so many wines, so little time…

After spending 5 days tasting in one of the most laid back places we’ve been to in the last 6 months, we finally hopped on a bus to Tucuman (and then almost immediately to San Juan) with our sense memories overflowing.

Here are some of the highlights and recommendations:

Bodega Jose L. Mounier (also confusingly referred to as Finca Las Nubes) – this small to medium sized producer makes a wide range of entry level wines labelled as Finca Las Nubes, including a great P/Q torrontes and some OK reds.  They also produce a higher end blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat labelled as Jose L. Mounier.  It is a solid wine, but in this price range the bottles are remarkably good and better wines can be found.  Still, it’s a perfect compliment for a big fat bife de chorizo.  Price at winery A$80.

Bodega Porvenir – medium sized by Cafayate standards, the winery produces about 20,000 bottles each of their 6 flagship Laborum brand reds.  The Tannat has garnered some acclaim in the UK, being touted by the sommelier at Gaucho.  But I found the syrah and malbec to be really interesting expressions of the respective grapes.  Both can be overwhelmingly jammy and rich at times, almost sticky in the mouth.  Yet Porvenir wines are refreshing and balanced, with an unreal purity of fruit.  And a ridiculous deal when purchased at the bodega.  Price at winery A$60 (everywhere else A$80-100).

Bodega Tacuil – we were unable to visit because the winery is near Molinos, a town inaccessible by public transport.  However, we found this bottle in a small shop in Cafayate so gave it a try.  Apparently this is yet another place that claims to have the highest vineyard in the world, a very popular tag line around Salta.  What I can say about this malbec and cabernet sauvignon blend is that it is probably the biggest, fattest, most complex and tastiest wine I’ve ever had for the price.  “RD” is about halfway up their quality scale and it was amazing.  We had to let it breathe for about 1.5 hours, but once it opened up and settled down – wow!  Tried pairing it with a bife de chorizo, but honestly the food was no match.  Price at tiny local shop in town A$55.

Bodega Tukma – we heard about this one at a wine bar on our last night.  The winery doesn’t have tastings, so the wine bar offers its wine at a fractional mark up to allow visitors to taste.  The torrontes was along the same lines as San Pedro de Yacochuya… so refined and polished that it somehow misses out on the refreshing party in your mouth that makes drinking torrontes so much fun.  But it’s a fantastic wine;  something along the lines of an unoaked, more refreshing version of a white Bordeaux.

Some of Cafayate's finest

Some of Cafayate's finest

El Almacen Wine Bar – just off the main square in Cafayate, this place is a great choice for sampling some of the area’s finest quaffers.  The profit margin is minimal – it’s all about getting people to try the wines.  They even have some of the illusive San Pedro de Yacochuya wines by the glass!  Patience is a virtue though;  officially it opens around 8pm but in reality it depends what mood the owner is in which, in turn, depends on the recent football results.

View from the couch

View from the couch

All things considered, it was a great visit in a really cool little town.  While the area is a bit of a pain to get to from the north, it is definitely worth more than the cursory day-trip from Salta many tour operators run.  Just hop on an El Indio bus in Salta, enjoy the ridiculously stunning Quebrada de Cafayate along the way, and settle in for some truly chill wine country.

All things considered, it was a great visit in a really cool little town.  While the area is a bit of a pain to get to from the north, it is definitely worth more than the cursory day-trip from Salta many tour operators run.  Just hop on an El Indio bus in Salta, enjoy the ridiculously stunning Quebrada de Cafayate along the way, and settle in for some truly chill wine country.


Ah, Cafayate…

We just spent a week in the other Argentinean wine country. Not Mendoza but Cafayate, in the northwest. It’s a lot less accessible than Mendoza and thus a lot less visited and a lot quieter.

It is Torrontes country but our highlights were more of the red wine and beer type – yes, beer.

More to come soon but a few links to get you all started:

Porvenir Winery: definitely our best tasting experience since Vérité and some beautiful, beautiful wines; light but still extremely flavourful.

