I’ve already mentioned our five days in beautiful, peaceful Mendoza, right in the heart of Argentina’s wine-region, but I purposefully left the highlight for a post all on it’s own! On the Friday, we packed a lunch and took a bus outside of town to Maipu, a small neighbourhood packed full of vineyards where we rented bikes and set off on a wine tasting tour.
On a recommendation, we hired the bikes at Mr Hugo’s – a company that give a free bottle of wine if you rent with them (although, they don’t advertise that fact and you will most likely need to remind them when you return the bikes). Mr Hugo himself greeted us, a lovely old man with a great selection of bikes, two adorable dogs and a kitten! The company had a really cosy, family feel with a big garden to relax in, so I was really glad we rented with them.
Mrs Hugo gave us a discount card for a free wine tasting at nearby shop La Botella, so of course we started there, and by 11am on a Friday morning found ourselves seated at a table with a generous portion of wine each. The discount was for one tasting for free, or three tastings for 20 pesos, so we went for the second option and actually wound up with five tastings plus some bread and olive oil to snack on (so we could drink wine before noon guilt-free!). The store manager was an absolutely lovely man who really just wanted to show off his great wine collection – he chatted with us about the football as we tried a local Torrontes, Malbec, Merlot and another organic Malbec, then he produced his pride and joy; his own homemade wine (“artisanal“) which he poured for us from a china bottle in the shape of a penguin (because penguins stomp their feet, the way he stomps his feet on the grapes to make the wine). Although wine connoisseurs would probably say this wasn’t wine, it tasted like vimto or sugary, wine-flavoured syrup, so I absolutely loved it! We even returned at the end of the day to take the manager up on his “promo” of three bottles for 100 pesos (about £7), and picked up two bottles of his homemade stuff along with a Torrontes.
La Botella was reasonably close to Domiciano, one of the two biggest vineyards in town, so we headed there next and paid 50 pesos each for a tour of the vineyard and a wine tasting. The tour was pretty interesting, with our friendly guide showing us the huge tanks where the wine is fermented and stored. Downstairs, we stopped into the cellar to smell the oak barrels where the vineyard’s prize malbec was ageing (they only make about two hundred bottles a year, so it’s exclusive stuff). The room smelled richly of wood and wine, and our guide explained that when people smell vanilla, chocolate or whatever else in a glass of red, the smell actually comes from the smell of the oak barrel. We tried three more wines, and by this point I was already pleasantly relaxed enough to stop writing down the names so I have no idea what it was we tasted!
The day was a fantastic one for cycling, with a crisp, autumnal chill in the air but bright sunshine and clear skies, and I could have enjoyed myself if all we’d done was cycle around between the orange and red trees. But, the tastings were a definite bonus to such a lovely day out! We headed down a quiet, dusty street lined with trees to Entre Olivos, not a vineyard this time but a small olive oil factory. We had lunch in the garden behind the shop, surrounded by olive trees, and then headed inside for a tasting which involved a whole lot more than olive oil. We tried different oils, mustards, aji (a spicy sauce made with aji chillies), and olive pastes with bread, then moved onto the sweet stuff. First some homemade jams, including jams made with malbec and chardonnay which were both super sweet and completely delicious, then homemade chocolates. To finish, the owner took us to his small bar, lined with dozens of bottles of liquor with flavours like strawberry, chocolate, or banana. Our ‘tasters’ were generous double shots of two flavours of our choice, so I tried mint chocolate and dulce de leche, but also tasted a bit of the rose liquor which tasted like perfume, and Sam’s milkshake-like dulce de leche with banana!
After a long, slightly tipsy bike-ride than involved more than one missed turning, we found our last stop, Trapiche. The largest vineyard in town, Trapiche is more like a really nice estate, with huge, neatly manicured grounds and a towering mansion-like main building. Although we tried to get out of it, we were forced to take part in the tour before the tasting (50 pesos each for the tour and three tastings), but since this was all in Spanish we didn’t really take much in. The grounds were really pretty, and we finished on a balcony overlooking a big olive garden behind the house and two grazing llamas, where we tasted three wines that, by this point, all tasted the same to me (surprise – I know nothing about wine!).
Whether you’re a wine connoisseur or not, a bike tour of the vineyards near Mendoza is a great day out, and you could even make it last two days as there are way more vineyards in the area than the few Sam and I managed to visit.
You can take a bus from Mendoza city centre to Maipu (about 30 minutes) for roughly 4.50 pesos each way – from number 10 bus stops you can take bus 171, 172 or 173. Ask the bus driver to tell you when you reach Mr Hugo’s, as this is quite a central stop, or keep an eye out for the road Morón Bruno.
Mr Hugo’s bikes were 70 pesos each for the day, and that included a free bottle of wine at the end, plus a map and discount cards for a couple of the vineyards.
Trapiche and Domiciano are the most expensive to visit at 50 pesos each. We didn’t make it to any of the smaller, family-run places but these range from 20-40 for a tour with a tasting.
Want to know more about travelling in Argentina? Check out the Argentina section on my sister site, Backpack South America.