1 Dec 2008
There´s a clear route to follow when travelling through Argentina, and most west-bound travellers leave Córdoba for Mendoza. And why not? There´s tons of beautiful plazas, a huge park, and vineyards to tour. Although we were only there for a few days, we got a good taste of one of my favorite cities in South America.
First, a note about plazas. South American towns usually have at least one large central square where people can come and enjoy there city. Mendoza has several, and they´re all great places for sitting, reading, walking, and loving this great town. Plus, the red tiles of Plaza España with the white ceramic square inlay pattern have given me great ideas for the path from the back porch to the gazebo I´m planning on building for Ravi once we have a yard. Each plaza had plenty of comfortable benches, great artwork, and interesting fountains. A good place to be for sure!
Ravi and I also took a long walk through San Martín Park. It´s little further away, but kudos to Argentina for maintaining the large open spaces. The ancient trees, playgrounds with plenty of swings for kids (and Tim), and a nice lake with Andes mountain backdrop make San Martin a must-visit part of Mendoza.
Mendoza is the capital city of an entire region known for its wine-making and olive oil industry. Ravi and I took a tour of a large industrial winery, a small family olive oil factory, and the wine-maker´s equivalent of a microbrewery that produces only about 1600 bottles of wine per year.
The large industrial winery, La Bodega Lopez, gathers grapes from its vineyards, crushes them in huge machines, ferments the grapes in large steel vats, and pumps it through a network of heavy-gauge hoses to the bottling factory, around 13 million (yes million) liters a year! There, an assembly line of workers bottle, cork, box, and crate literally thousands of bottles in minutes. If I´d come with any romantic notions of a happy farmer picking bunches of grapes by hand and aging her wine in small barrels, the fierce industry of this place quickly disabused me of my romance! But, after tasting Argentina´s famous malbec varietal, I learned that giant factory wine-making still produces a great product.
Our next stop was to the small Pasra family olive oil factory. I´ve never been overly curious to know much about olive oil, but I discovered a few fun facts that made me appreciate this amazing fruit.
1) Extra-virgin olive oil is pressed in low heat, goes through the press just once, and congeals when refrigerated.
2) Extra-virgin oil has the lowest acid content and fullest flavor, especially if it´s unfiltered.
3) It´s not called extra-virgin for any prurient reason.
After sampling some olive oil products ranging from cooking oil to hand lotion, we headed to the tiny Don Cava vineyard to see a working winery on a much smaller scale. The process is much the same, but they age the wine in small barrels made with French oak wood. I feel traitorous to admit this, but the wine from the larger factory was a bit better...
Soon enough, we were back home and packing up for our trip to Santiago. Check off another successful city tour for team Ravi and Tim!