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Wine Tasting in Mendoza – Uco Valley

Planning the Tasting

The main reason we decided to visit Mendoza was for the wine.  We wanted a full day of tasting and we didn’t want to end up at the big producers – we wanted to see smaller operations.  Two months before our trip, I started reaching out to various wine tour operators and was very disappointed.  Of the six groups, only one ever responded to my several emails.  I found these tour guides through general internet searches and through TripAdvisor.  The one who did respond offered us a tour option that wasn’t a good fit.  Their suggested tour included a large 45+ person tour bus.  We wanted a more curated experience.

I then reached out to the Park Hyatt Mendoza for guidance. Within the hour I had received a quick questionnaire to help tailor my experience.  The following day I had received a proper quote for a private tour including driver/guide and vehicle.  The tastings and meals were separate and would be paid at each stop.

The price for this experience was AR5270 or 137USD.  Considering the alternatives, this was a really great option. A much better fit than the massive tour bus option.

The Tour

The day of the tour arrived and we met our guide in the lobby of the Park Hyatt.  Our guide was a retired energy consultant who spent most of his career acting as a mining consultant in Argentina, Peru and Bolivia.  He was a round and jovial man, who laughed with nearly every sentence he spoke.  He was welcoming and very knowledgeable about the region, its history and the people.  Like many people we interacted with in Argentina, their dislike of Bolivians wasn’t hidden.  I was taken aback by the near immediate and frequent racist comments about Bolivians.  It was awful.

Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
The breathtaking views of the Andes

As we left Mendoza, our guide told us of the history of the region, including the original Spanish settlers and the more recent Italian and German immigrants.  Our first stop was a gas station about 20 minutes outside of town – we needed to get water, lots of water for the day.  Because of the altitude, the temperature and the relative dryness of the area, we were quite parched.  Plus an entire day of drinking wine wouldn’t help us in that regard.

We continued on to our first destination in the Uco Valley.  We chose Uco as we really wanted to step outside of the city and being only an hour away, it wouldn’t eat up a large portion of our day just getting there. 

La Azul – Tasting

Our first stop was La Azul.  A small family producer that greeted us very warmly upon our arrival.  This wasn’t a tiny producer – there were several other tasting tourists there.  We sat down with a group of Americans, who were also staying at the Park Hyatt Mendoza.  It is such a small world. The guy who sat in front of my on the flight from Buenos Aires to Mendoza was part of this group.  He was much nicer today, when he wasn’t slamming his seat into my knees.

We worked our way through a couple of tasting with a member of the winemaker’s family. She was a bit robotic and on autopilot, but she was able to provide us some fun details on the wine, the vineyard and production. 

After tasting a few bottles we moved on to their production facility where we were able to do a barrel tasting.  This was definitely more for show and offered no real substance, but it was fun nonetheless.

We enjoyed the wine at La Azul and picked up a few bottles to take home.

Gimenez Riili – Tasting and Lunch

Our next stop was Gimenez Riili.  It took us about 40 minutes to travel between the vineyards.  Again, like at La Azul we were greeted very warmly – like old friends.  Perhaps it’s because our guide did indeed know everyone we were meeting with.  By extension we were family.  As with any proper family visit, you should be greeted with some sparkling wine, right?

Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
Enjoying the sun while we wait for lunch.

The views at Gimenez Riili were utterly spectacular.  The Andes Mountains looming like giants in the distance.  Purple mountains majesty never felt so real than in this moment.

Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
Bottles all prepped for our lunch tastings
Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
Prepping plates for lunch at Gimenez Riili.

Our tasting was also our lunch for the day.  We dine alfresco at small tables under trees in the vineyard.  This meal reminded me so much of our time at IPNC.  Honestly, even the Argentine weather in November reminded me much of Oregon in July.  The sun baking down on our skin, dry, but not drying.  It was one of those battery recharging moments for me.

Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
Enjoying bubbles while the beef ribs cook

The Meal

The meal was spectacular. Not surprising, but it was a very meat centric meal.  Our slow and casual lunch was filled with beautiful wines, stellar views and such warm and welcoming service.  The food was no slouch either.  We ate and ate. 

Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
The alfresco table setting at Gimenez Riili
Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
Starter spreads for our lunch tasting
Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
River Trout ceviche with mustard
Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
Bring on the meat!
Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
A simple, yet flavorful pot de creme for dessert

The one complaint I do have was the timing. I do love a slow and casual meal, but this was a bit extreme.  The service fell off a bit and at one point our dessert was delivered before our entrée.  We had another vineyard to visit before the day ended and the slowdown here was starting to impact our plans.  A quick reminder of timing and plating helped get us back on track.  Honestly, I could have stayed here all day, eating, drinking, relaxing, but not if we’ve got another vineyard to visit.  Chop Chop.

Corazon del Sol – Tasting and Tango

We picked up a couple of bottles at Gimenez Riili as well and quickly headed off to our final stop of the day.  As we arrived at Corazon del Sol, the sun was hovering over the Andes and providing such a warm embrace, I couldn’t have been happier.  We sat outside and listened to a local tango group.  Tango. Spanish Guitar. Flamenco.  I loved it.  As we lounged outside we were given some rosé.  This part of the tasting was purely entertainment. We were given no guidance on the wine. We were to site back, bask in the glory of the Andes and let the music flow.  It was so relaxing.

Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
The sun blazes down upon the vines.
Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
Tango performance at our final tasting

After the concert we made our way into the tasting room.  Our friends from the flight, and the first winery ended their tour at the same winery as we did.  We ended up chatting with them a bit more during the proper tasting.  There wasn’t much of a program at Corazon del Sol.  It seemed more like a mad rush for them to pour wine and make sales.  We didn’t end up buying anything at this stop.  There were a couple of items that we really did want to buy, but nothing was available at that time.  The next vintage would be released soon and we could order and have it shipped home.  We opted not to do that.

End of Day

We hopped back into our guide’s Jeep and made our way back to the Park Hyatt.  Our tour of the Uco Valley took about 7-8 hours and was absolutely worth every penny we spent.  Not only was the landscape breathtaking, the wine stellar and the winemakers so welcoming, the weather was perfect.  Closing out November in the southern hemisphere allows us to kick winter down the road a little bit. 

While the initial planning of this day was quite frustrating – I guess these tour companies have so much business they can turn down customers – I’m so pleased with the help that the Park Hyatt gave us.  Our guide – despite his blatant racism – was a generous and welcoming host.  The price was perfect for what we received – we would have HATED to been on a tour bus with 40 other people, making our way through the factory style wine tasting rooms.

Have you visited the Uco Valley before?  Which wineries are your favorite?  When we return – and we shall – where do you recommend we visit?

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Travel Advice: Power Cables

How many electronic devices do you travel with? If you’re like me, you’ve got phones, tablets, cameras, battery packs, laptops – the list goes on and on. Also, if you’re like me, sometimes you forget a certain charger or power cables. Have you ever opened up your suitcase at a hotel and realized you forget a USB cable, or a wall plug adapter? Frustrating as hell right?

Well, generally, I’ve fixed that problem. I keep a separate small bag in my suitcase all the time. This small bag has my travel only power cables and adapters. These items live in this small travel bag and only come out when on the road.

In this bag, I keep the following items:

  • Three two-prong wall plug to USB adapters
  • Two Type-A USB Adapters (these are the older style that work for my 3-year old Samsung Tablet
  • Two Type-C USB Adapters (these are the new ones that connect my Samsung Galaxy S8)
  • Two Type-A to Type-C USB Adapters – just in case
  • Small battery pack with enough power to charge my phone 1.5 times
Power Cable Travel Kit
My always stocked cable kit

I personally keep these items in a 5+ year old Lufthansa Business Class Amenity Kit. I was pissed when I got this kit while en route to Vietnam. The small canvas bag is strong and has held my most important power cables for years. I love this setup.

