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Cafayate and Posadas

ARGENTINA | Wednesday, 12 November 2008 | Views [1085]

We got up early for a quick brekkie in the bus terminal and a minibus to Cafayate, one of the centre of wine making in the Salta region. Our mission was to be wine based for the day and shrug off the damage that Bolivian Rum had left in its wake.

The trip was in a comfy minibus and was very pleasant, passing through multi-couloured canyons and natural rock formations called "the obelisk" or "the castles" and not without reason - they did look like the things they were called.

We arrived in Cafayate, a sleepy well kept and clearly affluent town after about 4 hours and a few hostel touts armed with fliers greeted us as we alighted the bus. We promptly went up the street to the main plaza to find the tourist office who rattled through her spiel and was no help at all.

We then looked at the fliers and chose the most economical option. It was fine and seemed to have a permanent Bob Marley soundtrack on. We dumped the bags and got on with viticultural matters at hand, walking around the town in search of winerys, passing by the most amazing collection of old cars I have seen anywhere. It was great to see all the old Renault 9s, 12s and 18s and Peugeot 505s that I remember us and other people having as a kid not to mention the really old school ford falcons I have only seen in old TV shows.

First visit was the bodega El Transito, an ultra modern boutique operation. We tasted away and then had a tour of their operation only built three years ago and the height of efficiency. Wine was nice but nor brilliant ands we didn't get much of a feel for the place.

Time for lunch, I engaged in meat based grazing once again, Claire opting for the picky fare of Picadas (cold meats, olives etc). Next up, Bodega Nanni, another boutique at 300,000 litres per year but this totally organic and sticking to the old methods, not very efficient but absolutely gorgeous. We tasted afterwards and their Cab Sauv rose was delicious. Really amazing... Also discovered a new type of grape, Tannat which is very big and spicy and not used in Europe much as it dies out in

So we really liked Nanni - the girl who showed us around was more enthusiastic, their organic traditional methods seemed so much more authentic and it generally felt like a more welcoming place altogether. Plus they gave us more wine which was nice!

We left and started wandering around looking for another winery. However the obstacle in our way was the great Latino tradition of the siesta. In Salta the whole town hibernated between 1 and 4pm and Cafayate seemed to have an even more pronounced mid-afternoon sleeping habit. The next few bodegas we wandered past were closed so we ended up going for a long walk out of the town as we had seen a few likely candidates on the way in on the bus. We came across a very large one that was surrounded by vines and had a handsome tower and a lovely white building with a long vine lined drive at its entrance. It even had an intercom. This was clearly a different type of place. We pressed the button on the intercom and a voice said that for $20ARG we could have a tour and a tasting. Although the others had been free we said why not and entered la bodega “La Estofaca”. This was a commercial operation, owned by Pernod Ricard and creating many millions of litres of wine per annum, one of which (the 2007 Tannat), interestingly for anyone from M&S who is reading, is exclusive to M&S and won a silver medal in the London wine awards this year. We had a tour, in English for a change, and then had a more generous tasting although we both agreed the wine was nowhere near as nice as the previous 2. We jogged back to Nanni when it was over to buy some rose and the reserve we hadn't tasted, now a little tipsy after 3 tastings.

Having decided that an empanada (little pasties) dinner would be in order we wandered around searching for them but it took us about 3 hours, in which time we had sampled red and white wine sorbet and arranged our tickets to Posadas, our next destination in the extreme east of the country.

The journey began at 5am where we took a strange local bus to Tucuman, the largest town in the region. During the seven hours it took, the bus went from being a quiet commuter bus to a very noisy and packed school bus with not even standing room spare and then to being a normal coach with average punters. The route was very picturesque although at a curve our food bag fell down from the overhead carriage and our thermos flask, much to my chagrin, broke. This meant we had no more ability to make Mate...

Have I mentioned mate yet? Its the Argentine national drink and is quite unusual to the uninitiated. Its a hot drink made with Yerba, a substance like green tea which is put in a receptacle or gourd called a mate. Hot but not boiling water is added to it and each person take turns drinking it though a metal straw, the bombilla. One person, the cebador is responsible for serving it to the group and you only say thanks when you don't want any more. I love it and its growing on Claire although she didn't like it at all when we were in London. Apart from being quite tasty it's a hunger suppressant, a stimulant and a mild diuretic. Everyone and I mean everyone drinks it constantly here and Misiones province is where the farms are so its pretty typical. You keep your hot water in a thermos to keep it warm and portable so you can drink anywhere – park bench, car, bus, or at your desk (I'm not joking). Our thermos was broken and we were up mate creek without water, so to speak.

We arrived at Tucuman at midday and had a wander for a few hours, both glad that we had decided to give it a miss. To be honest it reminded me a lot of Bs As but only in its hustle and not in its charm.

On to the next bus at 5pm after a lunch of crazy steak sandwiches smothered in cheese on the outside. This was going to be a big one – 17 hours all the way across the country almost to Brazil. At least it would be flat and not in endless curves up and down the Andes so we would have some chance of sleeping. And so we did, we were both amazed to find that after the few movies (in Spanish which Claire has started to get the gist of amazingly!) we out the heads down and got some quality REM, despite the interruption to change buses at 5am.

We arrived in Posadas, the capital of Misiones province at about midday. After freshening up we went straight for lunch in a lovely Italian place adorned with photos of the Colosseum in Rome and St marks in Venice and other such Italiana. I was then surprised to see a photo of a place I recognised (never having been to Italy). I asked the waiter if he knew where it was, and he mumbled that he would have to get the owner. He came along and said that he thought it was of some sacred book in the Vatican somewhere but he didn't know as he bought all the pictures thinking they were of Italy. I couldn't help but smile as I told him that it was a photo of the long room in the old library of Trinity College Dublin and the book was the Book of Kells, sacred indeed but nowhere near the Vatican.

We strolled off our pasta lunch wandering around the very laid back and now, it being siesta time, very quiet river town on the border with Paraguay. Our next mission would be to get a few more stamps in the passport and an UNBREAKABLE thermos in Paraguay.

Tags: mate, meat, old cars, thermos, vineyards, wine


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