Ken Baldwin of Totally Spain writes about his prize trip to the Great Wine Capitals AGM, Mendoza Argentina November 2014

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This post, written by Ken Baldwin, winner of the 2014 Guest Bloggers' Contest, describes his experiences while visiting Mendoza, his prize as the winner.

All photos (c) Ken Baldwin except 'Centro de Congresos y Exposiciones'

Mendoza, Mendoza, Mendoza.  Well what can I say ?   Would I go back to Mendoza where I recently visited as a guest of the Great Wine Capitals (GWC) ?  Would I  recommend it to friends and other travellers ?   The answer is a resounding yes. Mendoza is wonderful especially if you love places with an easy pace,  good food,  friendly locals and great wine.

 

It’s a couple of weeks since I returned and I’m still excited about the visit.  I vividly recall the stunning snow-capped Andes. They’re hard to forget.  I’ve flown over the Pyrenees often and I’ve seen the Himalayas from the air but the Andes are special.  Little did I know, until I arrived, just how special those snow-capped peaks are to Mendoza.

I found the city of Mendoza to be safe, easy to navigate and pleasant to walk around.   

It’s a low rise city with few tall buildings and is laid out using the modern grid system.  As for historical sights, with the exception of the ruins of the San Francisco basilica, sadly none remain due to the devastating earthquake of 1861 which levelled the old city.  However the `new´ Mendoza has much going for it.  Without the pressure of having to visit a long list of historical sights you can instead just enjoy being in the city and using it as a base to discover its delicious cuisine, world class wines and world class wineries.  

Arriving in Mendoza is hassle free and you’re through the small airport in a jiffy.  Outside the first thing I noticed is that the airport is flanked by vineyards and a large hoarding announces that `El Vino Nos Une´  or `Wine Unites Us´.  In Mendoza they love their wine, it’s their Number 1 industry and they’re justifiably proud to shout out about it.

I stayed in downtown Mendoza at the modern, comfortable  4 star NH Cordillera Hotel .  It’s located across from the lovely Plaza San Martin park, one of the many excellent and well tended green parks in the city. 

 

4 star Hotel NH Cordillera, Mendoza

Plaza San Martin, Mendoza

In minutes I could walk to the bustling, pedestrianised  Calle Sarmiento with its great selection of bars, cafes, restaurants, wine shops and more.  This street traverses Plaza Independencia, a huge green square with a central fountain popular with locals and tourists and where a daily arts and crafts market and frequent street performances till late make it a must see.

Fountains in Plaza Independencia, Mendoza

Surprisingly, most of Mendoza’s streets are tree-lined with gorgeous mature trees including  mulberry, ash, plane, maple and more which foliage provides a welcome shade.  I write `surprisingly´ because Mendoza is practically a desert. Annual rainfall here is miniscule.  But thanks to their ancestors, the Huarpes people,  Mendoza benefits and thrives from a sophisticated system of irrigation channels that brings water from the Mendoza river to the dry plains.  The river itself is fed almost solely by snow-melt from the Andes which is what makes those impressive Andes mountains so important for Mendoza and its citizens.

On my first day along with the rest of the GWC delegates I took a scenic Mendoza City bus tour   which I highly recommend.  It gave me a good feel for the city and an appreciation of how many parks there are here.  I sensed that Mendoza is a very pleasant city to live in.  It’s colourful.  Vibrant.  Manageable. The Aristides Villanueva street caught my attention for its many attractive looking bars and restaurants.  A nice place to hang out.  The Cerveceria Antares, an artisan brewery here is worth checking out.  I also liked Avenida Emilio Civit with its old aristocratic Mendocino mansions. 

Mendoza City Bus Tours

Calle San Martin, Mendoza

After our tour we visited two event centres in the city the first being the Enoteca de las Artes http://www.congresos.mendoza.gov.ar/Bustelo/espacios/espacios_enoteca.htm    which is a fine venue for small exhibitions, presentations and any kind of small act or wine related event.  It’s housed in a renovated early 20th century winery and even has a small vineyard out front.

