Enjoying the Fruits of Argentina

Day 21, Grand World Voyage 2020

Friday, Jan. 24, 2020; Buenos Aires, Argentina

Think of Malbec and you’re likely to think of Argentina. Yes, this hearty red grape originated in the Bordeaux region of France, but now it is mostly grown in Argentina. So today we enjoyed a great Kaiken Ultra Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina – just one of five wines featured during our “Perfect Pairing: Premium Argentine Wine & Tapas” tour in Buenos Aires.

Since we left Punta del Este, Uruguay, mid afternoon yesterday we have been cruising up the Rio de la Plata, a river so wide that it appears to be the ocean. But it’s not deep, so we sailed along a narrow channel.

The Amsterdam docked at the commercial port amid canyons of shipping containers. No walking off the ship allowed — shuttles took us to the terminal building. This is a common procedure as we visit ports that aren’t built around the cruise industry. Which of course is why we are here.

Once at the port terminal, passengers could take a free shuttle to Florida Street, a traffic-free avenue for shopping and branching out to explore this historic city.

Our tour didn’t leave until early afternoon, but we didn’t have time to shuttle into the city for the morning and return to meet the group. The ship was quiet, as most passengers had left, so I enjoyed a quiet morning of watercolor by the Lido pool. I’m way behind on my sketchbook, but maybe I can catch up during the next week with few ports. Here are a few new sketches from Brazil – inside and outside the prison-turned-craft-market in Recife and the favela and view from Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio.

Back in Buenos Aires, our tour bus traveled down wide boulevards on our way to the oldest part of the city. Our bus driver expertly negotiated the narrow streets to drop us off at La Cava de el Querandi. The wine cellar wasn’t as dark as a cave, but the bottles of wine lining the walls set the mood.

I’m a long way from being a wine connoisseur, so our host and cellar master helped fill a lot of gaps in my education. Argentina’s vineyards are in the Andes Mountains, a range the country shares with Chile. While some of it is in a subtropical zone, the altitude compensates, and the winds coming off the snowy peaks help the production. Or at least that is my understanding.

We started with a Hermanos Torrontés, a white wine from northwest Argentina, accompanied by one of the best empanadas I’ve ever had. From there we moved to a Calfulén Pinot Noir from Patagonia, served with a mushroom crostín. Third was a Pyros syrah from San Juan, Argentina, my least favorite but I loved the delicious pâté on toast.

The Malbec from Cuyo came next and was the favorite of most of us. Once again, it was paired perfectly with melt-in-your-mouth Argentine beef skewers.

The final pairing was a Hermanos Cabernet Sauvignon from Salta, with cheese and a fruit jelly.

Holland America has strict rules about bringing wine aboard the ship. Each passenger can bring aboard one bottle of wine per cruise for consumption in the room. Additional bottles incur an $18 corkage fee. It seems to me that they could relax the one-bottle-per-cruise rule for a 128-day cruise, but no. (Some passengers are glad to pay the corkage fee in order to bring their favorite wines aboard. I’m not that sophisticated and seldom pay more than about $18 a bottle anyway.)

One exception to the rule is that you can each bring a bottle without paying corkage when you are on a Holland America-sponsored tour that includes a winery. So just about everyone on our tour lined up to buy our favorites – for us the Malbec and Torrontés.

I’ve learned that when a ship’s shore excursion description says “panoramic tour of the city included” it means you’ll see the city from the bus window. In other words, no stops at the sites you pass. We toured several areas of the city on our return to the ship, passing by the famous Recoleta Cemetery, final resting place for the rich and famous, including Eva Peron. Her image was on a building in another part of town. We learned that Buenos Aires is full of parks and plazas and statues of men on horseback.

Back on the ship, we missed the evening show Pampas Devils Gauchos as we lingered over dinner in the nearly empty dining room. We surmise a lot of passengers had heavy lunches of Argentine beef on shore and chose to eat lightly from the Lido buffet. Tomorrow is our last of three ports along the Rio de la Plata — Montevideo, Uruguay.