town. We'd been told that the new iconic bridge was particularly stunning at night. Unfortunately for us, the area is still undergoing a renovation and revitalization and there wasn't a whole lot open at night. There are tons of restaurants along the riverwalk during the day, but the place was fairly empty at night. In fact, walking away from the area and back into the vibrant downtown, Boo and I probably felt our least safe and most vulnerable. No harm was done though. It just meant we needed a drink.

And we found that drink at Milion, another of the restaurant/bars that were recommended by our apartment hosts. Milion is an old French Beaux Arts mansion from the early 20th Century that has been restored and opened as one of the reigning hot spots on the B.A. nightlife scene. We were lucky enough to get a table in the garden courtyard.

While going over the wine list, I realized that we were quickly coming to the end of our trip and we still hadn't added a bottle of the Bonarda varietal to The List yet. It made the evening's choice easier.

627. 2008 Bodegas Nieto Senetiner Bonarda (Mendoza - Argentina)

I'd been hoping to try some of Argentina's "other" red varietal during our trip but a full bottle had thus far eluded us. Only recently taken over as the most widely planted varietal in Argentina, Bonarda has traditionally been used for bulk wine production. Consequently, it isn't nearly as well known as Malbec once you leave the pampas.

It's pretty much guaranteed that the grape was introduced to Argentina from Italy by the waves of immigrants that arrived on the South American shores and moved to Mendoza. It's actual heritage remains undetermined however. There are actually three grapes that are known as Bonarda in Italy; however, none of them are likely the varietal that is still grown in Argentina. Apparently, the grape here is more likely the same as Charbeno or Corbeau as that varietal is called respectively in California and France. A definitive match remains to be completed.

In any event, Bonarda (as grown in Argentina) is becoming better known as growers and vintners look to produce a varietal wine based more on quality than quantity. I didn't find out a lot about Nieto Seteliner as a producer, however, I did read on one site that it is a pioneer in the production of Bonarda.

In general, the grape tends to a lighter and fruitier wine, but it can produce a wine of substance if the vines are thinned and the grapes are fully ripened. I think we hit a happy medium with our bottle. It matched up to Boo's beef (I don't think he ate anything but cow once we crossed the Andes) and to my pasta.

As for that beef and pasta, it wasn't the best meal we had on the trip but the setting was well worth it - and I got the distinct impression that the young, stylish Portenos that were packing the place were here more for the romance and the booze than they were for the food.
I likely could have added a nightcap after dinner, but these late-starting dinner hours was beginning to take their toll. We moseyed up a crowded staircase to check out the beautifully appointed lounge and bar on the second floor, but, despite the inviting comfort, this old fart needed to get home to bed as midnight approached - even on vacation, it seems that the witching hour take its toll on my delicate constitution.

I pulled the attached picture for this post as I thought it was a shot of the Milion mansion but I realized it wasn't the restaurant. Same look, but it was our apartment building. I'd taken the night shot when we arrived back home. Nice digs, eh?

Tomorrow was to be our last full day in town - and we haven't done any shopping yet for the gang back in Vancouver. Guess that good night's sleep was more needed than I'd originally thought.

Ride 'em Gaucho

OK, so the evening of tango and passion didn't exactly pan out as planned last night. But today brings about an opportunity to take in another aspect of iconic Argentine life. We're off to spend the day at El Ombu de Areco - an historic and working ranch - gauchos and all.

The century old estancia is located about an hour and a half out of Buenos Aires and our hope was to experience yet another slice of Argentina on the 750 acre expanse. Never having been on a working ranch before, the drive up to the estancia - the final so many miles being over ubiquitous red soil, dirt roads - truly was a feeling that we were about to enter a whole new world.

As soon as we'd arrived at the ranch and saw the main house/mansion, it reminded me of the plantations I'd seen in the American South. Despite the lure of big city lights, I was already wishing that we'd made arrangements to stay the night. As it was, we only had about an hour to wander around the lands to take in the atmosphere before we were to join up for an asado barbeque with the other guests. I'd rather hoped to take a horse ride and see a wider expanse of the property, but that apparently had to booked in advance. Guess that might teach me to make assumptions since I didn't do any research about the property beforehand. My bad.