Cocktail reception Enoteca de las Artes

 

Later we were entertained at La Nave Cultural http://www.mendozadenoche.com.ar/nave-cultural/   a converted warehouse that now hosts cultural events.  While there we saw a tango performance and an exhibition by local artist Alfredo Ceverino. All very enjoyable.

La Nave Cultural, Mendoza

There are a lot of good dining options in Mendoza especially along Calle Sarmiento.  I dined out there on my first night in Estancia La Florencia, a very reasonable family-style restaurant with a warm atmosphere.  Here I had my first taste of Argentinian beef and it didn’t disappoint in the least.  Other good dining options on or near Calle Sarmiento include Azafran http://www.azafranresto.com/home.html  which is a charming and stylish restaurant with a lovely wine cellar and serving modern Argentine food.  Also Siete Cocinas http://www.sietecocinas.com.ar/  which offers modern food from all over Argentina. It’s one of the city's best restaurants but very good value.  At least for those earning euros or dollars.  Fuente y Fonda is a new and very affordable restaurant that offers well cooked, traditional Argentine comfort food like milanesas.   Visitors are spoiled for choice in Mendoza city and every pocket is catered for.

Our second day in Mendoza was given over to attending talks and presentations by those involved in all aspects of the wine industry in Mendoza.  The talks were held in the lovely surroundings of the 5 star Park Hyatt Hotel http://mendoza.park.hyatt.com/en/hotel/home.html  which overlooks the Plaza Independencia.  By the way the hotel features the very popular UVA wine bar where you can try over 100 different wines by the glass.  

The overriding facts that came out of the talks for me were that wine and tourism – enotourism – are now inextricably linked as far as Argentina is concerned and that the future of wine production and wine tourism in Argentina is looking very promising.  Around 125 wineries in Mendoza alone are prepared and have opened their doors to wine tourists.    International visitors represent about 30% of international visitors and this is growing.  The very clever Malbec World Day http://www.malbecworldday.com/ which began in 2011 has become a big success.  Also the ministry of tourism's `Argentina Tierra de Vinos´ campaign began in 2013 is paying off.

Great Wines Capitals AGM Mendoza

As part of this day we visited that evening in the company of architect, Alejandro Gil, the soon to be opened Congress Centre & Temple of Wine in San Martin which is sure to be a fantastic resource for the area. 

Architect Alejandro Gil explaining his design to the GWC delegates

 

Centro de Congresos y Exposiciones de San Martín y el Templo del Vino

Here we also tried some of the areas famous bonarda grape wines and enjoyed a lovely folk dance performance given at the centre.  You can see some of this on my short video here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTIrAClLRZw&feature=youtu.be  This was followed by a traditional outdoor Argentinean barbeque.

Of course the big draw of going to Mendoza is the opportunity to visit its wineries.  Wine tourism and businesses dedicated to enotourism I found to be very evident in Mendoza.  Just around the corner from my hotel was Trout & Wine Tours www.troutandwine.com who can easily hook you up with a wine tour to suit you.  They run small groups with up to 8 people or you could arrange a private tour with them.

Trout & Wine Tours Mendoza

I also met with Ana Barbeito of Aventura & Wine http://aventurawine.com/  who specialise in Private Wine Tours in Mendoza and are well worth checking out.  And Ampora Wine Tours http://www.mendozawinetours.com/   who are a full service agency.

