Friday, February 24, 2017

Day 4: Chacras de Coria, touring the Valley de Uco

Day 4: Chacras de Coria

Weather: Warm for “hike” in Andes, hot in Chacras in late afternoon, very hot when dining outside at 1884 Restaurante

Department of Corrections: Pedro and his wife are working on making amphorae wine containers, not camphor ones

Quotes of the Day:
·       The country is safe, because we have a good intelligence service.
·       Without economic independence there is no possibility of social justice.

Breakfast buffet at Finca Adalgisa, toast with coffee and yogurt and nuts for THB.
This peak is 19K feet

Roadside shrine

The security guard at the goat ranch

The air is clean and sky very blue

We are dressed for high desert “hiking” with Pedro, meaning lightweight long sleeves and regular pants, as it could be cool at altitude. Leave at 9am and travel slowly in a long line of cars and trucks on the main route in this area between Argentina and Chile (2,000 trucks per day on the two lane road with few pullouts).

Just as we’re entering and skirting the pre-Andes, we take a turnoff onto a unpaved road, start climbing past cabins and small houses to stop at small goat ranch where Pedro asks permission to walk on the ranchers’ property.

THB does not think this is the (T)rail (H)ead marker 
Lightweight jacket is more for sun protection, we're around 8K feet of elevation


Using 4 wheel drive, we climb a small knoll, park and gear up: sun tan lotion, light jacket for DB (sun protection), poles provided by Pedro, and walk slow and steadily mostly gently downhill through an unmarked area (near the road) on what might loosely be called a cow path. THB successfully manages this 45 minute stroll, fortunately. Pedro leaves us near a small muddy pond to jog the road to retrieve the truck. 

Gaucho roundup

Raw material for an Anselm Keifer picture

While he is gone, we’re entertained by horses arriving for a drink and a bath. Not quite the same thing as elephants in S. Africa, it’s nice to be out in the gorgeous clear blue skies with absolutely no sound other than ourselves to listen to.

We have a decision to make: another short hike in another part of the Andes or car touring deeper in the Valley de Uco to visit a large winery, Clos de los Siete, known for its architecture. We opt for the architectural tour, having read about several wineries ahead of the trip. Lunch is off the side of a small unpaved road near a fruit ranch owned by friends of Pedro. Classic British: out of the truck comes a foldout table and chairs and a small picnic, thin two-layer sandwiches (with the crust cut off the bread), potato chips, Argentinian chocolates, fruit juice and water. We are relieved to not be eating a 5 course meal!
Note: tablecloth!

Multi-layered inside

Natural gas as well as "regular" gas station, a franchise of the government and extremely clean and complete with a restaurant

Mr. Conductor

Chestnut tree

Clos de los Siete is a partnership among seven French winemakers, writ large in Mendoza, situated south of the city of Mendoza and due east of Santiago (across the Andes). 

One of the five wineries on site

Seven partners, five huge wineries (several partners share facilities), one annual blend of seven individual blends (this final blend is overseen by Michel Rolland, a famous French wine master), amidst huge vineyards in the 70 mile long Valley de Uco. 
The left side of the winery is where they make the wine

The right side is for storing the wine, tastings, and cafe

The "diamond" seen from above

The diamond from the connecting tunnel inside the winery

Looking straight up

Basking in the glow 

Pedro provides the tour of Bodega DiamAndes; he’s such an insider the winery leaves him alone to show the latest in big-winery infrastructure including bringing up computer applications on screens in the winery. We don’t taste, the visit is last minute and they aren’t set up for us.

Another long ride back to Finca Adalgisa, arriving a bit after 5pm. Enough time for THB to get out a blog post and have a dip in the pool.

Cab ride to Mendoza, $12 (each way) to be dropped off right at 8pm at 1844. We’re the first to arrive, the security guard hasn’t opened the outer gates (the restaurant is tuck away inside an old set of warehouses near city center). 

Aside: Pretty much all wineries, and now a restaurant, are secured and lists created of pre-arranged guests. The guards check you off before admittance (and in the case of Clos de los Siete, don’t let you drive in even when the guard knows Pedro, without getting clearance from someone at the winery, a double-secure checkpoint).

1844 is co-owned by a famous chef, Francis Mallman, known for his grilling skills. 90% of the diners are eating outdoors in the courtyard in an elegant setting. Good news: we’re the first to arrive and can sit as far from the huge grill and clay oven as possible. The bad news: it doesn’t matter, we sweat right through the entire meal.
Warehouse just inside the outer gate

Winery inside the gate

Mood lighting: lanterns with candles 

At least we can order a la carte! Appetizers are both excellent: grilled pulpo (octopus) and fire roasted peaches (still in season here) with greens and prosciutto. Entrees: rib eye steak (Mallman’s specialty) and goat (chivito), with potatoes (of course), both very good and so much food we take the leftovers to be our lunch tomorrow. We share flan for dessert, it is so sweet we eat less than half. A glass of Viognier (a rarity as Pedro explains that restaurants usually only sell full bottles) for $6 (amazing!) and terrific bottle of 2009 El Enemigo Gran Reserve blend (recommended by Pedro after seeing what we liked at the tastings yesterday).

Dinner around $300, including $100 for the wine and an espresso served without accompanying mini-chocolates. In general, the meal was served graciously and leisurely. Our waitress spoke no English; she was supplemented during order taking by a waiter who spoke English (“rare” means rare in English), and DB did the heavy lifting in Espanol during the rest of meal. We had a long wait to get the check and then to pay. No problems processing our Visa card (for you long-time followers, you know THB has poor checkout karma) and we checked: they aren’t taking Apple Pay yet.

The taxi arrives and now security is checking us OUT of the restaurant. Amazing. Good news: the guard tells the taxi driver which hotel we’re staying at and the driver finds the hotel by driving through downtown Chacras de Coria, which is pretty lively for 11pm on a Thursday night, and saves us from walking the town the next day in 100 degree heat.

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