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Mendoza – Wine, glorious wine

Mendoza, a city of 800,000 people situated 1,100km west of Buenos Aires at the foot of the Andes. Come here to taste the wines from the largest wine-producing area in Argentina. But besides wine, Mendoza is famous for being the point at which the liberator, Jose de San Martin set out to cross the Andes with an army to liberate Chile. It is also a great place to take a journey into the foothills of the Andes to see the southern most point of the Inca Empire and the highest mountain in South America – Aconagua.

The city of Mendoza was destroyed by earthquake and fire in 1861 and today it is a modern looking place with wide avenues and low buildings (as a precaution against further earthquakes) thickly planted with trees and gardens. It is something of an oasis as the whole of the surrounding area, other than the vineyards, is desert, so water is a constant concern with the farms and houses being supplied from underground rivers. With the growing demand from ever-increasing wine production and expanding urbanization will, at some point, bring a crisis.

Visting vineyards is the key tourist attraction for the city, and it possible to visit quite a variety in a day’s visit. It is a red wine-producing area — whites being better from the Chilean side of the mountains. The grape they use here is Malbec, originally introduced from Europe.

The three wineries we visited were quite a mixture. The first was a boutique vineyard, Bodega Benegas, producing a mere 150,000 litres a year using traditional techniques. The second winery, ReNacer, was much more commercial producing 1.5 million litres a year. Finally, we ended up at a winery called Ruca Malen where, apparently, a legend was waiting for us. Instead of a wine tour we had five course lunch with each plate paired with one or two different wines from their bodega.

Being so close to the Andes, we took the opportunity to spend some time up in the mountains. You have to travel for several hours over the plains to reach the Andes. Then the mountains are all the more impressive as they stretch heavenwards from nearly sea level to a height of over 3,000m to finish in snow capped peaks as they guard Argentina from their Chilean neighbours. The mountain colours change from deep reds & browns to beige, to green. The air is dry and crystal clear and it is a wonderful feeling to stand in the cold but sunny mountain climate once again. As we stand at the top of a high mountain pass with views stretching for miles in every direction there is a wonderful feeling of space and freedom that is impossible to experience in a city.

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