As I was lucky to be a guest of the Great Wines Capitals all of our touring was pre-arranged and very well co-ordinated by Ketek Eventos & Turismo http://ketekevt.com/inicio/ .  Over three days we visited, toured and tasted at eight wineries.  Five were in the Valle de Uco (Uco Valley) and the remainder were in Lujan de Cuyo.    The journey time from Mendoza to these areas is roughly 90 minutes so if you plan to visit wineries and taste wine, it really is advisable that you join an organised tour or hire a private driver.  Alternatively jump on the BusVitivinicola wine bus http://www.busvitivinicola.com/ingles/  which runs regular hop-on, hop-off winery tours to selected wineries.  Or if you must drive, then what could be nicer than tootling around in a charming old Citroen 2cv ?  If you fancy that then checkout Slowkar  http://slowkar.com/cars.html in Mendoza who specialise in the rental of these classic cars.  Really neat idea I think.

Once out of Mendoza city, the scenery as you drive to the Vale de Uco is stunning.  It’s all very open and rural with very little development. The few towns you encounter along the way are quite simple and rustic.  Most with compact, single storey homes and inhabitants who are mainly employed in agriculture and the wine business as our tour guide explained.  You see huge weeping willows and vineyards spread out for miles and miles that enhance, tame and shape the vast landscape which continually draws your eyes to the big blue sky and the beautiful Andes mountains.  You can see this in a snippet of a video I took here  http://youtu.be/x0xJKonOg7k 

                                        Wine tasting al-fresco at The Vines of Mendoza

Our first winery visit was to the Vines of Mendoza www.vinesofmendoza.com , an incredible project in an incredible setting.  Here they produce their own wines under the Recuerdo brand but they also manage the wine production for around 150 private investors who have purchased land (minimum 3 acres) on the estate to produce their own wines.  Over 350 different fermentations come out of the Vines each year and you can try in the region of 150 wines here.  The charming Mariana Onofri showed us around and conducted our tasting here. You can get a sense of just how informed and professional she is on this short video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPsux_GqcTM    We tried a selection of wines including two Recuerdo Torrontes 2013 from distinct vineyards, Recuerdo Sauvignan Blanc 2013, Recuerdo Malbec 2013 and Recuerdo Gran Corte 2011.  We also tasted a delicious 2011 wine by one of the Vines private investors called Nunum, a blend of malbec, cabernet franc, merlot and petit verdot. 

In 2015 the Vines will open its Winemakers Village with ten tasting rooms where 10 of the best winemakers in Argentina will be represented and will be producing wines.  A novel idea and one which will have great touristic appeal.

Also at the Vines is the amazing Siete Fuegos Restaurant by Francis Mallmann where we ate a divine lunch al-fresco by the blazing outdoor kitchen where every form of cooking by flame is employed. An experience for all of the senses as you can see here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVOcWzC5VKU&feature=youtu.be  We dined on Prosciutto wrapped pear salad with blue cheese, grilled rib-eye steak with cube potatoes and chimichurri, clay oven grilled fruits with ice cream.  The wines we enjoyed were  Recuerdo Torrontes and Recuerdo Malbec.  There was much ooo-la-laing from the French delegation and it was mightily deserved. 

Prosciutto wrapped pear salad with blue cheese  

grilled rib-eye steak with cube potatoes

clay oven grilled fruits with ice cream

The Vines also features a luxury resort & spa with both one and two-bedroom villas. I really can’t recommend the Vines highly enough. It’s a marvellous place with wonderful service and where their motto - Nada Es Imposible (Nothing is impossible) – really rings true.

On our second visit this day we dropped in to Andeluna http://www.andeluna.com.ar/   Another very impressive winery with an old world style. It features a beautiful small restaurant just off of the main reception where diners were enjoying a six course meal paired with six wines for around 40 euros before relaxing out on the covered porch and taking in the splendid views on offer here.  The kitchen here too is open, so diners can enjoy watching their food being prepared fresh.   Our guide reckoned it was the best restaurant in the area and I would certainly have loved to have investigated that further.  Another time hopefully.  Staff here were very welcoming and informed and so well prepared for dealing with an international clientele. 

