To come to Argentina and not sample its world famous Malbec red wine would indicate there is something more than a little wrong with you, whether you are a wine buff or not.
For us in particular, after our epic adventure through the Andes, peppered with missed bus rides and broken bridges, the sight of the green, leafy, sprawling town of Chacras de Coria, just half an hour from Argentina’s Malbec Mecca, Mendoza, is truly one for sore eyes.
Relaxing at Casa Glebinias
Chacras de Coria is peaceful although anything but sleepy – packed with vineyards, it’s ideal for some leisurely DIY exploring away from the big tourist buses. The perfect place to set off is from our hotel, Casa Glebinias, a shady garden oasis of individual cottages that, atop spiral staircases, house high ceilinged, secluded rooms that are decked out with plush carpets, dark wood antique furniture and your own personal balcony overlooking the immaculately manicured grounds.
Casa Glebinias is run by the Aristarain family, the impeccably dressed retirees Alberto and Maria Gracia, and their sons, Martin and Gabriel. With the hotel’s concept built around the wine experience, we don’t even need to set foot out of the grounds to have our first Malbec encounter. Before we dine at the in-house restaurant, on our own private garden deck no less, Gabriel, a professor of wine at the university of Mendoza, takes us on a tour of the family’s own cellar so we can handpick a bottle for our meal. Needless to say it makes our dinner truly shine, and the service station sandwiches that we’d scoffed in the back of Gustavo’s 4×4 just hours earlier are a thankfully now distant memory.
The next morning, trainers on and backpacks slung over our shoulders, we are ready to hit the wine trail, with Casa Glebinias’ local vineyard map in our hot little hands. Gabriel, the ultimate wine professional, has highlighted three must-see pit stops all within walking distance from the hotel. Whether we’ll be inclined to walk back at the end of it all is another matter but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
Sophisticated Alta Vista
First stop, Alta Vista, a red-roofed modern colonial redevelopment with a ranch-style feel found at the end of a long country road. Run by a French wine connoisseur, it features the most sophisticated machinery and techniques taken from the continental experts. We get our own private tour that takes us past the vineyards and through the main house, into the processing room, the dark, barrel-filled cellar and the owner’s own dusty, locked up personal collection. We taste some fruity, summery whites, before moving onto three shades of red that culminate in a glass of the Altemporal limited edition premium line. It tastes as though your tongue is being wound up in berry-flavoured silk ribbons- everything you’d expect at £50 a bottle.
Luscious lunch at Lagarde
In high spirits we make our way back towards one of the town’s main lanes to the more rustic Lagarde winery, hidden behind an imposing wall. The Altemporal detour means we missed the tour of Lagarde but we’re here for a gastronomical adventure. When Gabriel innocently offered to book lunch for us here, little did we realise we were signing up for a five course lunch complete with wine pairing. The walk back to the hotel is looking less and less likely….
We’re seated at thick wooden tables in front of the vines, and await the rollout of our five courses: beetroot gaspacho, sweetbreads, still smouldering charcoal cooked pork belly, and of course the star of the show, fillet steak, rounded off with a dulce de leche trio for dessert.
And the wine just. Keeps. On. Coming. Those five glasses keep getting cheekily topped up by our vivacious young waiter and before we know it we’ve spent the best part of the afternoon quaffing and scoffing.
Carmelo Patti – pint sized but punchy
We consider sacking off the third winery on our agenda and wandering back to the hotel for a hard earned nap, but we were specifically told by Gabriel that visiting local winemaker Carmelo Patti is a must do. Gabriel recommends Carmelo for the experience of meeting him above all else, as his operation is rustic and small scale. No five course lunches here!
He’s not wrong, as when we arrive we are greeted by Carmelo himself. Grey haired and pint sized, Carmelo is in fact larger than life with his animated description of his processing, most importantly quality checking – if it’s not good enough it comes out of production and he drinks it for himself (good excuse!).
Carmelo and I bond enthusiastically (drunkenly?!) over the fact we both have Sicilian heritage and he even shows me the glowing write ups he has has earnt in Italian wine magazines. His charm works as we leave not just with a hearty kiss on the cheek but a bottle of his most critically acclaimed Gran Assemblage red.
So now it’s finally time for that nap – if we can find our way home!