Mendoza Trip Report #9: CarinaE, the Vines, and Amazing Food

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We’d left our last full day in Mendoza unplanned to make sure we had time to do things other than wine tasting if we wished. But as we spent two days out in the countryside with the Andes always in view, which was not the case where we were in Mendoza, we realized we much preferred the thought of more bodegas to shopping downtown or visiting a museum.

Luckily it was low season and Miguel was free, so we accordingly booked a half day with plans to visit a winery he recommended and then eat at a nearby restaurant he recommended.

He was picking us up at 11, so after a leisurely room service breakfast, we headed out around 9:30 to site see around the downtown square and find an ATM. With the exception of paying Miguel, we’d had little reason to use cash so far. All of the wineries and restaurants took credit cards, which was great because then we could use our Chase Sapphire cards, earning points on our numerous wine purchases AND avoiding the foreign currency transaction fees.

Unfortunately the ATM in the hotel was broken and we didn’t feel like using the one in the casino, so we decided to find one on our walk. It was a disappointing walk. Don’t get me wrong, Mendoza has charm, but we both agreed that it’s probably an amazing city to live in but less satisfying as a tourist. The architecture was interesting, but nothing stood out.

Fruit Shop in Downtown Mendoza

The downtown square (we didn’t make it to Parque San Martin) was nice enough, but more functional than pretty. So we walked around for about 30 minutes, saw a lot, and decided to head back.

We did learn one important thing on our walk. All of Mendoza goes to the banks at 10AM on Mondays. Not sure why, but every line for the ATM was at least 10 people deep, sometimes 30+, wrapping around the corner. So if you need to use the ATM, don’t do it Monday morning. I wound up preferring a stroll through the casino over waiting in line.

Miguel picked us up at 11 and we headed to CarinaE Vinedos & Bodega. To say we fell in love with the atmosphere at CarinaE is an understatement. The winery had been purchased in 2003 by retirees from Toulousse. They had no wine knowledge, but a love of the area, and purchased the vineyard. Which I think has paid off.

The grounds are simply charming! They are stark, with a Mediterranean feel.

CarinaE Vinedos & Bodega tasting room entrance, Mendoza, Argentina

The tastings take place in a whitewashed building with the feel of a French county/farm house with stain glass panels brightening the very functional room.

CarinaE Vinedos & Bodega tasting room, Mendoza, Argentina

After a brief tour of the operations, we returned to this room to try the wine.

CarinaE Vinedos & Bodega wines, Mendoza, Argentina

The owner and guide, Phillippe was kindness itself, but he warmed up considerably when he saw our level of interest in his wines. We split a reserve and a premium tasting (11 wines total) so we could try the full range of wines we might like. Since there was a little bit of overlap, we were allowed to try anything else on the menu and we chose their Octans red blend (not distributed internationally) and their Torrantes “the liar” wine that smells sweet and tastes tangy like a Savingion Blanc.

CarinaE Vinedos & Bodega tasting, Mendoza, Argentina

All the wines were nice, but were in stiff competition with the more established wineries we’d tried the previous days. However, we fell in love with their upper-end wines, particularly the Gran Reserva Malbec and the 2008 Prestige which were silky and smooth and packed with flavor. The third wine in that category, the 2008 Gran Reserva Syrah, was beautifully smoky, but not quite in the same category.

What surprised us the most was how much we liked their Passito dessert wine. Made of pink muscat grapes, it offered a punch of flavor in addition to the sweetness. Not quite on par with a poor man’s Yquem, but enough to make us haul a bottle home.

CarinaE Vinedos & Bodega premium tasting, Mendoza, Argentina

The tastings were accompanied by the most delicious homemade bread and once the wine was finished, they brought out their olive oil. If only every slot on our 12 bottle carrier had not been occupied…although I confess I did like the Olivios at Achaval Ferrar a tiny bit more.

Once we had filled all remaining slots on our wine shipper, Miguel took us to the restaurant, and none too soon. The room service breakfast was long gone and the 11 pours at CarinaE had been quite generous even though we poured most of it out.