The Gift

At work, we’ve got a couple new people who just started traveling more frequently. Deciding to outfit them each with one of these little kits, I popped over to Amazon and bought some Amazon Basics Power Cables for either their Android or Apple products. I even snagged enough wall adapters to open up my own shop. I found small canvas bags on Amazon too. Take a look for makeup bags – they work splendidly.

I also snagged this gift for my better half. It seems right before a trip he’s always running around the house looking for something. Now this just lives in his suitcase. For him, I splurged on a nice leather bag – some moderately overpriced, handmade pencil bag from a little shop in the neighborhood.

Power Cables
Gifted cable kit. Everything you need to leave in a hurry.

When he opened the box at Christmas, the look on his face was..well…disappointed. After I explained it to him, he seemed a little more pleased. It wasn’t until his first trip, when he was frantically looking for things that this gift made sense. I had already filled the bag with his needed cables and adapters. Since he travels internationally for work, I also threw in a European and UK converter. Easy breezy.

Now I always know where my cables are and I know that I am NEVER to remove these cables from the simple canvas bag if I am in Chicago. Hard Stop. Don’t Touch. It works great!

What little travel tip or hack do you have?

Park Hyatt Mendoza – Standard Room

Since we first started talking about visiting Argentina, we knew we wanted to visit Mendoza. Situated at the base of the Andes and one of the world’s best-known wine regions, this area was a must visit. Several friends had stayed at the Park Hyatt Mendoza and while it wasn’t the most modern hotel, it came with the best recommendations.

After finally making it to Mendoza, after flying in from Buenos Aires (and not realizing we needed to change airports) we made our way directly to the Park Hyatt Mendoza. The taxi ride from the airport to the hotel was about 25 minutes with limited traffic until we got very close to the hotel itself.

The Arrival

Stepping out of the taxi, we were approached by several bellhops offering to take our luggage. Since we were traveling light, this was a service that we didn’t need. We continued on into the grand lobby and directly to the check in desk, where there was no line.

Park Hyatt Mendoza - Main Lobby
The main lobby at the Park Hyatt Mendoza was very grand and welcoming.
Park Hyatt Mendoza
Park Hyatt Mendoza Lobby

Check-in was very quick. We have no status with Hyatt so there was no discussion on what sort of welcome gift we’d get. WiFi was included with all room as was the breakfast each morning.

The elevators up to the guestrooms and spa were near the casino entrance, which was enticing for me. I do love to spend some time at the craps table, when time allows. This trip, we just walked through the casino, not even slowing down to see what games were available.

The Rooms

The standard room had two twin beds, which is what we requested. The room was nicely sized for a standard room. We didn’t end up spending much time in the room itself as we were out wine tasting or exploring the area. I wouldn’t upgrade to a larger room or spend more money on a room at this hotel. The standard was perfectly acceptable.

Park Hyatt Mendoza - Sleeping Area
The bedroom area in our Standard Room
Park Hyatt Mendoza - Sleeping Area
The bedroom area in our Standard Room
Park Hyatt Mendoza Welcome Gift
Welcome Gift
Park Hyatt Mendoza - Vanity
The small vanity in our standard room
Park Hyatt Mendoza - Separate Bathtub
The separate bathtub in our large bathroom
Park Hyatt Mendoza - Shower
Next to the separate tub was the shower
Park Hyatt Mendoza - Bathroom
Toilet and Bidet

Breakfast

The breakfast was served in the first floor restaurant each morning. While not on par with a standard Asian hotel breakfast buffet, the Park Hyatt did a nice job. Lots of meats, cheeses and pastries to be found. A manned omelette/egg station offered a nice selection of custom ordered eggs. Plus, the key to any proper complimentary hotel breakfast: a nice sparkling wine. There was never a line for any of the food nor to grab a table.