We still had a bit of an opportunity to wander around. It was certainly interesting watching a flock of parrots flying around and foraging in the fields. And who would have thought that they'd pasture cattle and llamas in the same sections. There was one rather surly looking bull but the llamas didn't seem fazed in the least.

The lunch was served al fresco by the large "tree" that is the namesake of the estancia. The ombu, however, isn't a tree at all but is a very large herb that is characteristic of the pampas. This particular plant is over 60 years old and has been a hitching post for horses for most of that time.

If our lunch was any indication of the meals served up on the property, the ranch hands certainly won't have to worry about ever going hungry. We had plate after plate of barbeque or asado brought to the table - all the different cuts of beef you could imagine and all raised on the ranch itself.

626. 2008 El Ombu de Areco Malbec (Mendoza - Argentina)

Our hostess saw me looking at the bottle and label - sporting the same logo as the estancia - and she came over to explain that they haven't added winemaking to the ranch duties. Rather, they had a Mendocinan winery bottle the wine under a private label for them. The winery was Bodega Atilio Avena - yet another one that I'd never run across before - and, like so many others that we'd encountered, it saw its origins with Italian immigrants who started growing grapes and eventually decided to get into the business themselves. In their circumstances, the farm was founded in 1955 and the family started the winery in 1975. It remains family run and operated.

There's no doubt that this will likely be the only bottle of El Ombu de Areco to make The List. I gather it's only available at the estancia and is only served to guests. An easy drinking Malbec, it went down easily with the food and atmosphere. In fact, we easily could have done some damage to a second bottle when one of the resident gauchos pulled out his guitar and started to serenade the assembled group.

Unfortunately, our guide pulled us aside and said that it was time for us to move on to the next part of our itinerary. I was rather surprised as there was to be more examples of the estancia life being presented. I didn't fight it, however, I just took it as further confirmation that we should have stayed for the night. Our excursion was to continue at the gaucho museum in the neighbouring town of San Antonio de Areco, the town itself having been declared of national interest, by presidential decree.

The only problem was that the museum wasn't open. Now, this wasn't something that I'd arranged. Having to leave the estancia early seemed like a bit of a bust however.

A wander around the town's colonial streets and central plaza and a quick pop into the parish church sure presented a contrast to the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires. We dropped by one of the old pulperias - or general store/bars - and it was like stepping back into history. If I'd really been thinking things through, I would have said that we needed to stop for a drink. I don't think we could have been much further off the beaten path and I don't think the extra half hour or so would have made the slightest bit of difference.

Oh well, another lesson learned. Besides, it likely would have had to have been a beer. I don't know what the wine list would have been like.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

No Garden Variety wine

After spending the better part of the last two days hiking endlessly through Buenos Aires, our feet were crying out for a rest. Accordingly, we planned an easier go of it. We made a leisurely start to the morning and decided to hit one of the city's museums. MALBA is a fairly new addition to the B.A. art scene, having had its inaugural opening in 2001. Its mission is to focus on modern art from across the Latin American spectrum and to present it in a global continuum.

Boo quickly found out that cameras and the taking of photos weren't allowed at all. He managed to sneak in a couple of shots as a reminder of some of the more engaging pieces. In the same vein that I'm hardly an opera buff, I make no claim of understanding the slightest thing about art. I enjoy taking in an artist's vision and there certainly was some intriguing visions on display here, but I think I do better discussing the intricacies of a good wine.

Following MALBA, we located a great little deli/bakery and we loaded up for leisurely picnic. We'd decided to check out the Botanical Garden, hoping that it might offer up a nice spot for lunch. The hoof there was a bit longer than we'd expected. Luckily, there's never a shortage of monuments, plazas and sights to see along the way, but it did mean that we were all the more ready for a good sit and, finally, a bit of wine during our daily rounds.