We pulled up to Casa de Campos, and I was again grateful that we had such a great guide. Even if we had happened to randomly wandering around the tiny town, from the outside, we would never have been able to tell which place might be a gem. And, given how limited our Spanish was, my friend spoke French and I only had high school Spanish that hadn’t been used in years, we probably would have been intimidated to try it.

Casa De Campo restaurant, Maipu, Mendoza, Argentina
And that would have been a shame. Because it was wonderful. And their English was very limited. Miguel dropped us off in the capable hands of George, who was perhaps the owner, maybe the chef, and definitely the sommelier.

We were seated at a table, and presented with the menus. The waitress finding a helpful way to get around the language barrier – pointing to a few dishes in the menu and giving us a thumbs up with  “Bueno” and “Muy bueno”. That helped us narrow our choices to the veal, the roasted pork, and the rabbit (which earlier had been unfortunately mentioned in the car by Miguel as “bunny”).

Casa de Campos, Maipu, Mendoza, Argentina

So with those options in mind, we ascended to the wine cellar with George, which was more of a wine attic. George knew limited English and I knew limited Spanish, but he still helped us pick out an amazing bottle. We told him which proteins we were likely to eat and he started pointing at bottles and naming prices, which amazingly enough I was able to follow in Spanish. Although given my limited vocabulary, much of it went down like this:

The first bottle: “Nice bottle. You like. Smooth.” Then to the next bottle, “Mas rica, muy bien.” “Mas rica. MUY BIEN!”

We chose the bottle that was the third “mas rica”, a Mora Negra made from Bonarda, roughly $70, and worth every penny. We wound up choosing the lechon and rabbit and George knew what he was about with the pairing.

Mora Negra at Casa de Campos, Maipu, Mendoza, Argentina

We started with a beef empanada that was the best empanada I think I’ll ever have. The pastry was flaky and soft, the beef wonderfully seasoned. Mmmmmm.

Beef Empanada at Casa de Campos, Maipu, Mendoza, Argentina

And then for the main course. I went for the rabbit, because I never ever order rabbit. I figured Los Campos was probably going to do a good job, so this was the best time to try it. It came out covered in flavorful chopped greens, and had the texture of chicken, although fortunately not the taste, because doesn’t everything exotic supposedly taste like chicken? The taste was fantastic (I’m guessing it tasted like good rabbit?) as was my friend’s pork.

Conejo al horno, Casa de Campos, Maipu, Mendoza, Argentina

roast pork, Casa de Campos, Maipu, Mendoza, Argentina

We finished the meal and the wine and declined dessert, heading out to the car where we disturbed poor Miguel from his siesta in the car and returned to Mendoza. We got back mid-afternoon and were surprisingly lively, so we decided to go visit the main branch of The Vines of Mendoza before our massage appointments to check it out and pick up a bottle for later that night.

It was not the bottle shop we expected, so we wound up sharing a white wine tasting (something we’d experienced very little of on our tastings). I was shocked at how good the tastings were. They weren’t terribly expensive for 6 generous pours(roughly $30), and there was no selection that we wanted to stop after a sip. The atmosphere was “hip” and the service was attentive, we got great descriptions of each of the wines and our rep was very attentive. If you go, be sure to check out The Vine’s own label of Chardonnay. To be slightly oaked and under <$20 it was shockingly good.

We enjoyed the tasting so much in fact that my friend decided to sign up for the wine club, abeit the red-only option. The prices including shipping were very reasonable and they pull wines from across the region, giving you a chance to experience different wineries. Not to mention that signing up (roughly $150 per shipment of 6 bottles) waived our tasting fee.

Previous Posts:

Mendoza Trip Report #1 — IAD-MIA
Mendoza Trip Report #2 — Element by Westin Miami Airport
Mendoza Trip Report #3 –MIA -(Caracas?)- SCL
Mendoza Trip Report #4 — Holiday Inn Santiago Airport
Mendoza Trip Report #5 — SCL-MDZ
Mendoza Trip Report #6: Day 1 of Wine Tasting
Mendoza Trip Report #7: Park Hyatt Mendoza
Mendoza Trip Report #8:Day 2 of Wine Tasting


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