Mendoza Province, Argentina: More Wine Wankery

28 May

A short LAN hop from Santiago de Chile over the Andes to Mendoza Province, Argentina, and we were in the heart of Malbec country.
20140528-155508-57308492.jpgWe’d booked a finca, or country hotel, in Chacras de Coria, fifteen minutes south of Mendoza as our wine tasting base. Finca Adalgisa is a boutique hotel and winery, the former family estate of two Italian families who established Bodega Furlotti. It’s now operated by grandaughter Gabriela for eight months of the year (closed for the winter June to October).

In this final week of the season just a handful of other guests were staying at the Finca, all couples from the US, except for the marvellous Julia, a British science teacher from Buenos Aires.

If we thought Chile’s Posada Colchagua was luxurious we were blown away by Finca Adalgisa. Guest suites are located in a stone building facing the pool and vineyard and all have fireplaces. Yoga practice in front of our fire was wonderful.

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20140528-155750-57470187.jpgComplimentary wine from the Finca’s cellar is served nightly from 6pm in the glasshouse-like open plan lounge and dining room with three corner fireplaces. On our first night we got no further than fireside tapas and soup in the lounge with an excellent Malbec and an even nicer Cabernet Sauvignon to follow.

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With only one full day to explore we asked the the Finca to arrange a driver to take us to two wineries of our choice, Lagarde close by, and Andeluna near Tupungato, 65k south in the Uco Valley. Be warned, in Mendoza all tastings and lunches need to be booked in advance. No drop-ins as is the norm in Australia.
A= Finca Adalgisa B= Lagarde Winery C= Andeluna Winery

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Pedro turned out to be no ordinary driver. Mendoza-born but with 55 years in the US before returning to enjoy a quieter life, former oil and gas engineer Pedro prefaced most statements with a deep chuckle and a broad smile. He and Stuart hit it off very well despite fundamental disagreements about everything from the Malvinas/Falklands territorial dispute to Maradona’s infamous ‘Hand of God’.

We learned from Pedro that but for the irrigation system of canals and over a hundred years of painstaking cultivation this region would be desert. When we reached 1300 metres Pedro stopped the car so we could walk around while he identified herbs for us and explained their properties and uses. Stuart was keen to pick his own supply of the ‘man herb’ that Pedro recommended men take as a tea infusion to promote sexual function but we thought better of it.

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20140528-162918-59358648.jpgAt Lagarde, the second oldest vineyard in the region, Erica talked us through their methode champenoise premium sparkling wine process and showed us the tiny production area. All 20,000 bottles a year are riddled by hand, then bottled and labelled one at a time. It’s a good drop. We bought two bottles and shared one with our fellow guests that night. Lagarde produces several varieties including a blend of two Malbecs and their most expensive wine, the grand reserve Henry, a blend of four wines varied in composition from year to year depending on the quality of the harvest.

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20140528-163439-59679308.jpgBy contrast Andeluna is a newer and much larger winery, the 2003 project of USA businessman WH Lay, son of the founder of Frito-Lay. Since Lay’s death his family have continued to run the winery. Its location is unbeatable, vast swathes of vines give way abruptly to the snow covered Andes.

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Pedro and Stuart sample the grapes.
Our six course lunch was paired with four Andeluna wines. Everything was prepared in front of us in the open kitchen. With just a few hours notice Chef Santiago Oscuro from Mendoza adapted the very meaty menu to my vegan requirements. Beautifully presented plates of delicious, fresh food and the best bread we’ve eaten for a long time kept us busy for over two hours.

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20140528-164209-60129739.jpgWe wish we could be as enthusiastic about the wines as we were about the food. None of the wines was older than 2011 and certainly the reds would have benefited from further aging.

20140528-164249-60169232.jpgWe could have managed without dinner but it would have been unfair to let our fellow guests eat all the ‘Asado’ (Argentinian BBQ) unaided so we joined Julia, Ben, Kylie, Joanie and Dennis at the bar beside the fire pit where Diego was grilling vegetables and six kinds of beef and sausages and Ignacio was pouring the wine.

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20140528-164504-60304231.jpgWhat a delightful evening! When we’d demolished the food and made a dent in Gabriela’s stock of Malbec we took up Julia’s challenge of forming two teams to play ‘The Colander of Death’ quizz game.

I thought I would die laughing.

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Julia tackles ‘The Wiggles’

At this point I should reveal that the quietest and most unassuming of our fellow guests was the much awarded film and television actor, Mr Dennis Franz. I’d clocked Dennis the moment I saw him at the Finca but faced an akward dilemma. How do you protect someone’s privacy when they’re on vacation while at the same time confirm they are who you think they are and pay them the respect they’re due for their body of work?

I chose to wait for an opportune moment to speak with Joanie and yes, indeed it was the man I’d admired in so many episodes of ‘NYPD Blue’ playing that complex and evolving character, Andy Sipowicz.

From talking with them it seems Dennis and Joanie are fully and happily occupied with family committments, especially their three adored grandchildren, plus their travel, fundraising, some property development projects, and Dennis’ golf game.

There is a selfish part of me that would really love to see Dennis back on stage or screen but I kept that wish to myself.

On our final morning in Chacras de Coria we borrowed hotel bicycles and pedalled the five minutes into the local restaurant and cafe strip. (photo by Joanie Franz)

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At Plaza Teatre Paradiso we bumped into Joanie and Dennis strolling around. I couldn’t resist this apt shot by the old film projector.

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A last lunch with Julia was at El Mercadito, a large restaurant with a deck. The mix of secondhand furniture, 50s memorabilia and bright art work was appealing but the service and food let them down. Happily the company more than made up for that.

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The Mendoza region impressed us with its sophistication in both wine and food. A return visit at harvest time is firmly on our travel wish list.

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