Having passed through the Japanese Gardens first, the Botanical Gardens were a pleasant surprise. We didn't really know what to expect. I'd read that the recent economic difficulties in Argentina had left the gardens in a state of disrepair for some time and that they had become a home for a seemingly endless parade of cats that had been abandoned by their owners. In 2004, a local group had taken up the cause of restoring the Gardens and, to our enjoyment, their efforts were seeing appreciable success. The grounds remain rather frayed around the edges but we found a bench in a quiet little groomed area that was more reminiscent of Europe than the pampas, but it was just what we were looking for.

625. 2007 Domaine St. Diego Paradigma (Mendoza - Argentina)

After last night's "miss" on the sparkling Brut Xero, we went right back to an Angel Mendoza wine to see if we'd simply been caught up in the charm of the winery visit when we so enjoyed the wines. No need to worry. This bottle was everything wonderful that we'd originally remembered and I'm already wishing that we could find it back home in Vancouver.

The name "Paradigma" comes from a paradigm that Mr. Mendoza and other winemakers regularly face - showing the wine world that a high quality red wine can be made without the use of oak. A blend of Malbec, Cab Franc and Cab Sauv (60/20/20), there's a reliance on his vineyards and the fruit being produced to result in sufficient structure and profile for a successful wine. No issue here.

Once the bottle had been drained - which didn't take long at all - we continued with a tour of the Gardens. Then the feet said, "grab a cab and take me home."

I had one more goal for the afternoon. Our apartment wasn't far from Libreria El Ateneo - a bookstore to end all bookstores. In its previous life, El Ateneo had been both a concert hall theatre and a movie house. It was now a monument to literature. With four floors of books and music, you can comfortably sit back and peruse a book in one of the concert boxes or, better yet, enjoy a coffee or lunch on the old stage that's been converted into a splendid little cafe. There was no better place to put pen to the postcards that had been patiently waiting to be sent.

Tonight was meant to be our adventure into the world of tango. We'd put off attending one of the ubiquitous tango shows because the plan was to actually take classes at a gay milonga or tango hall. Problem was that, come the given hour, there didn't seem to be anything happening at the address given on the website. No sign. No open door. No tango. Darn it. We had to settle for a brief street show by buskers on the nearby pedestrian mall. It was almost enough to drive a guy to drink.

I'm not sure, but it might have been a sign. After all, our feet were pretty tender to start and I have a feeling that, despite the passion and desire, Boo's and my ability to avoid stumbling all over the other's feet would have been rather suspect. Better we stick to wine.

Graveyards, Opera & Bubbles

As briefly mentioned in an earlier posting, visiting the La Recoleta Cemetery was one of Boo's most anticipated moments for the entire trip - and today was the day.

Established in 1822, La Recoleta Cemetery was the first public cemetery in Buenos Aires and it houses the final resting places for many of the city's greatest families - including presidents, generals, sportsmen and cultural figures. The cemetery is designed almost as a small city where the quiet, but crowded, avenues can house approximately 4700 tombs and mausoleums. There's even a map of the cemetery that highlights the location of many of the most notable inhabitants. The tombs themselves range from the most elaborate and richly decorated to the simple and even the unkempt.

We knew very little Argentine history and the various family names meant little to us. All the same, there are few art galleries that feature such a varied array of statements on life and world viewpoints - with styles ranging from Neoclassical, Neogothic, Art Deco and modern. Luckily, we had a guide book that pointed out a few tombs of interest - such as the one above where a 19 year old girl was buried. Legend has it that she was merely in a coma - and not dead - when she was laid to rest. Shortly thereafter, she came out of the coma and security guards heard her screaming. By the time anyone could reach her, she had died of a heart attack. The story tells of scratches on the coffin and her face. The mother was so racked with guilt that she had the coffin and tomb completely rebuilt. Her daughter now rests behind a pane of glass so that, if she wakes up, she can be rescued this time.

