I was VERY excited about Mendoza. For me, it was the place that most truly embodied all of the things that drew me to Argentina: red wine, steak, and the afternoon nap. In my imagination, it was a place where the streets ran ruby red with Malbec as gauchos galloped down them flinging vast hunks of cow onto sizzling grills. But obviously all in good time and not before everyone had had a nice siesta under a shady tree.
There are plenty of options for wine tasting in Argentina. Maipu, a small town around 10 miles outside of Mendoza, is the epicentre of wine tourism with several bodegas spread along one long, sun-scorched road. Many guided tours are offered but the best way by far is to go free reign and do it yourself. We rented bikes from Mr Hugo, a local legend… apparently. It was immediately clear that the cycling wasn’t going to be the main attraction of the day. My brakes barely worked and the gears were purely ornamental. Still, it propelled me forwards slightly faster than walking place, so off we went.
We arrived at our first bodega just in time for a tasting session. We shuffled into a delightfully air conditioned bar and joined a few tables of Germans. We were given delicate little tasting glasses and into which were poured small measures of wine. We were instructed on how to use our noses and to assess its legs. We swirled, we sniffed, we sipped. After a whip round the bodega and the vineyard to see where and how the wine was made and have a quick nibble of the grapes, we left feeling a little more leisurely and set off for stop number two. It was marked on the map as just down the road a bit and to the left.
Several millenia later, having travelled numerous lightyears along a very hot, dusty, potholed, slightly uphill, poorly signposted road, we finally reached the second bodega. Pausing for a snack, we realised that our emergency food supplies, including two baguettes, had been invaded by ants. The second tasting would have to be done on an empty stomach.
Filled with the confidence of our first instructional session, we strolled in. There were no tours or tasting instruction offered here, but no matter: we were obviously practically pros by this point. There were two options on the menu – the standard and the special. Each allowed the trial of three different wines. Only three, we scoffed. Better order both options. So we did.
Expecting similar meagre measures to the last bodega, we were somewhat surprised when each of us had six large glasses of wine laid down in front of us. However, our initial trepidation very quickly became unwavering commitment to the cause. And we began to drink… systematically at first, but then not so much.
Here is what I learned:
- Torrentes is a white wine that doesn’t make me feel like I have a headache at a summer wedding. It’s delightful.
- Malbec actually takes second place in my red wine list of dreams to Cabernet Sauvignon. Revelation.
- Rosé is unwaveringly vile and can go do one.
- Wine, in general, is just really nice.
- If there’s anything to make an ant-riddled baguette more appealing, it’s six glasses of wine.
- If there’s anything to make a bike ride with rapidly deflating tyres and dysfunctional brakes more bearable, it’s six glasses of wine.
We heroically managed two more bodegas, each with equally generous offerings, before the day was up and we made our way, via handy police escort, back to Mr Hugo’s.
That evening, back in the town, we walked several more million light years in search of dinner. We eventually found a place that was totally empty, smelled faintly of mould and had absolutely nothing we wanted on the menu. Jackpot. We took a table and ordered two bottles of wine as a holding move. By some miraculous telepathy, whereby he knew what we wanted before we’d even realised we wanted it, the waiter also brought over a table sized platter of cheese and cold meats which we ate with relish (pun unintended at first, but now probably my proudest life moment).
Helped along by some exceptional company, riding boozily around sun soaked vineyards with cultural education as an excuse was even better than I was expecting. I’m not a huge amount more enlightened about the subtleties of oenology and I literally just had to look that word up on google because I certainly didn’t learn it on the day, but it was SO MUCH FUN AND I WANT TO GO AND DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN. Does anyone want to come too?