It Pays to Know People
03.12.2012 - 06.12.2012 31 °C
Overnight Stays: Somewhere between Bariloche and Mendoza; Maipu (2 nights)
DW - Another day, another long bus-ride in South America; this one (1) from Bariloche to Mendoza only about 18 hours. It was another ripper though, full 180' flat bed seats, and the novelty of Bingo somewhere along the way. The man took the microphone and explained to the bus all the rules, in Spanish of course. He then came to us and asked if we understood, to which the short answer was, 'no', we had little idea. But we winged it anyway, and really put our Spanish 1-100 numbers to the test. No chicken dinner sadly but it was a good novelty all the same.
We were surprised upon arrival into Mendoza to find the busiest bus stations to-date, although smallish. Turns out Mendoza isn't a quiet little wine town like we thought; it's more like Bordeaux in France; a big city surrounded by smaller wine villages, one (1) of which, Maipu, we were staying in. There, Francisco, our host at the hotel we slightly splashed out on, more like a B&B, was incredibly welcoming and after checking in and showered we hopped on the bicycles he'd pre-arranged for us, and made our way uptown in the beautiful weather. The town of Maipu is not what we'd expected at all, as was becoming the trend with the Mendoza area; it looked rundown, dry, and unloved; but what we later found was that all the beauty is hidden, down the side streets and on the outskirts. We first discovered this down the first road we turned, as the houses became more sparse, and the vines began to appear, everywhere, all around, much better. A few kilometers down the road we pulled into our first winery to grab some grub, gnocchi, ripping with a glass of bold red. There we sat, solely, overlooking the vineyards, in the refreshing A/C, until it just became too akward with the waiter, and left for our next winery, back on the bikes.
Bikes really are the best way to get around the wineries in Mendoza, well in Maipu at least (we didn't manage to see anywhere else). The roads are pretty good, there's stuff-all cars, and nothing is too far away. At every stop we'd see next to no cars, but the bike racks would be full, and we'd struggle for a spot. On top of that, they're cheap as chips to hire, about $7AUD per day, winning.
14 kilometers down the road, at the end, we pulled into a tiny boutique winery and took the tour followed by a nice tasting, of which we couldn't leave without buying their Malbec; if only I could remember the name of that place, hmmm. Across the street, feeling pretty happy from our tasting, we rolled into another place we thought was a winery, eager to taste some more. After paying and seating we learned pretty quickly (the tell-tale was when a tasting plate of food came out, not wine) that this place wasn't a winery, and we were about to get a second lunch. It was an olive farm with all sorts of deli treats and oils, amazing food, damn this trip was going to get expensive; we just wanted to take everything home.
For the evening we spent the night playing cards with an American family (and the son's Columbian girlfriend) and drinking far too much beer and wine, cue headache. It didn't disappoint; plagued with fatigue and a medal-worthy headache, we hopped in the pre-booked taxi at about 10:30 the next morning, having exhausted our supply of Panadol, on our way to Zuccardi Wines. Only days prior I'd made good use of my contacts at Laithwaites back in the UK and emailed Zuccardi, asking if we could join them for a tasting, cheeky but worthwhile. We've been lucky enough to make use of very handy contacts in the wine world before, including our visit to Taiitinger and Lanson in Champagne and having two (2) the greatest and most memorable days of our lives; and again
in Bordeaux when we visited the Laithwaites wineries and were treated equally as royal, it pays to know people. Anyway, Juan Pablo at Zuccardi responded to our email and said they'd love to have us, boom.
Upon arrival we were given a delicious glass of method-Champagne bubbles, no better cure for a hangover than bubbly. Thereafter we were taken by Juan Pablo on a private and exclusive tour of the wonderful winery, one (1) of Argentina's biggest private ones. We learnt of all the different processes and styles of wine the Zuccardi family produces (it's still family owned and run), and felt very special as the large groups of tourists walked past us, clearly wondering what we'd done to get the special treatment; it pays to know people.
At the end of the tour we were subject to a private tasting; but not just the entry level wines that mere mortals around us were trying; we were on the good stuff, only the top of the shelf. For me the Bonarda (a variety I'd not tried before) and the Reseve Malbec were the picks, exactly what you'd expect from a good Mendoza red. Not only were the wines delicious, but plentiful as well, Juan Pablo certainly didn't hold back with his serving sizes, RSA what?!
Feeling pretty damn good about life, buzzing in the hammering sunshine, we bid our farewells and thanks to Juan Pablo, who promised to call ahead at the restaurant and make sure we were going to be looked after for lunch; have I mentioned that it pays to know people? The restaurant at Zuccardi is incredibly impressive. Set amongst the vines, going unseen from passers-by, it broods a feeling of exclusiveness yet casualness, which is kind of how I feel about the
world of wine. It's one (1) of those things in life that you can go by without really taking any notice of, but once you're in, you're in deep. Yes, of course there a lot of wankiness that goes with many wine-drinkers, but when you meet the winemakers and get to the heart of it you realise it's not that world at all, just a select few people (probably the French) that think they're better than everyone else, because they think they know about wine, even though they don't really
know much at all. We were seated at the restaurant and upon Juan Pablo's advice, we chose the traditional Argentinian menu; an ongoing feast of meat and
wine, just what the doctor ordered. As promised, he had made the phone call, and for the three (3) or so hours we were there, our glasses were continuinly topped with not the wine those plebs surrounding us were drinking, but again, only the top shelf, our own select pile, the bee's knees, oh yeah, life. All the
meats you could imagine, then some, rested on our plates for only short moments before spending the next day or so in our bellies, including goat, which we'd not tried before. To be honest we didn't really like it; it smells like old fish, and kind of tastes like, hmmmm, nothing really, just not very good. Lucky we were able to follow it with a delicious cut of lamb, beef, chicken, pork, anything we wanted, all cooked to perfection and matched with the most amazing
It would've been about 4 or 5pm when we left Zuccardi, and when we arrived back at the B&B we collapsed onto bed, feeling sicker and fuller than we had when we'd woken earlier that day, but what a day we'd had.
We decided, the next day, that our trip to Zuccardi couldn't be topped, so we just relaxed and digested for the most part of the day, until we took our last overnight bus of the trip, to Santiago, where we were flying out the following day, to see my mate Castro.