Tasting at Porvenir in Cafayate, Argentina

Tasting at Porvenir in Cafayate, Argentina

Me Echo la Burra Brewery – Belgian style brewing with a light, refreshing feel  in the Calchaquies Valley

Bodega Salvador Figueroa in Cafayate. What a winemaker makes once he retires: his wine, his way, his time and his quantity (5000 bottle per year). And no website.

We’re in San Juan now, getting ready for a second week of tasting, this time around here and later on in Mendoza…


Worst Overnight Bus Movies Ever

So a few nights ago on a bus from Ica to Arequipa, on the fancy Cruz Del Sur, they were showing United 93.  It’s not that United 93 is a bad movie, but for me it’s not the kind of thing you want to have going on while eating your scraps of carne, sipping Inca Cola and preparing for some semi-reclined sleep.

Also high on the W.O.B.M.E. (pronounced “wohb-mee”) list – the incredibly depressing movie about a woman dying of Alzheimer’s we saw from Lima to Huaraz.  Who is picking these things and can the bus company just offer them a few sessions of counselling?

Of course, the USA is not immune.  Although not on a night bus (actually, it was a very early morning bus making it arguably worse), the NY-Philly Chinatown bus had the bright idea of showing David Lynch’s Blue Velvet!

A scene from Blue Velvet

A scene from Blue Velvet

Anyway, so as not to finish on a low note, in a shining example of fantastic long distance bus movie fare – ANY bus in China.  I mean, seriously, who doesn’t like hour after hour of sword fighting and martial arts!  Honourable mention for Kangaroo Jack as well.

Now for a little audience participation… what is your best/worst long distance bus movie experience?  Winner gets a partially used pack of Gravol and almost new ear plugs for your next vacation.

Wine shopping abroad – a primer

Who among us doesn’t like a tipple of wine whilst on holiday?  This question is, of course, rhetorical… since everybody does!  But which wines are the “best” deals is a question as old as the fermented grape juice itself.

My reflex answer is drink local – sometimes the best wines never make it out of the production area and usually are very competitively priced.  However, this was challenged recently on our trip to a Panama City wine shop.  In the wine shop, not only were there NO strictly local wines to choose from,  but the French and US wine was ridiculously cheap – ridiculous as in cheaper than in France and the US.   But why?  Here goes my theory…

Reason 1)  The required profit margin on a bottle of wine in the US (or insert name of other “developed” wine producing country here) to cover rent, employee salaries, insurance, corporate tax, etc. is many times more than other places in the world.

Reason 2) The cost per bottle to ship wine overland long distances within the US can sometimes be more than bulk shipping by sea along traditional shipping routes

So, for the above reasons, Panama City really hits on all cylinders for drinking imported wine from traditionally expensive areas…  and if you don’t believe me, here are two examples (both including tax):

2007 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon – $55

2002/2003/2004 Hugel “Gentil” – $10 each

Anyway, moral of the story is: don’t automatically assume imported wine is a rip off simply because it’s imported.  Sometimes it can be a better deal than you think!

Lima Food Planning

My sister made up this song when she went to Peru for the first time and as much as D likes potatoes, we both agreed that we’ll get enough of them even by trying to eat well.

Lundi, qu’est-ce qu’on mange – des patates!

Mardi, qu’est-ce qu’on mange – des patates!

Mercredi, qu’est-ce qu’on mange – des patates!

Jeudi, qu’est-ce qu’on mange – des patates!

Vendredi, qu’est-ce qu’on mange – des patates!

Samedi, qu’est-ce qu’on mange – des patates!

Dimanche, qu’est-ce qu’on mange – des patates et du riz!!!!!!!

I have been looking forward to the food in Peru for the past year and to be honest, the song kind of scared me. I know one can eat well in Peru and I hope to be able to do it even on our budget so here are my research notes from Chowhound.

Chinatown: Peruvian Chinese seems great and I really miss Asian food

–  “Pato con frutas” is one of my favorites.. it’s a sort of sweet and sour duck.

