Friday, October 22, 2010

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.

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