Hellooo, after many years of a long distance love affair, I am so pleased to finally meet you Mendoza. We have at last arrived at holy grail of the bottle. Ian and I, and several girlfriends back home (you know who you are!) should be proud to hear we are largely responsible for keeping Argentina as the 5th largest wine producer in the world.
Not that you’d have known I was pleased to be here if you’d seen the state of me this morning AFTER I DISCOVERED MY SHOWER GEL HAD LEAKED OVER MY BRAND NEW (was) AMAZING LEATHER HANDBAG. Not cool, much stomping in mediocre hostel room ensued. But things inevitably got better when wine got involved.
We decided to go on a self-guided bicycle tour around the Maipu wine region. Against our better instincts, we went to ‘Mr Coco’s’ - the first bike rental shack we saw after getting off the bus. We were handed a map detailing ten vineyards staggered along the 7km Urqroadulza Road. Brilliant! And off we went!
We straddled our clattering “mountain bikes” and cycled along, dodging squashed tomatoes on the road which had fallen from the top of an overstuffed produce truck, which we also narrowly avoided. We then jealously passed smug tipsy cyclists coming in the other direction, depositing their shiny new ‘Mr Hugo’s bikes’ (complete with baskets) only two minutes further up the road than Coco’s. Damn. We decided we’d cycle all the way to the end and work our way backward through the vineyards, knowing that after a few wine flights, a 7k pedal through wine country wouldn’t be half as appealing.
We turned into Familia di Tommaso and were greeted by a gorgeous little courtyard overlooking rows of vines. We decided to tuck into a delicious lunch of cannelloni and an obligatory tomato mozzarella salad. And then the Canadian couple cycled into the courtyard! Was it possible they’d planted a tracking device on us?? After bumping into them four times in three different countries in remote or obscure locations, yes, we very much think it is possible, if not likely.
Together we did the tour of the oldest winery in Mendoza, it is still run by the same family it was started by in 1869. They produce just 40,000 bottles a year, exporting very little and exclusively selling to individuals (like us!) or through a small number of retailers. By keeping their vines and production levels small it allows them to continue producing the same top quality wine they have for all these years. It was absolutely fascinating to see them filling the french oak barrels by hand. It was also an insight into the past to see the old fermentation tanks fashioned from brick and concrete and lined with wax. Today they are used as wine cellars as the winery now have to employ newer controlled methods to comply with health & safety, but the original tanks have been given protection as historic monuments.
Of course the best bit was the tasting! We tried three different Malbecs; one non barrel oaked, and two aged in the barrel for 6 and 12 months respectively. Then there was a 17% walnutty desert wine which was to die for, sods law they don’t export hey!
We got back up on the scrap metal tied together by two wheels and realised it was already 4pm (time flies when you’re drinking wine!) We only had time for one more winery before they closed at 6! With Ian’s broken chain, we got to the Trapiche winery as slowly as humanly possible.
In contrast, Trapiche is the largest wine producer in Argentina (owned by an investment bank. It would be, wouldn’t it). As we turned our bikes off the dusty track, we were faced with an impressive modern brick structure flanked by sculptural olive groves, vines and fountains. Much to our dismay, we’d missed the last tour of the day, but they let us jump in halfway and tag along for free. Once again it culminated in a wine tasting. First off a Sauvignon blanc, for which they grow their grapes much closer the the foot of the Andes mountains as it’s cooler. We then tasted two reds, a Malbec and a Cabernet Sauvignon. Similar to the previous vineyard, they were both aged for a year in french oak barrels. Absolutely delicious, and I believe Laithwaites in the UK stock Trapiche, so go and grab yourself a bottle!
Ian’s bike chain had completely broken so it was a lengthy journey to return the bikes. We received a shrug rather than a refund from Mr Coco, but after the wine we didn’t seem to care much!
We were still on Buenos Aires time and headed out for supper in Mendoza at 11pm. We were met with quizzical looks from the hostel staff, as they told us the places we’d chosen to go will have finished serving for the night. Nevertheless, after browsing through a late night artisanal market, we managed to find a cute restaurant called Quinta Norte around the main town square, Plaza Indepencia. Satisfied our grape fuelled hunger with a yummy rotisserie chicken and rice, and a bottle of Trapiche Malbec no less!
- By Cass