On paper it sounds like it might be a bad idea. A self-guided wine tour by way of cycling along a major traffic and trucking route. Wines, bikes and trucks; it sounds like a an accident waiting to happen. But actually it turned out to be one of the best days we spent in Argentina.
It began with a group of us from the Mora Mendoza hostel heading out to Maipu and hiring bikes from Mr Hugos. That was the second hardest part of the day. Just outside the city of Mendoza, the small town of Maipu is in the heartland of the wine producing region and is noted for it many boutique wineries and produce stores all within cycling distance of each other. It’s like a compact version of Margaret River. The hardest part of the day was deciding which wineries to visit.
Our first stop was the Museo del Vino which was free to visit and included a free glass of wine. I clearly started drinking red wine at the right time. At the museum we wandered through rooms filled with traditional wine-making paraphenalia from years past. Vats, presses, green storage flagons and all kinds of strange objects were crammed into the two rooms of the museum. It was interesting, though hardly the reason why we showed up, but we made a show of looking around and taking a picture or two before making a beeline for the tasting section. On the way out we collected our free glass of red, making comments about the museum so it didn’t look like we were only there for the free wine. Which we blatantly were.
Next it was off to the Chocolateria a La Antigua just down the road. No wine here but instead was a delicious spread of olive oils, chutneys, chocolates, jams and – my favourite – dulce de leches. I spent most of my time shamelessly circling the jam and dulce table savouring the various flavours; pear and chardonnay, apple and whiskey, pumpkin and cinnamon.
After the taste testing session we were invited to try their range of liquours – and what a range it was. It took in the traditional Irish Cream and Chocolate to the unusual Spicy Pimento, to the downright questionable Beer and even Tobacco.
I decided to try some a little different and went with the Spicy Pimento. It was the colour of emeralds, tasted of pepper and spice and warmed my throat as it went down. Warmed? Sorry, make that burned. Oh how it burned! Even worse – because we were in a group and because the staff were watching – I had to plaster a smile on my face when all I really wanted to do was to spit the vile stuff out. The next round I went for Irish Cream, which was smooth and sweet and much more to my taste.
Absinthe was also on offer but I passed on that, in part because I didn’t trust myself to steer a bike after a shot of something so strong. My concern may have been well founded – one of the guys in our group did have the absinthe and 10 minutes later nearly steered his bike in front of a truck because he was looking the wrong way. It was a sobering moment.
Our next stop was a winery that specialised in sparkling wines and I was adamant that we visit this place. What I didn’t realise was this place was far on the outskirts of Maipu and would take 45 minutes to cycle. I’m sure that some people in our group wanted to shoot me after that ride, but then I still think that Florio was worth the effort. At this 100-year-old winery we were able to taste dessert wines like muscato, marsala and a special celebratory drink called Gamba de Pernia. This actually translates to Leg of Partridge, and is named so because the grapes used to make this wine are only harvested when they are as red as the leg of a partridge (who knew partridges had red legs?). After that we were offered a Nebiolo, a sparkling red which was made to an Italian recipe. It was light, refreshing and by far my favourite. I considered asking for seconds but I didn’t think that was the done thing, especially considering this wine is only drunk at Christmas and New Years.
Soon enough we were back on our bikes and cycling down the tree-lined avenues, back to Bodega de Familia de Tommaso, the oldest winery in Maipu. Also one of the most popular, judging by the amount of people joining our winery tour. This was a more traditional winery, so the wines on offer were more familiar. There was a 2009 Torrontes, a 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Roble, and – my new favourite – a 2009 Malbec. A and I transalted the label to learn that this wine was aged in oak and have notes of vanilla and blackberries. No idea how significant that was, but whatever, the Malbec was lovely.
Full of a pasta lunch and more wine, we headed for Trapiche, the most famous winery in this region. Everyone at the hostel had raved about this place with its beautiful wines, restaurant and rose gardens. To my utter disappointment by the time we arrived it was shut for the day. Once again I suspected other may have been silently cursing me for earlier 45 minute mission. We had to satisfy ourselves with some pictures of its rose-lined pathways and a few bottles of its Malbec picked up from the super market later.
Last stop was Historias y Sabores (Stories and Flavours), another boutique produce store. Again we were presented with a selection of liqours, and this time I stayed safe. Next came a tray laden with chutneys, savoury dips and dulce de leches. I couldn’t help myself, I reached for the dulce instantly. I didn’t stop reaching for it until it was all gone and so enamoured was I with this particular dulce (it was blended with chocolate) that I bought a jar of it. The jar was supposed to come home with me to share with the family, but that isn’t happening now. I really don’t know what I thought I would be able to carry a jar of dulce de leche with me and not open it for several months. Nevermind, the family likes red wine better anyway.
Afterwards we trundled slowly back to to Mr Hugos to return our bikes, now suitably armed with a long list of wines to look out for in the future.