Tasting Menu at Bodegas Andeluna

 

Andeluna reception & restaurant in background

On our second day visiting wineries we took in three bodegas.  The first was Bodega Atamisque http://www.atamisque.com/    which is a project by John Du Monceau, retired Vice-President of the French Accor Group, and his wife.  The bodega was designed by Bormida and Yanzon http://www.bormidayanzon.com.ar/en/bodegas/atamisque/    an outstanding local architectural firm with an impressive track record in designing state-of-the-art wineries.  This bodega is very much geared towards wine tourism.  They produce their own wines under the Serbal and Catalpa brands but also on site is a trout farm, a 9 hole woodland style golf course, a highly regarded restaurant - Rincon Atamisque - as well as six upscale guest lodges.  The property is immense and the setting is wonderful especially if you enjoy lots of space, big views and the feeling of being away from it all.

Scenery at Atamisque                                

Visiting Atamisque lodges

We next visited Bodegas Salentein http://bodegassalentein.com/ which is a remarkable place - a work of art.  It too features an ultra modern winery designed by Bormida and Yanzon http://www.bormidayanzon.com.ar/en/salentein/bodega-salentein/   .  You arrive and are greeted by immense sculptures before entering the hospitality centre which contains a reception area, wine & gift shop, restaurant and a spectacular modern art museum.  You then continue down an avenue flanked by vineyards to the winery.  It’s spectacular. 

 

Avenue to the Salentein Winery              

Performance area Bodega Salentein

Within the cathedral-like winery they also hold performances.  Concerts, tango and more are enjoyed here from time to time in a central performance area where a piano sits waiting.  The theatricality is continued with the entrance to the tasting room which is more like entering a great temple. Here we enjoyed tasting their Reserve Chardonnay 2013, their Reserve Pinot Noir 2013 and their Single vineyards Malbec 2010. 

Entrance to Bodega Salentein tasting room

Finally this day we went to visit and dine in Bodega O’ Fournier www.ofournier.com which is one of the most architecturally innovative wineries in the Uco Valley and yes the designers behind this winery too are Bormida and Yanzon http://www.bormidayanzon.com.ar/en/bodegas/ofournier/ .  The state-of-the-art winery is owned by the Ortega Gil-Fournier family who also own wineries in Chile and Ribera del Duero.  It’s an amazing place which welcomes visitors and will in the future have a hotel onsite. Their wine brands are O Fournier, Alfa Crux, B Crux and Urban Uco.

Their excellent restaurant called Urban opened in October, 2006. It´s a cubicle shaped, glazed structure situated next to a lake from which you can’t help but admire the magnificent Andes from any angle.  In the warmer months guests can dine out on the terrace overlooking the lake.  Pure heaven.  It also features an underground lounge and private wine cellar.    

Urban Restaurant at Bodega O Fournier

We enjoyed a delicious lunch at O Fournier which was as follows:

Appetizers

Tomato Water with Celeriac Snow, Grapa Gelatin and Lime Zest

Cauliflower Croquette on Lemon Emulsion.

Entrée

Warm Sweetbread Salad with  Lemon Emulsion.

Main Course

Twice Cooked Oxtail in its Own Sauce on Potato Cream and Rosemary.

Portobello Risotto in Focaccia Ring.

Desserts

Plum O. Fournier  Sorbet

Orange Ice Cream in  Anana Soup and Caramel Basket. 

accompanied by the following wines.

B Crux 2013 sauvignon blanc

Urban UCO 2012 Malbec-tempranillo

Alfa Crux 2006 tempranillo-malbec

O Fournier 2007 Malbec

B Crux 2010 tempranillo, malbec, cabernet sauvignon, touriga nacional

And later toured the winery in the company of José Manuel Ortega Gil-Fournier.   A terrific visit and another excellent product that is well geared up for tourists.

