Monday 22 January 2024

Bring on the pampas

 Did you miss me? I knew one day life would go by so fast that I missed a deadline, so my apologies my post was absent last month.

You see, we have been on our holidays. Now some might say our life is a complete holiday but I would dispute that as holidays should be restful and my life is not. Nor was our trip to Argentina, as it happens. It was magnificent, entertaining, enthralling, sometimes breathtaking – but never restful! That’s what happens when you tour with 20 other folks in a group, a few of whom require constant entertainment, and are guided by local folks who love their country so much they want to tell you about every square inch of it, in intimate detail. No, I am not complaining, it is what we signed up for, and our group was made up of some wonderful folks, many of them cattle breeders from Scotland and even one eccentric pair who were wine growers from Kent. It made for an eclectic team where there was rarely a dull moment and very few that didn’t include a laugh, drink in hand. From the get go, after a tour of the beautiful and vibrant city of Buenos Aires, we were soon out on farms looking at cows. The first one didn’t disappoint, apart from being eaten by mozzies, which had 3000 pure bred Angus cattle, all herded through the pampas by gauchos on horseback like something out of the wild west. We thought this was just a show put on for us, until we arrived at the Estanza to be met by more locals, and a flaming asado. For asado, read a big F-off fire with dead cows and sheep crucified next to it, sizzling away for hours until tender. And we were hungry. In fact, I think that is the last time I actually felt hungry on the whole trip as this process was repeated day after day. Not only that but when we got back to the hotel, our local guide had suggested we ate the local delicacies nearby, which also consisted of more beef, preceded with empanadas (think Cornish pasty, only with more meat). Also think Gaviscon. Never mind pampas, I think one or two of us required Pampers!

Now the other reason we went to Argentina was to taste wine, which also started pretty much as soon as we arrived, (before, for some of us) and the taste was good. This vast country has many things, but rural roads are not one of them as our bus journeyed us for hours down dirt tracks to find each venue, with yet more cows. We did drop into an agricultural contractor who had complicated machines the size of tower-blocks that munched up square miles of maize per day, for a glimpse of how the arable farms worked, but it was mainly beef cattle we were here to see. In fact that is the one thing I will take away from the country, just how vast it really is – eg, you could fit Europe into Argentina and still have change.

Then, for some the highlight, a flight to Mendoza in the west and literally a change of scenery from the huge vast pampas plains to the backdrop of the Andes mountains. Some of the peaks still had snow on top, despite this being summer although, as the climate had no winter, it was technically summer all year round. The issue with all-round sunshine is that it tends to leave no rain, and so this area was a desert, or at least it had been until 25 years ago. We were in the Uco valley where some smart guys with brains and vision had recently realized that when the snow melted on the mountains, they could possibly harness the water and use it to grow stuff. And the stuff they grew were grapes. Millions of them. I never quite found out the size of the whole valley but the vineyard we stayed on, called Salentein, grew 2,500 acres of them to start with, producing 20 million bottles of wine per year. Yes, twenty million. And they were one of many producers. Now in France, where I partially live, our local biggest vineyards might knock out 100-200,000 bottles in a good year. By the way, in France, you are not allowed to irrigate vines, it’s the law.  Most people would consider when you mass-produce anything on that scale, the quality would have to suffer, right? Not so, here. We tasted premium wines after premium wines, each magnificent. Anyone with a half interest in the vino will tell you Argentina is famous for its Malbec grape. Correct. That is the product they export world-wide and it is damn fine. But what they also have is a huge array of other grape varieties, and a massive amount of knowledge as to what to plant, where. And in this and their recent adaptation of new technologies, for example how to fend off hailstorms at 4000 feet above sea-level, and this new-world really does have a penchant for top quality. And this also showed in the showpiece wineries we stopped at, all opulently and outrageously designed but a woman who had clearly been on the acid pills. Admittedly, the best wine doesn’t leave the country, not without a hefty price tag anyway, but boy are their whites out of this world. And this, from an author who chooses to live in France and swears by his white burgundy.

We are back in Scotland now, drying out inside, although not outside, and readjusting to a 25 degree drop in temperature. This has left me with the flu, for the second time this winter – hence my not penning this column last month – and I am pretty fed up with it. The problem is quite simply, I believe, that for the last 3 winters we have been so jabbed up with vaccine, letting our immunity guard drop below the knee, until the cowardly little viruses have sneaked their way back in. Give me the needle, any time. Hasta la vista, mis amigos.