In May, I was told I would be sent on a trip to the Salentein winery in Argentina courtesy of Palm Bay International. I was elated. A date was set for the end of August, but was then pushed back to the first week of September (which I couldn’t make due to two weddings). I was crushed. The trip was then postponed indefinitely (on my account) before finally getting sorted out for the end of September (doable for me!). Here is what happened.
DAY 1: DISORIENTATION
We touch down at the Mendoza airport and I think it’s Thursday. Our host from Salentein, Lorena, is waiting at the gate to greet us. I am exhausted right now, which is making me more than somewhat confused.
What time is it?
Did my checked bag make it through all three flight changes?
Why does the airport of the fourth-largest city in Argentina only have two gates?
Whatever. Overriding all the noise in my head is an extreme desire for a coffee and a meal. Our van is waiting for us as we exit the airport, so we all pile in and make our way to downtown Mendoza for what I think based on the position of the sun in the sky must be lunch. “We are going to eat at one of my favorite restaurants,” says Lorena. “The chef is fantastic.”
This is the most beautiful sentence I’ve heard since “Get whatever you want, Palm Bay is paying” back in the T.G.I. Friday’s at DFW.
The restaurant is either at the Caro winery or its tasting room (who cares about details?) in an archaic section of Mendoza city. As we walk down a gorgeous marbled corridor to the dining room, baked aromas pick us all up out of our collective funk; we are officially in Argentina.
I can’t imagine how out of place we all look at this point. Eighteen hours of travel, no shower, no change of clothes, American. We are a church prayer group at a Lady Gaga show. But if it’s cool with Lorena, we are golden.
We sit down and two servers immediately hustle fresh breads to the table; I act as though I haven’t seen real food in, well, about 18 hours. They take everyone’s order and I face my first big decision of the trip. The filet sounds great (I mean, it’s filet), but having been told I might eat an entire cow over the duration of the trip, I decide preemptively mixing up my diet might be wise. So I opt for the pork tenderloin covered in pancetta.
*SPOILER ALERT* – This turns out to be a good move.
Somehow in my zombie state, I missed that I had been poured wine. There was a very fine Chardonnay in front of me, and I was not drinking it. We toast our trip and get underway performing the very research we had come to conduct.
My appetizer comes out and I begin to perk up – “New Carrots (or “Carrots,” as I often call them) with Fresh Goat Cheese and Arugula.” I forget how drained I am and slip into peace with the world. I should mention I am on my third glass of very fine Chardonnay.
Entrees follow shortly, and mine is perfect; there are few things in life better than pork covered in pork. At this point, we switch from Chardonnay to Pinot Noir, because why the hell not? The Pinot is pretty damn great.
We finish our meal (I don’t remember anything about dessert…) and adjourn to the veranda for coffee and great weather. When it’s 70 degrees and sunny outside and you are from Texas, you tend to stay indoors as little as possible. We are all physically spent and suffering from severe bouts of itis, so we finish our drinks, load into the van and begin the trek south to Salentein.
Around 5, we arrive at the posada. We are each given a room key and told dinner will be served at 8:30. I head to my room and take my first shower in almost 36 hours. It feels amazing. I finish and crawl into bed for my first meaningful sleep in days. Two hours later, it’s time for dinner.
The dining area at the posada is a modest structure, perhaps built so as not to detract from the beauty of the vineyards it overlooks. At night, lights strung throughout the grounds illuminate the vines to remind you of what it is they do there.
I arrived to dinner a bit early, so I got my evening started with some bubbles as an aperitif. Salentein makes quite a few wines we will never see, one of which is a delicious sparkling wine. As this would possibly be the only chance I’d ever have to enjoy it, I resolve to drink as much of it as possible over the next three days.
Members of our group slowly trickle in and once everyone is ready, we sit down to eat. This is where the beef onslaught officially begins.
First course is an empanada with a fresh mango Pico de Gallo. I have had many empanadas in my life; none compare to this. The seasonings in the beef are on point, the made-from-scratch dough is divine and the fresh salsa ties it all together with a nice little bow. If this is a harbinger of things to come, the outlook for this trip is trending upward.
Rib eye is served is the main. As any reasonable person would, I order mine rare. One of my compatriots questions my decision. He orders his well-done. I question his sanity. Although I know in my heart I am right, we agree to disagree. We receive our steaks and we are both happy. Perhaps there is room in the world for one dissenting opinion.
I pass on dessert (which I am told is fantastic) because I am close to a meat coma at this point; I have had approximately 5 pounds of flesh over my first two South American meals, and I need to stop putting food into my body, stat. I instead opt to take the wiser route of drinking wine and smoking cigars into the wee hours of the morning. After all, there is no better way to deal with sleep and food deprivation than treating your body like garbage.
I’m the last person to go to bed. Good night, idiot.