Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Concha y Toro and over to Mendoza

Concha y Toro has probably one of the most famous wine labels in the world - that of Casillero del Diablo, or "The Devil's Cellar". Surprisingly it is right on the outskirts of Santiago, and one can take the tube almost all the way there. We arrived slightly late, paid our 6,000 pesos (£6) entry fee each, and after some confusion joined the correct tour group.

Optical illusions in the eaves

Our chap walked us briefly around the grounds, which are set with about 70 hectares of vines, around a large beautiful house and landscaped gardens, dating from the original family.

Vines from 1978! Same age as me!

I was pleasantly surprised to see the tradition and relatively small scale of the place, given that you can buy a bottle of their wine in any small corner shop in rural England. The answer is of course that only a small part (about 1%) of their total production occurs here. Our first tasting is a disapppointment as he hasn't started explaining the wine before we are moved on by marshals, apparently we've run out of time at this part of the tour. Not impressed for a £6 fee.

Just a taste

Doesn't last long

Then we visit the actual Devil's Cellar. The story is fairly predictable, that wine was being pinched, so the owner put about the story that the devil lived in this cellar to stop the locals pinching his best stuff. We are told the story by a pre-recorded dramatic voice over a PA as the lights flick on and off. All good fun!

Spooky fish

The good stuff

Finally we get to try a Don Melchor Cab Sauv (named after the founder, and their top line wine) from '04. Not bad, but on this hot summer's day, I preferred the lighter Casillero del Diablo Malbec. We hit the gift shop, and I invest in some medium-priced Terrunyo Malbec which is a single estate single varietal.

Happy Customer

Back from Concha y Toro, we head to our now-favourite Starbucks for some air-conditioned frapp goodness. That done, we walked past an Irish bar where I asked the score of the England Ireland rugby game. Shouldn't have asked. We then head to Korea Town, or Patronato, with a better idea as to where some of the food might be after talking to a Korean chap in Valpo and checking the list of businesses on the Korean embassy website.

We find two restaurants, one drab, quiet and miserable, and the other busy. We head in and have the most marvellous tasty meal I've had since, err, we found the Thai restaurant two days ago. It's so nice to have flavour in South America though, so unusual. We crack open one of three Terrunyo bottles that I bought at Concha y Toro, though after a few mouthfuls of spicy food the subtle wine is completely wasted on us! Jina chats away in Korean to the owner, whilst I eat my fill.

Those not deprived do not understand…

Can I eat it all? How much can I take away?

We head back to the bus terminal happy and very full, to find that we've missed the last bus back to Valpo. Doh! Last bus to Vina leaves in 5 minutes, so we hop on that. All well and good till we take the local bus in Vina. Does this go to Valpo, we ask. Yes, they say. Okay, say we. They then drive off in totally the opposite direction. Obviously given the conversation, we go along with the direction for a while, assuming some cunning U-turn that we don't know about. 15 minutes later the conductor kid yells where are you going again? Valpo. Oh no, we're not going to Valpo. Cheers.

That night there are people running wild in our hostel and I am not happy. However, we're leaving in the morning, with a bus to Mendoza. Painfully long journey during which I sip my mate, about 9 hours, going via an interesting border crossing high in the mountains, somewhere near Aconcagua though we don't spot it in the clouds.

So glad we have a slow careful driver!

Queues for the border crossing

We arrive at Mendoza main bus terminal, it's very hot and humid, and we fail to get a taxi. With full gear on, we're sweating away and getting stressed, and end up walking across town, the 20 minutes or so to Hostel Alamo. First impressions of the town are great though. It's now about 11pm, but the streets are full of people, large trees line the pavement where cafes, bars and restaurants spill out, still full of life. The hostel seems nice, and our room is great, with air-con, and private bathroom. After the filth of El Yoyo and worse Plaza de Armas Hostels, this is so very, very welcome.

Out on to the streets, we wander around, and eat dinner at a taco place which is still full of people at about 1am. Most interestingly, the food and wine are just sooo cheap. I hadn't detected much of a difference in Patagonia, I think because the area is so touristy, but here, my goodness, it is damn cheap! Bottles of wine in restaurants are about £3. Nice meals for two including multicourse food, nice wine, water, coffees etc come to about £15. And it's good! We have a nice sleep, a great breakfast at the very nice Alamo Hostel, then get ready to go trekking around Aconcagua, which requires permits and of course food. We decide to try to use my tent for the trek too, something we will regret later!!

Good food and..

Happy Eaters!

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