Thursday, May 15, 2014

Day 287: Mendoza

With our time in Mendoza cut down to only one day, we made the most of it and headed out early to the Maipu Valley. Mendoza province grows more than 2/3 of the country's wine from some of the highest vineyards in the world (roughly 1 000 m above sea level). There is more land area taken up here for vineyards than all of Australia and New Zealand's respective wine regions combined! If Carmenere is Chile's "little darling," then Argentina's would have to be Malbec, but the country is also well-known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, and Chardonnay. We were most interested in visiting the Trapiche vineyard, having enjoyed their wines so much while in Argentina.

Trying to keep the cost as low as possible, we found a bike rental place ourselves and opted to navigate the route independently. Mr. Hugo hooked us up with bikes and helmets and gave us a detailed map showing all of the wineries in the immediate area. We wouldn't have to ride far to taste some of Mendoza's best. (To see our route, click on Map on the right-hand side bar and zoom in on Mendoza's pin).

It was easy enough to reach our agreed-upon pow-wow spot, roughly 2/3 of the way to the turn-off. We were still in the downtown area of Maipu, which meant that there were bike lanes and friendly locals who were quick to point us in the right direction if we looked confused. The sun beamed down on us warmly, lighting up the surrounding vineyards and the Andes in behind a grey haze. From there, it was a nerve-racking 15 minutes further to reach our side street where we practically had to walk our bikes along a dirt shoulder to avoid closely passing cars and trucks. In the end, we all survived, and entered the gates to the prestigious-looking Tempus Alba vineyard excited for our first tasting.

After our experiences at Balduzzi and Concha y Toro in Chile, we really weren't sure what to expect. So when we were led to a shady patio overlooking the vines and served an exceptional display of ample pours, we were thoroughly impressed. This was what a wine tasting should look like.

We took our time, soaking up the atmosphere and the delicious selection. The four of us took turns inhaling, swirling, swishing, and tasting each glass, then commenting on the notes we were picking up. It was great fun, and the wines were all truly fantastic. Eager to keep a hold on the day, we recorded our preferences in John's notebook. It was hard to finally walk away, but we knew more wine awaited!

It was a quick jaunt across the road to reach winery #2, Vina el Cerno. Looking much more down-to-earth and family run, the tasting room had a cute feel to it, though lacking in views. We were surprised that we could sample their Premium Selection for the same cost as the regular, so between us we shared tastes of their "Golden Year" Cab Sav, Syrah, and Malbec. The pours were incredibly generous, so we sat down excited for the good value. Unfortunately, a quick whiff of the wine on the nose (how pretentious are we, seriously?) produced an unappealing chemical smell. Wearily, we took a sip. It's taste was even worse. We're not sure if they just don't rinse their glasses well enough after cleaning them, or if their wine is really that poor in quality. But we would not recommend visiting this spot.   

Feeling a little tipsy, we carefully navigated the quiet unpaved road back to the main street. Planning on walking our bikes on the shoulder, we discovered that the return side of the road was in much better condition. We'd read that it was possible to get dropped off with your bike at the furthest point, and cycle only the way back, so perhaps this is why the East side of the road was in better shape. If you're planning on cycling both ways, we recommend using only the East side once the bike lane stops.
We pulled into the Artisanal Cervezeria and parked our bikes in their cute shed. A shady table gave us the perfect spot for lunch. The guys took a wine break and Craig enjoyed their Pale Ale and its subtle hoppy notes and smooth caramel finish.

After the sobering break, we peddled further along the beautiful dirt road framed by vines on either side. Our arrival at Trapiche coincided with the beginning of our a tour, so we quickly parked our bikes and ran after the group. Clearly an established winery, the grounds swept across 1075 hectares and included a grove of olive trees. Used to provide a wind break from the gales coming down from the Andes, olive trees and their oils are common in the area and are also a big seller. They convienently are harvested opposite wine times. Wandering in amongst the crooked trunks was a pair of llamas. Our guide quickly won us over with his compassionate retelling of the sad little story about the winery's pair and how they can't mate. 

We were led upstairs to a spacious lounge area with a terrace overlooking the olive grove. The sommelier prepared our tasting and walked us through three from their reserve collection, Fond de Cave. First, was a surprisingly round Sauvignon Blanc with citrus notes and a pleasing finish. Second, was their Gran Reserva, which was a smoky and strong blend of reds that left us dreaming of summer bbq's (and Terri's backyard). Last, but certainly not least, was their Gran Medalla Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine so smooth it could go down in one sip. 
When we finally tore ourselves away, we cycled back North, past Mr Hugo's and to a fork in the road where we went our separate ways. Kristen and John turned to check out the olive oil and spirits distillery, while the two of us attempted to visit one last winery. It turned out to have just closed for the day, so we turned back to town and slowed to explore the little local wine shop. It turned out that they do their own tasting, so we settled into a booth for one last go.

Feeling near our limit, we opted to share a tasting. The owner of the shop started us with a Torrontes, then proceeded to pour us seven red varieties. Shaking his head at our reminder that we were going to share a tasting, he poured us both samples, repeating, "No hay problema." We attempted to keep track of our favourites and discovered that Valencia might be our new favourite winery. As we attempted to choose one to buy, he offered us a sample of another Torrontes, then one last one, again on the house, his own Late Harvest Malbec. We left happy, and with two bottles of their house wine propped up in our wicker baskets.

We found Kristen and John at Mr. Hugo's sipping on juice he was handing out as everyone returned for the evening. Determined to ensure we left in the best spirits possible, he called us a taxi, gave the guys a hearty handshake and the girls kisses on the cheek, then handed us an unmarked bottle of his own home-brewed wine. What a lovely gentleman and an outstanding day! We might be convinced to get into bike riding if all of our trips will be like this!

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