A Tale of Two Argentinean Cities – Part One Mendoza
Consistently recommended by travellers we have met, Mendoza was high on our ‘must see’ list for Argentina. The Lonely Planet describes its reconstruction following the earthquake which devastated it in 1861 by stating that:
‘This was a tragedy for mendocinos (people from Mendoza), but rebuilding efforts created some of the cities [city’s] most-loved aspects: the authorities anticipated (somewhat pessimistically) the next earthquake by rebuilding the city with wide avenues (for the rubble to fall into) and spacious plazas (to use as evacuation points). The result is one of Argentina’s most seductive cities – a joy to walk around and stunningly picturesque.’
So you can imagine our disappointment when we instead found it was more 1970s dilapidated concrete prefab jungle than colonial architecture and spacious piazzas. Perhaps it was the autumnal weather, choking diesel fumes, the neglected pavements, or the forlorn fountain in Plaza Independencia; I am not really sure, but it was everything but picturesque. There were some nice vinotecas and restaurants, but McDonald’s and Carrefour were not seducing us.
Almost at the point of giving up on Mendoza, we decided to head out to the countryside to see what actually put Mendoza on the map for foreigners: its vineyards. Half an hour out of town by bus, the vineyards, olive groves and orchards surrounding Mendoza proved to be the perfect antidote.
Disembarking at the one street town of Maipú, we walked past barking dogs, shuttered houses and along sun baked dusty streets, where jalopies lazily rusting away. We were en route to our appointment for a wine tasting at the bodega La Rural when we got sidetracked by a sign advertising homemade chocolate and stumbled into a building owned by …. Who specialise in homemade chocolate, olive oil and preserves.
We spent the next half an hour (it would have been more but for the appointment) knocking back shots of their ‘Russian Death’ and Rose Schnaps; munching on olives as we learned about the different grades of olive oil; eating sundried tomatoes and indulging in teaspoonfuls of Dulce de Leche followed by homemade chocolate. Everything was delicious!
Realising that we were expected at the bodega imminently, we purchased a couple of jars of our favourite things (we would have purchased crates of stuff if we were not on such a long trip!) and jogged down the road to La Rural.
On entering the main building, we were transported to a bygone era of wine making; our guide took us through the museum which exhibits over 5000 items used in European and Argentinean viticulture over the last 500 years. The collection is the most important in the Americas. We also saw some of the cellars and toured the modern production facilities.
At the end of the fascinating free tour which had galloped through several centuries of wine making in Argentina and given us some background on the Italian founder of La Rural, don Filipe Rutini who established it in 1885, we tasted Museo, a wine which can only be sampled at La Rural’s bodega in Mendoza.
Walking past the sundried vines as we returned to the main road for the bus back, it became clear why a visit to Mendoza is high on many visitors’ lists. There are approximately fifteen bodegas, olive oil producers and family-run establishments producing everything from fine wines to chocolate in Maipú, making it a genuine foodie paradise. It would easily be possible to fill several days exploring it at leisure, it is well worth leaving the city for.