On our third and final day visiting wineries we headed to Lujan de Cuyo. Our first stop was at the charming Bodega Tapiz www.tapiz.com which also features a wine lodge – Club Tapiz - where visit was conducted by the wonderful Carolina Fuller.  She’s a terrific guide that has a lovely way with visitors as you can see in  my short video here http://youtu.be/Wbd94D_UibY.   She gave us a very insightful tour which included time in the vineyard plus tasting from tanks, barrels and bottles.  Horse drawn carriage rides are available too and the gift shop features llama woollen clothing items with wool from the very llamas that live on the estate.  This was a project inspired by the Bolivian female employees at the winery who are skilled in weaving with llama wool and who were keen to continue the craft in their spare time. I don’t recall all the wines we tried at Tapiz but one which we did was the Tapiz Alta Collection 2011 Malbec which Jean Claude Berrouet - of Chateau Petrus fame and as Consultant Winemaker to Tapiz - had a hand in making.  That was a nice treat. 

At the Tapiz wine shop I noticed that they had an arrangement with WineFlite www.wineflite.com to ship wines which is a very handy resource for US & Canada visitors.

Ken Baldwin, Totally Spain with Carolina Fuller Bodega Tapiz

After Tapiz we had the pleasure of visiting Bodega Decero www.decero.com which has the feel of a wine lodge and is set in magnificent surroundings.  Their new winemaker, Tomás Hughes, guided us around and talked us through their process of making single vineyard wines.  While we were there they were setting up a marquee as this winery is ideal for hosting small events.  They have a fine tasting area with superb views of the Andes while upstairs their restaurant Finca Decero is overseen by Matias Poesta, one of Mendoza’s top chefs.

Visiting Decero with their new winemaker, Tomás Hughes

Our final winery visit where we also ate lunch was to Domino del Plata http://en.dominiodelplata.com.ar/  founded in 1999.  Here Argentina’s most famous female winemaker, Susana Balbo, and her family create some rich and complex award-winning wines under the brands Crios, BenMarco, Susana Balbo and Nosotros. She is also heavily involved we learned in Wines of Argentina www.winesofargentina.com where she is the current president.  This is a warm and friendly winery to visit and our meal in the small, glazed restaurant with an open plan kitchen was terrific.

 

Dining at Dominio del Plata

For our last night in Mendoza we enjoyed a lavish Gala Dinner and awards ceremony at beautifully restored Bodega Toneles http://bodegalostoneles.com/en which dates back to 1922 and is one of the oldest wineries in Mendoza city.  Now a boutique winery producing over 3 million litres a year it is also a prime tourist attraction paying tribute to the rich cultural and architectonic history of Mendoza.  It was a wonderful way to end a wonderful week of new experiences, new wines and new cuisine and first class hospitality in Mendoza.

Great Wine Capitals Gala dinner Bodega Toneles, Mendoza

I would like to thank all of the people who were involved with the superb organization in Mendoza and the many friendly and welcoming delegates with whom I had the pleasure of spending the week. A really special thank you to Amanda Barnes for all her assistance before and during the week.

Amanda Barnes

Amanda is a Mendoza-based British freelance writer and editor who specializes in wine and travel writing.  She’s a charming person and a mine of knowledge when it comes to the wine scene in South America.  She’s more than happy to answer any questions should you get in contact with her via

http://amandabarnes.co.uk/

https://twitter.com/amanda_tweeter 

Apart from her website, Amanda is heavily involved in many other wine and travel related projects including the following which are definitely worth checking out if you plan to travel to Argentina.

The Squeeze Magazine http://thesqueezemagazine.com/ 

An online publication exploring the wine regions and travel destinations of South America and sometimes further afield.

Wine Republic www.wine-republic.com

An excellent website and free magazine specializing in all things Mendoza and its wine.

And last but not least, I would like to thank the Great Wine Capitals for awarding me this marvellous trip and especially Catherine Leparmentier Dayot for organising it and Tom Perry for making us aware of the GWC Guest Bloggers contest.  To those planning to enter in 2015 don’t think twice.  The prize is to La Rioja Spain this time and it will surely be another outstanding event.