The far side of the world
Author: Simon Field MW
For those of you contemplating travelling to Argentina in the near future, may I offer are three very valuable pieces of advice. Firstly you must in fact go first to Chile, so as to benefit from going too far, as it were, and having the excuse of crossing the Andes four times before returning home (as I demonstrate on horseback, below). The view of Aconcagua, the highest peak in all of America is quite breath-taking and the ecstatic contemplation can be enhanced by the knowledge that LAN Airlines are the most efficient in South America , with an extremely good record of not losing luggage not to mention their proclivity to follow particularly scenic flight-paths.
The second piece of advice is entirely contemporary and is not necessarily fuelled by vestigial memories of the allegedly dipsomaniacal General by the name of Galtieri and his unwise territorial aspirations…..If you mention a wedding, shall we say a Royal Wedding, even the most urbane of your hosts may well think you are referring to the crooner Michael Boublé, who has just married a local girl in Argentina in a Hello Magazine-style splendour, the regality of which one would be unwise to question. Such confusion is not born out of xenophobia, but rather from a radically different cultural backdrop….which is quite refreshing in its own way…….
The third and most important piece of advise involves wine (at last, I hear you say) and is an exhortation to visit Pulenta Estates, surely the most impressive property in Mendoza , if not in all of Argentina. With vineyards in the Agrelo and Uco Valleys, Pulenta are making outstanding wines, principally from Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, but also from Merlot, Cabernet Franc. Pinot Gris, Torrontes and even Pinot Noir……….a veritable vinous canon, but one with Malbec firmly established as its key ambassador. I was lucky enough to visit with harvest in full swing and the promise of an outstanding crop empirically evidenced by healthy sweet grapes and rich, ripe flavours in the musts and young wines. At over 1000 metres, the vineyards are a web of contradictions; flat yet entirely hand harvested, densely planted, yet low yielding; completely impractical without the expensive drip irrigation yet in full- view of the snow-capped Andes. The corollary of these contradictions is evidenced in diurnal temperature variations and resulting wines with naturally high levels of both sugar and acidity, which in turn engender the essential contradiction which lies at the heart of all fine wines; the dramatic interplay between freshness and acidity on the one hand and the fruit and the tannin the other. Argentina’s altitudinous vineyards enact this tension with great aplomb and the wines are now regarded amongst the very best in the New World. And not before time!
With Mount Tupungato as an appropriately grand backdrop, Pulenta’s guest accommodation (aka El Ranchio) is located in the middle of the vines, between a plot of Malbec and one of Sauvignon Blanc to be precise…. Lavender-clad pathways, irrigated lawns, an enormous out-door clay oven and a well-stocked cellar welcome the visitor to a stay that will inevitably be peppered with the finest cuts of beef and, needless to say, the most delicious wines. The adamantine purity of the peaks of the Andes , the incredible light and soothing breezes have all , quite unusually, awoken a modest sense of adventure in your correspondent as the accompanying evidence, of an equestrian nature, bears witness. There is something beguiling about such a landscape, about its people, so wonderfully represented by Eduardo Pulenta (above left) and his family and, of course by the wines themselves. The only way to understand the jewel that is Pulenta is to meet the people and to walk amongst the vines; this is a truism , but one that seems even more relevant in such magical surroundings as these……and one which provides a perfect excuse to visit this brave and , if one may use such a word, this majestic country.