Get anticuchos from a street vendor: marinated, skewered, veal or beef heart. We’ve had some at one of my favorite restaurants in New York and also had a Laos in Vientiane. Can’t wait for the real Peruvian thing.

Try andean trout

And, of course, potatoes:

There are over 200 types of potatoes in Peru.. so keep your eyes out for the SMALL cafes — they’re more likely to have the locally grown ingredients.

Cancha, the toasted corn kernels, served before the meal at cebicherias – I really want to eat ceviche!!!

Coca tea – we have some at the hostel here in PC, will try tomorrow, should be an appetite suppressant, which may help our budget…!

Alpaca meat:

– Pachapapa in Cuzco had an AMAZING alpaca anticucho

– Alpaca loin

Alpaca meat in Cusco from mmm-yoso on Flickr

Alpaca meat in Cusco from mmm-yoso on Flickr

May want to try Astrid y Gaston, a classic that has been recommended by many although it is quite pricey for Peru.

Again, if we feel like spending more than $5 per head , Huaca Pucllana for gourmet traditional Peruvian food.

Pepino Melons – fruits!!!

Marinated sliced radishes – veggies!!!

A few more Cusco notes:

Parallel to Avenida del Sol is a street called Pampas de Castillo, there are several Chicharonerias lining the street. During lunch they wheel some of the fryers into the street, so all you smell is pork and chicken frying.

Enough planning now – off to get some parilla now.

Eating in Dali – Things I Miss About China

We had great food in China Dali… I could really go for one of these right now.

The officially MSG-free dumplings made by the women of a large family in a tiny, tiny shop just off the West Gate.

Dali Food

The ridiculously overpriced but oh so delicious fried yak meat with chilies from Jim’s Tibetan Café.

The famous Across the Bridge Noodles in the large restaurant at the intersection of Foreigners street and the main tourist street.

How to Kill a Poisonous Spider in 3 Steps

Ronnie is dead, long live Ronnie. Minutes after he got here, M kindly offered to kill her for us when she’d come out again, in the evning. We shamelessly accepted but ended up having to take the matter into our own hands. She came out during the day, and aimed for our bags. We had to intervene.

Shoehandler: D

Camera: Chloé

Step 1 – Practice shot

Step 2 : We recommend skipping this step unless you have large enough shoes

Step 3: The Squat, also known as Gravity

If it all goes according to plan…

After about 10 weeks without plans, we have decided to spice things up a little. We’ve been pretty lucky with wifi access recently and have decided to put it to good use. We researched and planned.

This is what we hope to book for the rest of the trip, at least if we are able to get the special rates we’re hoping for and if they’re all available. As you’ll notice, after all these weeks and a few bad experiences, we are starting to loose our patience for overpriced scruffy bungalows and are going to the other extreme: if I have to go above budget, I will at least enjoy it!

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia: Fathers Guesthouse for some cool weather, free wifi and good hikes. We are hoping to see the largest flower in the world and to do some tea tasting.

Kecil Island, Perhentians, Malaysia: Maya Beach Resort. Ten minutes walk from the main town but on a quiet, more secluded beach. Hoping it’ll beat Koh Phangan. Still hesitant though so comments and suggestions are welcome if anyone has been to the area.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Hotel Maya. Another Maya although we’re a bit hesitant about this one as we are a bit unsure about the location. The hotel itself seems amazing – floor to ceiling windows overlooking the Petronas towers and free in-room cocktail every night? Yes!

Singapore: The Scarlet Boutique hotel witha  rooftop bar in the heart of Chinatown, just so we end in style.

So that is the plan… but it changes by the day. Any suggestion?

Getting our culture on

Normally, when on holidays, there just isn’t enough time to visit museums, churches and other ‘sights of interest’ between our food and drink focused days.  However, given the amount of time we are travelling, we found the time to stop by the Grand Palace in Bangkok and it was well worth it.

Bangkok New Camera 032