The four of us arrived in Mendoza during the worse possible time–Christmas week. Shelly and Megha flew all the way from New York to hang-out with us in Argentina. With a friendship over two decades old, having them there meant a lot to me. Leaving New York wasn’t easy. Even now as I write this, my throat is tightening, nose is turning red and eyes are stinging. Dumpty didn’t look back once when he boarded the plane in JFK, but I kept wondering if we would ever come back. Worse yet was the thought of having a weaker bond with the friends I said good bye to. Will it ever be the same?
Pics of Cordoba:
So it was with great excitement that I boarded the bus from Buenos Aires to Mendoza, with a stop in Cordoba along the way. Shelly and Megha were going to meet us in Mendoza. By the way, we took one of the many luxury buses and let me tell you it was the best bus I have ever ridden IN MY LIFE. I can’t stress enough the awesomeness of it. The leather seats fully reclined, like that of a first class seat in an airplane. The bus had curtains to give you privacy from the person seated next to you (by this point I had seen enough of Dumpty so a little me time was welcome) as well as a pillow and blanket. The friendly attendant of the bus served warm meals, coffee and snacks throughout and the bus even had a decent toilet. Okay, I digress, but I had to share the bus bit.
After taking the 11 hour bus ride from Buenos Aires to Cordoba and then another 10 hours bus ride to Mendoza, we finally united with girls at the Argentino Hotel (if you want splurge, stay at the centrally located Ritz. Many of the wineries and almost all of the good restaurants had closed on Christamas Eve. However, we still managed to book three wine tastings with Mendoza Holiday Tours. We had a wine glass in our hands by 10 in the morning; not a bad start.
Bodega Caelum, the first winery on our tour, was only a couple of years old. With a history of growing grapes and selling to wineries, the owners started making their own wines in 2009. I don’t remember the wines that well, but I do remember the following: the super cute dog that almost bit my hand off, the seriously hot head-of-operations guy, Hernan, who gave us the tour and the reason why I don’t remember tasting the wine (Dumpty was sick and didn’t come for the wine tasting) and the stunning snow capped Andes mountains backdrop to the long rows of budding grapes. With construction projects underway and still refining their wine making techniques, Bodega Caelum was in its growing-pains phase but the place had a ton of promise. I could see myself going back to give it another try.
Pics of Bodega Caelum:
The winery of Bodega Norton took me by surprise for its all around excellence. The winery was first started in 1895 by Edmund Norton, after the first train line was constructed between Mendoza and Chile. The winery became a huge success over the years and by 1989, the family decided to sell the winery to…you’ll never guess…the Swarovski family!
Gernot Langes-Swarosvski fell in love with the region, and, seeing the potential in the wine market and wanting a traditional wine maker, he decided to buy Bodega Norton. The Swarovski family gets the credit for being one of the first wineries to introduce Mendoza wines internationally.
By 2011 Bodega Norton was nominated for the Best New World Winery of the Year award by Wine Enthusiast. The wines indeed were excellent. Everything we tasted here spoke of maturity and confidence. The wines were smooth with just the right hint of tannins. My favorite was their Norton Reserva Merlot.
Pics of Bodega Norton:
The dimly lit and awesome underground wine dungeon of Norton housed some of the older wines and artifacts from its earlier days. It was like being in a haunted house. The underground winery also had a “jail-cell” that protected wines several family-generations old. The entire area was covered in cobwebs, chests and crates that haven’t been touched in years. These wines weren’t for sale.
We visited Bodega Ruca Malen last. Now you might be thinking that Bodega Norton was my favorite, but Ruca Malen actually wins. Not for its wines, which were at the same par as Norton, but for its delicious five-course lunch with wine pairing and magical setting. Our outdoor table faced the Andes mountains. The hot sun made our legs stick to the wooden chairs and the buzz from the previous wineries was setting in. The whole place was packed with other tourists but that didn’t impact the service one bit. The italian inspired menu was exactly what our bellies needed and the moment was perfect.
Pics of Bodega Ruca Malen:
That night we had a wind storm. While trying to hold down the hem of our dresses with one hand, we shielded our eyes from the leaves and dust with the other. Forget about the hair. We had only mission–to find an open restaurant. After almost an hour of scouring the desolate streets of downtown Mendoza, we finally stumbled across a small pizzeria restaurant. The wind did nothing to lower the heat. We fanned ourselves with whatever we could find as we waited for what seemed like forever for the food. Now I know we should be grateful for finding a restaurant at all, but the food was less than an ideal. There are some things in life I wish I could forget. So my advice to anyone traveling to Argentina–do not go to Mendoza or any other small town during Christmas.
I smiled to myself as I snuggled into my synthetic red luxury bus blanket. Best get cozy for the 17-hour bus ride to Buenos Aires. I reflected on the past few days and remembered how it felt leaving New York. The very fact that nothing stays the same in life is what makes it so great–like no longer enduring the events of 2011. Or that we left all that was familiar for the unfamiliar. How else would I have fallen in love with the Nanni Torrontes wine in Argentina (a preview for another post)? And yes, my friendship with my friends did change–it became deeper.
So here’s to friendship and to good wine–the best pairing I’ve ever had.