Considering the endless time that Boo had accorded my wine tours, he was allowed to stay as long as he wanted to. A couple hours of wandering the alleys proved to be even overwhelming for him. It's unfortunate that we didn't time our visit such that we were able to take one of the English tours that are available. I think we managed to satiate his desires though. Although we'd seen hundreds of tombs and taken even more pictures, we still had to locate the biggest "draw" in the cemetery - the tomb of Evita Peron and the Duarte family.

This was not the original resting place of Eva Peron. Indeed, there's an entire history of how her embalmed body had been stolen when her husband, Juan Peron, had been overthrown by a military coup. The body had been secretly buried in Italy for years. Her body was eventually returned to Argentina and buried in the family crypt at La Recoleta. The Argentine government has taken such extensive measures to secure the tomb that it is often told that the Duarte tomb could withstand a nuclear bomb.

Our original plan had been to open a bottle of bubbly and toast Evita while in the cemetery. We rethought that activity upon finding that Evita's tomb is perpetually crowded with visitors and a steady stream of picture taking and tour groups. We were just going to have to postpone our little toast to history.

Calling out to us - almost as much as La Recoleta - were the choripan carts located down by the river and the ecological reserve. We'd seen them on the tour bus but didn't stop. We'd been told that, if you wanted to experience chorizo heaven, this would be the place to do so. There were dozens of carts and picking the right one seemed a bit like trying to decide which bottle of wine to buy. We went with one of the most crowded and had one of the most filling and well-priced meals of the trip.

Fully sated, with aching feet, we grabbed the first cab we could find and made our way back to the apartment to sit back with our bottle of wine.

624. Domaine St. Diego Brut Xero - Cuvee Dogma (Mendoza - Argentina)

This was one of the bottles that we'd picked up while visiting the winery in Mendoza - and I'd really been looking forward to popping the cork. A bubbly made using the classic, and labour intensive, Methode Champenoise, it's very non-classic in the fact that it's made of 70% Malbec Blanc de Noir and 30% Chardonnay. I don't think this is wine that you'll find at many other wineries - at least outside of Argentina.

When posting our visit to Domaine St. Diego, I'd mentioned that some of their vineyard has rows of grapes alternating with grand olive trees. As you might expect, the trees tend to shade the vines, in turn delaying the ripening process. This results in higher acidity levels in the grapes than would normally be found in the warm Mendoza climate, but this is exactly what is wanted in the production of sparkling wine - where most winemakers don't want ripe fruit overwhelming the subtlety of the bubbles.

I honestly hate to admit that I didn't enjoy this wine nearly as much as I'd wanted to. I loved the winery so much and I wanted this to be a feather in the cap of Argentine wine. The flavour profile did nothing for me though. It neither reminded me of a good Champagne nor of a fruitier Prosseco or the like. It might have been that we needed to drink it with something more substantial than a bit of fruit and some pastry, but I likely won't get the chance to test that theory since I'm not too likely to find another bottle back home in Vancouver.

Maybe, it's simply because we didn't open it at Evita's tomb as we'd planned. Or maybe we should have taken it along with us for the evening's activities.

We didn't have long to dwell on - or drown - our sorrows though. We were off to take in yet another highlight in Buenos Aires - an opera at the Teatro Colon. Neither Boo nor I are true opera buffs. I can't speak for him but I've only seen one fully mounted opera in my life and that was back in 1986 as part of Vancouver's Expo '86.

I'd read that Teatro Colon is a stunning venue and that, acousticly, it is considered to be one of the finest concert halls in the world. We were lucky in that we were able to find some last-minute tickets. That was probably because the program consisted of two operas that I've never heard of before. Despite the fact that I'm not a regular at the opera, even I've heard of the big ones like La Traviata, Madama Butterfly and La Boheme - but Una Tragedia Florentina and Violanta, I don't think so. I don't even recognize the composer von Zemlinsky.

Of all things, the libretto was apparently written by Oscar Wilde but that didn't help me much since it was being performed in German - with Spanish sur-titles. Good thing you don't really need to understand all the words to catch the point that there's bound to be someone who gets backstabbed and plenty of resulting death. Being able to follow the story a little bit might have helped somewhat though.

