A delightfully long day of wine tasting in Mendoza
Early one Saturday morning in late January, 10 of us gathered for the Ship’s overland trip to Mendoza. Upon arrival in Mendoza we were met by our local guide, Gaby. And of course, we had our wonderful sommelier from the Ship, Mia, also accompanying us.
Mendoza is about 650 miles northwest of Buenos Aires and lies on the eastern side of the Andes, a little over 200 miles from Santiago, Chile. The main highway connecting the two cities runs through Mendoza and it is often a stopover for climbers on their way to Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the western and southern hemispheres. It is essentially a desert climate with precipitation occurring in the summer. This summer, however, they have had too much and it is affecting the vineyards.
It was still early for lunch so we drove through the town and saw several parks, old buildings and a couple of the local universities. Gaby told us that there was a severe earthquake in 1861 that killed at least 5,000 people and destroyed the city. It was rebuilt with large squares and wide streets and buildings that would withstand future shocks.
Our lunch venue was Azafran restaurant which is known for its extensive wine cellar. They also pride themselves on using local ingredients for the international cuisine they serve. It is located in an old building with an inauspicious exterior but is charming on the inside. We enjoyed a delicious three course lunch with many bottles from their cellar.
When we finally finished, we wove our way back to the mini bus and drove for 30 minutes to our hotel, Entre Cielos. Meaning “between the skies” it is a small property with only 15 rooms but very contemporary and surrounded by its own vineyard.
In an attempt to “clear our heads” we spent some time in the pool and were almost back to normal by the time we departed at 7:00 for a tasting before dinner. CARO winery is the result of a partnership by the well-known Argentinean producers the Catena family (CA) and Baron de Rothschild (RO). An idea that originated in 1999 has grown to become a successful business combining French and Argentine cultures as well as their signature grapes, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon.
A delightful young lady greeted us and took us down to the cellar while explaining how this building was constructed over 100 years ago as a winery, then abandoned, only to find new life with the Catena family. The red brick walls are very thick and it was quite cool as she explained the history of the collaboration with the Rothschilds. We then adjourned into another room that was candlelit where we tasted five of their wines, a few of them special reserves. Some were straight Malbecs and others were a blend. All were exquisite.
At the end of the tasting we walked a couple of steps across the courtyard and into Francis Mallman’s 1884 restaurant which a fellow Resident had recommended. Our concierge had made the reservation and we asked for a table in the garden. It was magical. Surrounded on three sides with the restaurant and bar as well as an outdoor kitchen which features stone ovens and open grills, the ambience was incredibly special. Mia selected an assortment of white and red wines and everyone tried something different, from large steaks to seafood to vegetarian selections. All was wonderful. I think everyone was surprised that we didn’t finish until nearly midnight. The ride back to the hotel was very quiet.