It seems ridiculous to go to Argentina and not sample some wine. The country is renowned for its Malbec, so ordering a glass of the red stuff to wash down your thick slab of steak is surely a rite of passage.
I’m not the type to stop at just one glass, so when I heard on the grapevine (da-dum) about a wine tour in Mendoza I jumped at the chance. Better still, this wine tour would be conducted entirely by yourself, on a bicycle.
Cycling from one vineyard to the next, sampling Mendoza’s finest in the hot sunshine, would either be the perfect day trip or end with a sprained ankle, sunstroke and a bad hangover. I hoped it wouldn’t be the latter.
As Wine Day dawned my partner and I got up early and caught a bus to Maipú in the heart of Argentina’s wine-growing region. There are several bike rental companies but we chose Mr Hugo. He was friendly, his bikes seemed in good condition, and it would only cost us £4 each – bargain. We were given helmets, a quick explanation of the hand-drawn map, and waved on our way.
Wherever there are vineyards you are guaranteed beautiful scenery, and such was the case in Maipú. It was early October, the sun was shining and we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day for our wine adventure. I’m not a particularly keen cyclist, so I was hoping that the roads wouldn’t be too difficult, but I needn’t have worried – they were flat, smooth and relatively traffic-free.
We wisely decided to head for the furthest away vineyard to avoid being left with a long cycle back at the end of the day. Our first stop was Bodega Carinae, a vineyard owned by a French couple. Apparently, they had no prior knowledge of producing wine, other than they loved to drink it, but this inspired them to purchase land and establish a thriving vineyard. We enjoyed a very informative tasting where we tried six wines – a mixture of reds, whites, and an amazing rosé – and ignored the fact that it wasn’t even 11 am yet!
We moved on to Bodega Familia Di Tomaso, another family-run bodega, where we tried three different wines. A fruit fly landed in my glass so it was swiftly replaced by a fresh one, but I liked the wine so much that I removed the offending fly and downed the original glass too. No point in wasting perfectly good wine!
In Mendoza, there are a variety of small family-run vineyards producing wine for local distribution and huge factory-esque vineyards that produce wine mainly for export. We found we preferred the smaller bodegas as they had a more personal touch to their wine tastings. However, we did enjoy Bodega Tempus Alba, which has a self-guided tour around the winery so you can learn how wine is produced. Tempus Alba also boasts a beautiful terrace overlooking the vineyards, where you can enjoy lunch or yep, you guessed it – a glass of wine.
After visiting three different bodegas, our wheels were starting to wobble a bit so we decided food was in order. We headed to the Beer Garden where they serve, well, beer (in case all the wine on offer at the vineyards wasn’t enough), as well as Argentine empanadas. We bypassed the beer, but the empanadas were delicious and helped sober us up sufficiently to push on to the next vineyard, Bodega Trapiche.
I had been looking forward to this one the most (I recognised the name from drinking wine back home) and my taste buds were tingling with excitement as we headed towards the gates…only to find them SHUT! Nooooooooo! A tip for all you Trapiche lovers – get there before 4 pm as they close earlier than the other vineyards.
I made up for it by sampling absinthe at our last stop, Entre Olivos. The owner told us all about olive oil production, then let us sample various oils, mustards and chutneys at our leisure.
We were then invited to sample two liqueurs of our choice – we chose absinthe and a cappuccino liqueur. The latter was delicious, but I can’t say the same for the absinthe – my mouth curls at the memory of it. Luckily the taste was washed away with sample pieces of chocolate, for which I was very grateful!
We cycled back to Mr Hugo’s feeling happy and content, with bellies full of wine and slightly sunburnt noses (but thankfully no sprained limbs!). Mr Hugo sat us down with a refreshing glass of lemonade, which helped us cool off. However, we’d heard that he usually offered wine, so we asked if he had any (because clearly, we hadn’t had enough that day already!).
He apologised and explained that he wasn’t allowed to serve wine because he wasn’t licensed. We decided that was probably a good thing, but as we were leaving he beckoned us to the kitchen door and produced a bottle of wine as a gift to take away!
It was a perfect end to a brilliant day exploring the sun-ripened fruits of Mendoza. And next time I’m trawling the shelves in my local supermarket for a decent bottle of red, I’ll be sure to head for the section labelled ‘Argentina’ to help bring back these cycling tour memories.
About the Writer: Helen Davey spent a year travelling around the world, exploring South America, New Zealand, Australia and South East Asia. She has recently returned to the UK and is now a freelance editor in Brighton, but she dreams of one day getting back on the road.