The venue was gorgeous though. We were particularly lucky in that the theatre only re-opened in May 2010 after four years' - and $100 million - worth of renovations. The fact that our seats were in one of the boxes made it all that more special. Had we known that we were in a box, I might have smuggled in a bottle of wine to enjoy during the show. Turns out that it would have been a piece of cake and that we could have sipped away until the "fat lady sang."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lo de Jesus

OK, you're going to have to give me a little latitude with this entry. There is wine involved - eventually - but it was our first full day in Buenos Aires and, as a result, there was a lot of flat out, touristy sightseeing going on. I figure I need to put in some of the day's photos - even though we didn't exactly pop a cork until our wanderings were pretty much done for the day and we flopped down to give our feet a rest.

Seeing as how neither of us had been to B.A. before, we thought the easiest means of getting a feel for the city would to play the ultimate tourist and take one of those "hop on, hop off, double decker buses." You know the kind that travels all over town and gives you the opportunity to jump off and explore wherever your little heart desires.

We figured that the ride around would give us an idea of some of the hot spots that we could come back and visit on a more expanded time frame. It'd also give us a bit of a chance to stop off and spend a brief time in places - like the colourful La Boca area - where we likely wouldn't have time to get back to.

One thing that became abundantly clear - and quickly - was that Buenos Aires loves its plazas and statues! The public art and park space is amazing and I couldn't possibly hope to capture or give a true expression of all the wonders that are there to see at least not on a single posting on a wine blog. I can tell you that there were endless locations to sit back and sip on a Malbec - or two or three.

Particularly striking was one of the city's newest icons - having only been completed in 2002. Located in the United Nations Plaza, the Floralis Generica is a must-see visit. The park-like setting is perfect for a picnic but, unfortunately, we weren't prepared. We had to settle for a leisurely wander and viewing of the stainless steel wonder that towers 23 metres into the air and extends its petals to span 32 metres when it's fully open. Indeed, the flower petals open and close each morning and at sunset.

We ended our day's meandering with a visit to a bit of Argentine history and a celebration of meat. I'd wanted to try at least one of the traditional Argentine parillas or barbeque houses. Finding one in a city that obviously enjoys its wining and dining wasn't necessarily going to be a problem, but the question was going to be choosing which one.

Lo de Jesus seemed to jump out to me as it appeared to get favourable reviews on sites, like Chowhound, but it was supposed to be more of a popular place for locals rather than a big tourist draw. The old world bistro atmosphere worked for us - although we certainly didn't hit it on a busy night. Guess that just meant we got better attention than we would have otherwise.

A shared mixed grill certainly cried out for a big Argentine red and we jumped at the chance.

623. 2006 Trapiche Medalla (Mendoza - Argentina)

Based on mass marketing back home in Vancouver, when I think of Trapiche, I tend to think entry level, basic wine. Accordingly, I was a little surprised to see this wine on the restaurant's list of premium wines. What the hey...

Trapiche is Argentina's largest export brand. They apparently account for one in every five bottles that is sent to foreign markets. They have four levels of wines sold in BC alone. In fact, I was rather surprised to find that some Medalla wines are even sold in our market. The Medalla series was created in 1993 to celebrate the winery's centenary. It appears that they bottle some varietals in the series; however, our bottle this evening was a big and juicy blend of Cab, Merlot and Malbec. The back label also stated that the wine was limited to 25,000 bottles and each of them were numbered - our's being 02382.

Trapiche is based in Mendoza but big monies have been invested recently to open another winery in the more Northern region of San Juan. The winery is supposedly looking to establish itself in the cooler climate province of Patagonia as well.

It only made sense to try one of their wines while in Argentina - we'd already found out that two of our favourite wineries from the Mendoza tours were intimately connected to Trapiche. The Pulenta family behind Bodega Vistalba used to have a controlling interest in the now public Penaflor conglomerate that operates Trapiche and Angel Mendoza, the winemaker behind Domaine St. Diego, was a winemaker at Trapiche for 25 years. Who knows, he may have even had a part in starting the Medalla series back in '93.

