Argentina is a paradise for book lovers and meat eaters. The capital city, Buenos Aires, has more bookstores per person than any other city in the world, according to research done by World Cities Culture Forum. There are 734 bookstores spread across the city, which amounts to 25 shops per 100 000 people. It may not seem like many, but to compare, according to online search there are 5 bookstores in Limassol, Cyprus in the city of 160 000 inhabitants. Book lovers in Buenos Aires will find big and modern places, some with cafés as part of the shops, where you can enjoy the latest bestsellers with a cup of steaming coffee. But there are also those warm little antiquaries, where you will be able to dig out old editions covered in dust.
On the other side, Argentina is the country to eat meat. Gaucho culture (Gauchos are excellent horsemen working in estancias herding the cattle on Argentinian Pampas) and way of life is present across the country. Cows were first brought to Argentina in 1536 by Spaniards, and due fertile soil and the suitable climate of Pampas and the strong demand of local markets, the numbers grew rapidly. In the 19th century, with help of railway across the country and the invention of refrigerated trains and ships, the beef industry began to earnestly thrive. With flipped seasons on the North and South of the globe, the Argentinian beef was delivered to the Northern hemisphere during the season when beef was not easy to find in the export markets. Currently, Argentina is the third largest exporter of beef and its beef is considered generally to represent some of the highest quality in the world. For someone who does not eat meat, however, the visit to this beautiful country can present challenges in terms of diving into the local cuisine.
As non-meat eaters, the Other Me and I, had had some trepidations about dinners “sin carne” (no meat) well before the trip. Going through the restaurant reviews, majority were high in praise over juiciness and size of the steaks and little was discussed in terms of alternatives to meat dishes. However, after arriving to Buenos Aires, we quickly realized that this city, having received generations of Italian immigrants, was also home to countless Italian dishes, all of which came with interesting local Argentinian twists.
But except a desire to see tango being performed on the streets of Buenos Aires or to sit by the dog parks with cup of tea and observe dog walkers taking care of dozens of dogs, one of the main reasons I wanted to travel across the Atlantic Ocean was el vino de Argentina! Of course, one can buy Argentinian wine outside of the country. But due to restrictions, there are not that many types of wine being exported from the country. It is a shame, because Argentinian wine is simply to die for. I can already hear few lovers of French or Italian wine gasping in disbelief now, but wine from Argentina is my favourite and I am ready to stand by it. Argentinian wines compliment well virtually every kind of meal, be it fish, pasta, meat or even alfajores (two cookies bind together with a sweet filling inside, usually made of dulce de leche).
Vine cuttings were brought to Argentina from Spain in 1557 during the Spanish colonization of the Americas. But the best known type of Argentinian grape variety, Malbec, was delivered by the French, 30 years later after Spaniards had introduced this fermented grape juice. Let’s not leave proud Italians out of the equation though. They also added their wine experience to the Argentinian wine production: They brought “Bonarda”, the wine grape variety grown in Piedmont, Italy.
So I looked for trips to the one of the well-known wine regions, Mendoza. This Argentinian city produces 60% of total Argentinian wine production, and is located right by the Andes, with Chile on the other side of the mountain range. The city itself does not have much to offer, but the area surrounding it was the most exciting for me. It is one of the largest wine regions in the world, and I could not wait to dip into the locally produced wine. Interestingly enough, our guide informed us that there are over 1 500 wineries in the area, and if you wanted to visit all of them, you would need a full year at a pace of two winery visits a day! Not to mention that there are three more large wine regions in this beautiful country. Busy few years!
Some of the wineries are quite big, with modern production lines and less human touch in the approach to visitors. But there are places where you feel like a part of a family. Bodega Lopez was one of the modern vineyards we visited. This vineyard is still owned by the same family, the Lopez family. Originally established by a Spaniard from Malaga, Jose Lopez Rivas, the estate has been passed on from one generation to the next. Currently the wine production is managed by the 4th generation of Lopez’ decedents.
The place was quite large and highly industrialized, with up-to-date technology in use, an R&D department, the bottling building and a visitors’ centre. You can see that the wine production is taken very seriously, but also it takes the cosines of the family owned business somewhat out of the equation. While the wine was good, being taken for one of the “mass” wine tours, with the vineyard’s tour guide reciting the same sentence for the nth time the same day, the visit left me with somewhat of a bitter aftertaste. Well, not from the wine, but from the experience.
My day was saved by the second vineyard that day: Cavas de Don Arturo is quite a small estate, hidden in between the trees and is located outside of the city of Mendoza. Similarly to Bodega Lopez, this vineyard has also been in the hands of a single family since its creation at the beginning of the twentieth century. But this vineyard still follows the traditional wine production approach, without all high-tech equipment and instead with engaged and smiling guides.
The tour did not take much of our time, but the best part came at the end: the wine was remarkable! To taste, we were served Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Syrah. As a true fan of Malbec, that was my first choice. Afterwards, I reached for Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. I cannot be sure whether the wine was so good or whether I was slightly tipsy at that moment or everything in one, but three bottles of Cavas de Don Arturo landed in my bag. I also have to mention here that Argentina was a first stop on our 3 weeks travel in South America. Nevertheless, as a consequence, the three bottles travelled with us, reaching our home safe and sound at the end.
I had an amazing 4 days in Mendoza all in all. I tasted several wines, some good, and some less good, with or without pasta. As a result, some moments from this trip are slightly blurry. To my astonishment, some of the wines were cheaper than water in a local supermarket, but definitely made my dreams nicer than after drinking water.
When I look back at the days we spent in Buenos Aires and in Mendoza, I consider this trip as one of best trips I have made in my life so far! Bookstores, the tango, the old world meets the New World feeling in Buenos Aires, alfajores, pizza drowning under a ton of cheese, and some of most amazing people we met during our travels, made the visit amazing. But I promised myself that one day I would take another trip to Argentina. The purpose would be to take another and longer visit to Mendoza, but also to explore this amazing country more.