11 Mendoza

     Argentinean people are just sexy and they know it.  The women are slender and tall and appear much like Parisian women—high fashion, beautiful hair, and pouty demeanors.  The men are also statuesque, with white-to-olive skin and good style.  Height wise, I blended in much better in Argentina than I did in Chile, style wise, I couldn’t hold a candle.  The Argentinean culture screamed class, sex, and wine. 

The flight to Mendoza from Santiago was short and sweet.  Antonio had a driver take us everywhere, so as we got off of his plane, we were greeted by a fully-uniformed man.  I hopped into the car and made my self comfortable in order to take in Mendoza. 

Downtown Mendoza is like stepping into Nice, France complete with marbled European architecture, cafes, and busy market places.  The town sits at the base of the Andes mountain range, and the borders Chile.  Mendoza is surrounded by beautiful wine country.  The vineyards are nestled in front of the towering and snow-capped mountains and the most of the modest wineries were obviously family-owned and inviting. 

We had arranged to stay at Finca Adalgisa, one of the finest hotels in the area.  The hotel was originally a 20th century manor house.  The white columns and manicured greens reminded me of a plantation from Savannah, Georgia.  Behind the grand building, endless rows of vines stretched over the horizon.  No detail had been left unattended to, from the coy ponds to the eternity pool, this place was truly five star.  It was so nice, I almost shit myself when I found out how much we were paying:  $99 a night.  Yep.  That’s it! 

A few years before, Argentina had a massive financial crisis which resulted in a devaluation of its currency.  As Antonio explained it to me, the Argentineans used to come to Chile and throw money around like crazy.  After the Argentinean dollar collapsed, Chileans came into Argentina to return the snotty favor.  It was a case of Argentina’s loss was my gain. 

After we got settled into our enormous suite, it was time to head to Luis’ vineyard and winery for a traditional Argentinean barbeque.  Now, growing up in Kansas City, Barbeque was a right of passage.  I thought I knew my stuff when it came to smoking, grilling, and sauces but the Argentineans blew my expectations out of the water.

I have two true loves in life: wine and red meat – and these guys knew how to do both right.  They stuck an enormous hunk of tender steak on a large skewer and cooked it asada-style over an open flame.  The results were mouth-watering, tender, and flavorful cuisine that is uniquely Argentina.  What could possibly make this meat any better?  Malbec. 

Luis’ family had been producing Malbec wines from their vineyard for over 20 years.  Malbec grapes originally comes from France, where they are one of the five grapes traditionally blended together to form a “Bordeaux” wine:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec.  The grape was named for a Hungarian peasant who spread the wine throughout France.  However, Argentina realized that Malbec was not just for blending.  Malbec, when drunk by itself, is inky, rich, and delicious.  It has a big enough backbone to pair with the asada beef but is easy enough to drink sans food.  The Argentinean’s loved the stuff, and Malbec has gotten to be the national grape of Argentina. 

After I’d drunken my fair share of Malbec, and eaten more than my fair share of the beef, it was time to party.  South Americans are what I call “active drinkers.”  In South America, you don’t just sit around and get loaded like Americans do.  You eat, talk, drink, and then dance.  The guys were itching to go to a hot new night club in downtown Mendoza.  I couldn’t blame them, the women were gorgeous, and usually wearing very little as they sensually danced the night away.  Being an adult version of a Tom Boy, I opted to join in. 

I’m glad did because the night club we ended up at was more like a carnival-circus where the patrons are the show.  Go-go dancers in three-foot high stilettos shook their asses on high platforms.  Chiseled-bodied fire dancers spun flames to the beat of the music.  And everyone (except my crew) was dressed up in costumes.  The vibe was dark, crazy, and sexual. 

As the clock struck midnight, the dancing crowd parted, and a spotlight shown down on a dressy couple.  The woman was tall, blonde, and slender.  She rocked a short black dress with fishnet hose and a big red rose in her hair.  The man was well built and dressed in a three-piece suit with a gangster-style hat. 

The club music quickly fell to silence as a violin started playing out of nowhere.  The man circled the woman, grabbed her waste, and violently spun her.  The Tango had begun.  As they moved together, it was like watching live foreplay.  The dance (which is Argentina’s national dance) embodied the people and turned on everyone in the room.  It only lasted for one song, and as they finished with a sharp twirl into a sensual dip, the crowd erupted with applause, the club music turned back on, and everyone returned to dancing. 

As we partied on to the wee hours of the night, I had made up my mind that I liked Argentina a little better than Chile:  it was cheap, beautiful, and full of great wine, much like I fancy myself. 

I was reluctant to return to Santiago, where my daily routine consisted of death-defying Micros, howling male midgets, and cold.  I must have been having a blonde day when I signed up to go to South America in July.  I didn’t even stop to think how cold it may be.  The one solace was my job: learning about wine and making connections to export wine to the U.S., E.U., and Southern Cone.  I spent my time learning, translating products into English, and stopping at least one Chilean from naming his Carmenere “Pukara” – which I told him Americans would associate with “puke.”  He was thankful for the advise.

The months to follow had me focusing on Worlds, Countries, Appellations, Villages, Chateaus, and Micro Climates.  I began to learn the next step in the “Big 5” of the Boones to Bordeaux method:  Place.