Park Hyatt Mendoza - Breakfast
The breakfast buffet
Park Hyatt Mendoza - Pastries
Park Hyatt Mendoza Pastry Buffet
Park Hyatt Mendoza
Champagne, pork, tomatoes and cheese, a standard Tim Breakfast while traveling

The Park Hyatt Mendoza Pool and Spa

Since this was vacation, we made sure to build in some time at the pool and at the spa. We each had 90 minute massages, which were embarrassingly inexpensive. My masseuse was very strong and worked out kinks that I didn’t know I had. He was so good, I felt sore for the next day and a half. Maybe a little too aggressive.

The pool was located on the main lobby level and while it was a bit small, it was beautiful. The weather was stunning during our visit, so the pool was quite popular. We managed to snag some loungers pool side, near the bar, no less.

Park Hyatt Mendoza Pool Deck
The beautiful outdoor pool at the Park Hyatt Mendoza

While we knew we wanted to stay at the Park Hyatt Mendoza, our initial plan was to stay with points, but I completely forgot to book this hotel.  It wasn’t until about eight days before our departure that I realized we had no place to stay!  Unfortunately there were no award nights available during our stay.  We planned on transferring some Chase Ultimate Reward Points over to Hyatt.  Each night at the Park Hyatt Mendoza cost us 342USD.  I’d have rather spent points, but that’s what happens when you fail to plan. Considering we were using points for the rest of the trip, this high price tag didn’t sting so badly.

Final Thoughts

The Park Hyatt Mendoza wasn’t a stellar property.  It did remind me a bit of the Park Hyatt Zurich, but wasn’t as sophisticated.  That being said, I’d definitely stay at this property again.  The clean rooms and attentive staff made for a great first stop on our Argentine Adventure.

Have you stayed at the Park Hyatt Mendoza?  Did you think it was a bit dated?  Would you recommend this property to a friend or would you stay again? 

LATAM Flight AEP – MDZ | Economy

We took three intra-Argentina flights on this trip. Two on LATAM Argentina and one on Aerolineas Argentina. I’ll be sharing a couple of different LATAM experiences in this overall trip report. You’ll also see a comparison to Aerolineas Argentina – a new airlines for us.

After our little snafu upon arrival, we managed to make it to to the right airport with enough time for some pizza before our 1 hour and 54 minute from to Mendoza. Like every other experience with LATAM, the check-in lines were long, but moved fairly quickly. Even though we were transferring from another flight, it was booked separately, so we were treated as a new customer, not a transfer.

Boarding

We were scheduled to leave at 15h55. We didn’t start boarding until 15h50. Adding to the boarding time, we were leaving from a remote stand. Unlike most airlines I’ve flown, the boarding process with LATAM Argentina is a little funky. Elite members board early, like every airline. Next, we were organized into two groups: small hand luggage and larger hand luggage.

We were traveling just with briefcases (or in my case a duffel), so we were in the small hand luggage line. I think the intent is board the small stuff first, which should fit under the seat, then everyone with larger bags boards and dukes it out. After our bus filled up, we were the first five people on the plane. We put our bags in the overhead bins and there we no issues. Easy enough.

I was in row three. The all-economy configuration was totally retro. These seats were the old formerly padded (now compacted) leather recliner style seats. No, these weren’t the first class style recliners. The pitch was awful. My knees were slammed into the seat in front of me from jump.

LATAM Argentina Flight
LATAM Argentina Legroom

This was only exacerbated by the guy in front of me who couldn’t get out of his seat without leaning back as far as possible, nearly dislocating my patella. At least he only got up about 10 times on this less than two hour flight.

Once seated, the flight would never be ready for departure. The plane was nearly full and all the “large hand luggage” people struggled with their bags. There was plenty of room for bags. Unfortunately most people wanted their bags up front, so they would move bags in the first couple of rows, to fit theirs in. I had to ask three separate people not to move my bag. One guy took my bag out and set it on the ground, put his in its place and walked away. I called him back and handed him his bag. Crazy, no?