I know that the wine was a great companion to sweetbreads and blood sausage that was served up from the grill. We may have to give Trapiche a little more consideration back home.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Hello Buenos Aires

Of course, perhaps the one point that is continually stressed when you read about Argentine wineries in Mendoza is how spectacular the settings can be - with views of snowcapped Andes overwhelming the senses. During our three days, unfortunately, we just didn't get any of that. The number of times we were told that it was very unusual for things to be so cloudy for a couple of days on end just made it a tad depressing. The shot above is the closest we came to seeing a vineyard at the foot of the Andes - and I don't even know if the grapes will actually be harvested for making wine. The small (maybe demonstration) vineyard was adjacent to the airport parking lot. I thought it was important to at least try and capture a bit of the majestic views that were continually a point of conversation.

But, to break into a chorus from "Evita," "Hello, Buenos Aires..." I can't say that it was an attempt to leave the best for last - or that the "Paris of South America" can even top Mendoza or Machu Picchu - but we're ready to take in what the city has to offer. Our flight arrived rather late in the afternoon, so we didn't have a lot of time to start our explorations. We wouldn't have time to hit the weekly antique market that rocks the San Telmo area on Sundays, but we were lucky that our apartment hotel was only blocks away from the Recoleta Artisans' Market. So, that was our first destination - to take in a late Sunday afternoon with the Portenos and see how they enjoyed the day.

Boo was nearly over the moon when he found out that we were so close to the famous La Recoleta Cemetery as well. But that was going to have to wait for another day since he wouldn't have nearly enough time to wander through the resting place of many of the city's most prestigious and famous families. He was able to whet his whistle though with a view from a third storey window of the neighbouring church.

Such palpable excitement could only be matched with a glass of wine and a toast to our home for the next six days. The proprietors of our apartment hotel were ever so thoughtful and left a bottle of wine for us as a welcoming present. Little did they know that the bottle was from one of the wineries that I was most enamoured with at last Spring's Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival. I would have loved to actually visit the winery, but it's located in Patagonia and we just weren't going to be able to fit a visit in to that part of the country this time around. What a neat coincidence.

622. 2010 Bodega Del Fin del Mundo - Postales Malbec (Patagonia - Argentina)

The winery is in direct contrast to most of the smaller enterprises that we visited in Mendoza. It has a total capacity of 8 million litres and is trailblazing in a new wine region for Argentina. The first vineyards were only planted in 1999 and that was after a 20 km channel had been built to provide for the delivery of irrigation waters from the Neuquen River. 2003 was the first commercial vintage and they have consulted with no less than wine guru, Michel Rolland, in determining how best to establish the winery. These guys are the new kids on the block and it's a case of "go big or go home."

The Postales is an entry level wine that I wasn't aware of from the Playhouse Festival but, as might be expected from an introductory wine, it's big on fruit and approachability. It was a lovely way to settle into our new digs as we waited for that ever-delayed start of the dinner hour. We actually took advantage of a near-by supermarket and picked up a few nibblies to enjoy with the wine on our little balcony.

Dinner itself was going to be low-key tonight. As another lovely gesture, the proprietors of our accommodation left a list of their favourite restaurants in the neighbourhood and we chose a pizza joint that was supposed to be as authentic as it gets to local life. That was certainly substantiated when we arrived around 9.30. Every table in the old-time diner-esque restaurant was packed with locals - many of whom we seemed to have followed from the crowd exiting the front doors of the local church.

With the evening's soccer game on the television, we opted for a beer over another bottle of wine, but that was just because we'd already done a good job on the Del Fin del Mundo. It might have been interesting to see what wines they'd actually offer up at such a location. I don't recall anything on the menu except "house red" and "house white" (or the Spanish equivalent).

All in all, we were off to a great start in B.A. We were darned excited about the days to come.