Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tarija: Wine and Culture

July 25, 2009

Saturday morning we woke up to confusion. Tammy and I both had different understandings of our itinerary for the following day and too many blanks in our research to figure out which route was a better option.

So, we made phone calls, trekked around town, and finally decided to stay another night in a cheaper hostel and go on a wine tasting/trekking excursion with Viva Tours.

The guide was nice, though terribly inefficient in both English and French (our tour group consisted of us and three French men), and didn’t attempt much as far as explanations: “These are the vines.”


The trek was short, but nice, the wineries were something else. Far from the state-of-the-art Argentine bodegas, or even the scenic tranquility of the Peruvian ones, these vineyards had no official opening hours for visits nor manufacturing facilities to show off.


At Valle di Vino the owner showed his vines, spoke of wine being a sacred beverage, then had us bless the vineyard while sucking new wine through a 2 meter hose.


The three French openly expressed their discontent.

TarijaWineCaveThe second bodega we visited, Casa Vieja was slightly more refined, offering wine for sale and a drive-thru tasting of about eight different wines, all in proper glasses (though shared glasses, we each took a sip and passed the glass to the next person). Unfortunately, most the wines were syrupy sweet, with one red, which was not a dessert wine, and instead lacked any flavor, whatsoever. (High altitude wines are typically sweet due to being closer to the sun, and rapid growth due to the additional light.)

After sipping and wincing at the sugary wines, we were served singani, the Bolivian grape brandy, similar to pisco or ouzo. We sipped, then sampled grapes marinated in pungent alcohol. And quickly checked it off our Bolivian to-do list.

We left, empty-handed, and with my faith in Bolivian wine nearly crushed.

That night we dined at the Taverna Gattopardo where my eyes immediately zoned in on the tacos with lettuce, cheese, guacamole, sour cream, and black beans. I ordered it without the chicken, which apparently prompted them to double the portion sizes of everything else.

The feast would have easily served 2-3 people, with authentic guac and pico de gallo, something that I haven’t found in Argentina, and aside from being unfortunately over-salted, it was delicious!

After dinner, we hit a bar, La Candela, for some Huari beer, where we met a really nice Chilean and a REALLY drunk Bolivian.

Ignacio, the Chilean, was in Tarija to offer his expertise in viticulture, and offered some valuable insight into the horrible wine we’d tried:

Both wineries are family establishments, carrying on family traditions, as opposed to commercial vineyards selling a product. They lack the benefit of educated experts and share their vineyards out of their love for their family roots, without an end goal of making a profit. Seen in that light, Tammy and I felt a far greater respect for the juices we’d swilled. It’s still not good wine, but the experience wasn’t about good wine, it was about Bolivian culture.

Map picture

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