The Flight

The flight itself was uneventful. We were served drinks and some nuts. There was no in-flight entertainment. I’m happy we charged our gear on the United flight, otherwise this would have been long and boring.

I’ll say that each time I fly LATAM throughout South America, I get a different experience. It’s never been stellar, but it seems like each of the planes is quite different. This one was so old, not to say that it was bad. The really new planes have the slimline seats that are like sitting on a bus bench.

Despite leaving nearly 30 minutes late, we landed in Mendoza right on time. We deplaned, at a gate this time and made our way immediately into baggage claim. The claim area was small, with only a couple of belts. Our bags were some of the last off the plane. Departing baggage claim was a mess. Security routed all passengers through an additional screening checkpoint. Most people ignored this and just pushed by. You could choose to wait in the line, or just walk around. We chose, initially to follow the rules. It wasn’t long before we made a different decision. We decided to just walked on by with about 100 other travelers.

LATAM Argentina Baggage Claim
Baggage Claim in Mendoza – Free For All

After a long day of work, travel, surprise airport transfers, we finally made it to our first actual destination in Argentina. Mendoza. Hopping in a taxi we were off to the Park Hyatt and a couple days of wine tasting and wonderful spring warmth.

Have you flown LATAM Argentina? How did it differ from LATAM in other countries throughout South America?

Wait. Wrong Airport?

As we deplaned from our 10 economy flight from Houston, we had about four hours to kill at the Buenos Aires Airport We figured that we may be able to move to an earlier flight if we can make it through customs and immigration quickly. Well, that wasn’t going to happen.

Customs and Immigration

As we made our way to the checkpoint, we were herded into the foreigner line (rightly so), which had about 500 people ahead of us in line. With about six stations open, we knew we’d be here for a while. Luckily, I went to the bathroom before hopping in line.

Fast forward a little over an hour, it was our turn. I never know if we should go through the line together when entering a foreign country. We are married, but sometimes other countries don’t recognize same sex marriages and once, I had to go back into the line, which caused lots of people to think I was cutting. No issues in Buenos Aires though.

We grab our bags and head out to re-check and try for an earlier flight. As we check the big board, we don’t see our flight listed. We see flights to Mendoza, but not at our scheduled time and not many on our scheduled airline. My first thought was that there was a schedule change and we didn’t get notified. Or perhaps our LATAM flight was operated by someone that we hadn’t heard of before. We continued to ponder the big board and I grabbed our itinerary and found the problem.

A New Problem For Us

We were at the wrong airport. Instead of leaving from EZE (Ministro Pistarini International Airport) we were leaving from AEP (Aeroparque Jorge Newbery). This helps explain why the fine folks at United couldn’t check our bags all the way through to Mendoza. AEP is 43km (27 miles) from EZE, so it looks like we won’t be getting on an earlier flight, but we better get cracking if we don’t want to miss our current option.

We waited in the taxi queue for about 20 minutes, then another 25 for the taxi. At EZE you order a cab through a central dispatch, you are given a number and then eventually a driver shows up to transport you.

The ride to AEP was pretty uneventful and fast. It took us about 30 minutes, but the taxi was more like a fancy lawn mower than a car. Loud. Spewing fumes. Rickety. The driver was really nice and helped with our luggage and kept us safe among the other wild drivers. His car reminded me of an old roller skate – it’ll probably get you there, but a wheel could break off at any moment.

We arrived in plenty of time to make our flight, but there were absolutely no options for an earlier departure. So to kill time, we snagged a pizza in the food court, which was really great, by the way.

AEP - Aeroparque Jorge Newberry the Wrong Buenos Aires Airport
Wrong Buenos Aires Airport Pizza Lunch

Our best laid plans for an early transfer fell short today. As we waited to board the flight to Mendoza we remembered that we chose the flight with the long layover because it saved us about 75USD per person. If we had gone with the earlier option, we would have missed it – likely leaving us with more travel troubles.

Have you ever realized you were at the wrong Buenos Aires airport? How about the wrong airport in ANY city?