WINE and Asado! Err I mean, Mendoza and Cordoba

May 28, 2015

No trip to Argentina is complete without a stop in the land of Malbec Wines, Mendoza. Oh and we also made a stop in Cordoba.

First, let’s talk about Cordoba. A University town, Cordoba is quite a pleasant place to visit with lots of Café’s, Museums, Galleries, and a few interesting old buildings and churches. That being said, I’m barely lukewarm on Cordoba. There’s nothing really wrong with it, I was just a bit bored there and would have enjoyed my time somewhere else in Argentina a little more. It’s a place where people live, study and work, not really a tourist destination for any particular reason. We went because it seemed like a logical stop to see more of the country (gotta make that $160 visa worth it) but we probably would have been better off somewhere else.

Mendoza on the other hand was excellent. In fact, I might be giving the town of Mendoza a little too much credit here because the really good stuff is outside of town at the wineries. Mendoza itself is good for a day but it’s not a big town. It takes full advantage of its famous name that is known around the world and associated with great wine but in truth, they aren’t making wine in town. The wine of the region actually comes from Maipu and that’s where I would recommend 2-3 days to really experience it all.

We booked two nights at a great little hostel named “Hostel Wineries” which wasn’t enough time if you ask me. It was a small family operation with comfy beds and a cozy atmosphere. When we arrived, the owner booked us in and gave us the lay of the land while his elderly mother offered us mate and coffee. It was more like arriving at your grandmother’s house than at a hostel and it included breakfast which grandma was ready to serve way before any of us stumbled out of bed.

Anyway, once booked in and given a quick run down of the area we took a short walk to see what was around and get a bite to eat. A short walk reveals just how much this place is devoted to wine, especially in the harvest season when we visited. Trucks on the road where carrying grapes by the ton or on there way to get more grapes from the fields. Cars were filled with workers coming from and going to the wineries, and just about every shop sold some kind of wine. Tourism is surely a part of the little town but it was kind of an after thought, like someone said “hey, travelers are coming here to taste wines, we could make some money off this if I wasn’t so busy making wine.” With Mednoza only a 40 minute bus ride away most people just take a day trip.

Our first day was slow, we just sort of looked around town, got some food, and made friends with a dog I mistakenly kicked crap out of. It really was a mistake, I was doing one of the those jumping heel clicks, also known as a “bell-kick,” and the dog was right next to me… so he took a little ride. Anyway, we wandered around a bit and made plans to meet up with two fine folks we met in Mendoza, an American named Aaron and his girlfriend (now fiancé) Amanda, an Aussie from Perth.

On day two, we all met up, rented bicycles and pedaled out to the wineries ready to sample to our hearts content. The first winery we stopped at kind of shocked us with the per-person cost of a tour so Aaron had the great idea that we should buy a few bottles and just share them. I loved this idea because it cost a lot less than the tour, we were able to try some of the better wines that weren’t part of the tasting, and instead of tasting sized pours we got full glasses. More wine for less, genius!

Riding from winery to winery is THE way to see Maipu.

This was how we approached every winery from that point on unless they had a reasonable tasting so as you can imagine, this meant we enjoyed more wine, a lot more. Most places were happier to sell wines over tours though and some even kicked in a discount or even a free bottle if you purchased enough, which of course we did at more than a few stops. This turned out to be one of the highlights of Argentina for me. The wines, the wineries, the scenery, the biking from place to place and of course the company were all excellent. We tasted some of the best wines I’ve ever had and saw the best wineries without paying for tours and getting some serious bang for our buck.

All lined up just waiting to be tasted.

At the end of the day, we took a slightly tipsy ride back into town to return the bikes and enjoyed some fantastic views of the wineries with the mountains behind them and a great sunset. Just when we thought our day was over, we stopped in at this little place selling wines to enjoy another glass or two before heading back to the hostel. The owner of the shop was getting ready to close but opened a bottle for us anyway and then invited us to a party at his house. At first we were all a little hesitant as we tried to gauge the offer a bit but decided this wasn’t some angle the guy was working but just a genuine invite by a really nice person. All he asked was that we kick in some cash at the end of the night to help pay for all the food he was planning to buy. We of course agreed and sipped our wines while the owner ran off to buy supplies. When he returned with several bags of beef, chorizo and blood sausage he had us each carry some wines he pulled off his shelves and follow him to his place. This is where things got really awesome.

I saw a truck full of grapes pull up and decided I'd supervise their unloading. 

The guys house was pretty typical, a roof, some walls and a patio outback. He was hosting a few people from other countries doing a Workaway at his shop so it was the six of us, about three or four of them, and a few of the owners friends. Bottles were opened right away and again, wine was flowing along with other drinks. This turned out to be a really fun evening as we learned how to make a proper Argentine Asado.

From left: Matt, Teague and Amanda; emjoying MORE wine and loving every bit of this Asado. What a night.

Let’s pause there for a second. Making a proper Argentine Asado isn’t difficult but there’s a bit of technique and hardware along with some other fixings that simple must be made a specific way. First, the fire needs to be made with actual wood. No charcoal, no gas, just wood; you grill over the coals which are raked under the grill as the wood burns so there’s no flame getting anywhere near your meat. Second, the parilla (Spanish for grill) must be purpose built for Asado. A good one looks medieval, made of steel and stone and has a massive crank on it which allows you to raise and lower the grill surface. Thirdly, you gotta have full cuts of beef not just perfect little steaks. If it doesn’t have a good amount of fat surrounding the beef then your doing it wrong. Fourth, you need more meat, like a lot more. Sure you need good beef and a lot of it but you also need achuras (other meats) like chorizo and blood sausage or whatever “other cuts” you might serve as an appetizer while your guests wait for the main dish. Next, add some salt and nothing else. Ok maybe some pepper but that’s pushing it. No fancy rubs, no marinades, just meet, salt and heat. Lastly, you need chimichurri that is home made. Argentine beef is fantastic so purists will argue that you don’t need any condiments and that even salt should only be added individually but all asados come with chimichurri and if you make it right, it is amazing. Oh, I almost forgot, you also need to have friends and wine. No one does an asado by themselves or stone sober, that’s a fact. There, now you know the basics of an Asado, back to the post.

This being a proper asado, we built a fire and hung out drinking wine and practicing our Spanish while we waited for the coals to be right. Once the meat was on the grill, we made salad, cut some bread and set the table. It took quite a while but there’s no rushing an Asado, it’s meant to take a while and more than a few drinks are supposed to be consumed. The meat that came off this thing was simply fantastic and there was tons of it. My Paleo loving friends out there would have been in heaven. We ate, we drank, we ate some more and drank some more and finally the night closed down as we approached 1am. Our host was a really nice guy and his friends didn’t mind out shitty Spanish. We chipped in some cash (about $8 per person) said our goodbyes and headed back to the hostel where we drank a little more wine while falling asleep in our bunks.

In the morning, the sweet old lady at the hostel made us breakfast and by noon we were on our way back to Mendoza to hang out for a few hours before catching a LONG bus ride to Bariloche. Mendoza and Maipu were everything we hoped it would be and more. Of course I recommend going but if I could do it all over again, I’d spend a little more time in Maipu for a second day of wine tasting.

Category: Places

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