Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Napa in the Making?

Well, maybe that's going a little too far. But the wine region around Neuquén, Argentina more than satisfied our wanderlust (not to mention our palates) for two days while our husbands were working all day. With the help of the hotel staff, we were on our way in a car with a guide within two hours of asking how we could get out to the three wineries that give public tours. Victoria not only spoke English well, she worked for three years at one of the wineries, teaches wine tasting courses and is studying to be a sommelier!

On our daily jaunts to the wine region, we zipped passed Southwestern U.S.-looking terrain, groves of apple trees and rambleshack parillas. We criss-crossed the Neuquén river between Neuquén and Rio Negro provinces. We tasted Parker-esque malbecs, merlots, cabs and pinots at three wineries with high production values and restaurants with floor-to-ceiling windows of vineyards.



Our first stop on day 1 was NQN winery (http://www.bodeganqn.com/) where after a quick tour and wine tasting, we had a leisurely lunch. JM, a vegetarian traveler in one of the more carnivorous countries in the world, was particularly impressed with her salad ("a very flavorful and light salad, with green beans and corn."). My grilled pork with sweet potatoes and apple chutney was comfort food at its best. The post-meal cortado (a shot of espresso with steamed milk) helped to prevent napping on the way to our next stop, Bodega Fin del Mundo (literally, the end of the world). (http://www.bodegadelfindelmundo.com/).



On day 2, we took a different route across the Neuquén River, where we stopped to snap photos of the bridge, the deep blue water and three dogs napping nearby.



The final stop on our tour, Bodega Familias Schroeder (http://www.familiaschroeder.com/) had the least interesting wines but gorgeous landscaping (sweet-smelling lavender, palm trees, park benches) and an amazing restaurant that would have made Ferran Adrià proud, with his goal
"to provoke, surprise and delight the diner." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferran_Adria)


The chef at Saurus (named for the dinosaurs discovered under the building a few years back) pulled out all the stops for his only diners that day. To start, an amuse bouche of fruit ravioli with blueberry foam:

An appetizer of beet carpaccio with arugula, parmesan, berries and hazelnuts:
Entrees to satisfy meat-lovers and vegetarians alike (though a bit heavy on the carbs... yes, that's bacon-wrapped grilled chicken with mashed sweet potatoes and roasted potatoes on the side!).


And for dessert... white chocolate soup with floating chunks of pound cake and a dusting of dark chocolate!



The only thing missing was other people. Granted we visited on weekdays, but I have a feeling weekends are just as empty. Tourism is just beginning to creep into the region, and with the nearest major town a 45 minute drive away with not much in between, it unfortunately may be a long time in coming.

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