Maipu, ArgentinaMay 22, 2017 in Argentina ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C
*Guest post by Cat
At times, it feels like we are on a food tour of South America as we spend some (ok many) days simply moving from cafe to bar to restaurant ensuring we are sampling all the local delicacies, coffees, pastries, beers... the list is endless. And here you thought we were busy hiking and jam-packing our days with activities! I had been looking forward to Mendoza for months as this region produces over 60% of Argentina's wine and is particularly well known for producing excellent Malbec, one of my favourite reds.
There are three main wine producing areas on the outskirts of the city of Mendoza and we chose one of the most accessible to explore: Maipu. After an hour on a local bus we jumped off at a bike rental shop and picked up some bikes from a lovely Spanish only speaking Mr Hugo to explore the area and some bodegas (wineries).
The sun gods were smiling on us and we cycled out of the main town under endless blue skies. Ten minutes later, we were cycling past vineyards and snow capped Andes Mountains which were suddenly visible on our right. A stunning view that didn't get old all day!
The bike path ended and we found ourselves cycling along a tree lined narrow road. Gorgeous autumn coloured trees, vineyards on both sides and regular sneak peaks of snowy mountains - not much could spoil the serenity... except the massive trucks, motorbikes and cars speeding past us every few minutes in both directions! After a stressful 30 minutes cycling, we pulled into our first bodega around 1pm - Familia Di Tommasso.
This is one of Argentina's oldest bodegas and we opted for a tour and tasting to kickstart our day. A lovely girl with excellent English first showed us the vineyards where they are growing Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. Both require a similarly small amount of water but one uses a trench to keep the roots moist year-round while the other requires a drip irrigation system. The Mendoza region is very dry (average rainfall per year is 230mm) which is precisely why Malbec and Cab Sav grow so well here. Too much rain will ruin these grapes and either results in no wine or low quality wine. 2016 was bad as they had early heavy rainfall before harvest. This year was good but the yield low (due to the previous years rain). They are hoping for a better 2018.
Back inside, our tour guide showed us the original brick vats (made with Italian bricks) they used to make wine in. Due to hygiene, they can no longer make wine in these so they are now used to store bottles of wine before they are sold (after fermentation and 6-18 months in barrels, the wine has to rest for at least 12 months in their bottles before they are ready to go to market). Only about 30% of the grapes harvested at Familia Di Tommasso are used for their own wine. They sell or trade the remainder of grapes to other vineyards. None of the wine is exported or even sold in Argentinian stores -the only way to buy it is directly from them! They produce 30,000 litres each year.
Every bodega in Argentina must bottle their own wine. This was not always the case and vineyards could transport casks of wine to Buenos Aires and other major cities where businesses could bottle and market the product themselves. But rogue companies were adding water and ethanol to the wine to make it go further so the government now regulates wine making and bodegas have to have their own bottling and labelling capacity in-house. The only way wine can leave an Argentinian vineyard is in a bottle unless it is going to another vineyard, in which case the entire transportation must be overseen by an official in person from start to finish.
All this talk of wine was making us thirsty and we finally got to sample the goods! Our guide explained how we should taste using multiple senses - sight, smell and taste. First we checked the colour of the wine in the light above a sheet of white paper before looking at the density by swirling it in the glass and observing the streaks. Then we breathed in the aromas before finally getting to taste. We tried a young Malbec (no time in barrels), a delicious Cab Sav that had been in an American oak barrel for 6 months (you could taste the smoky flavour that added) and a Malbec that had been in a French oak barrel for 18 months. All delicious!
It was 2pm and the wine had whetted our appetite for lunch so we hopped back on the bikes to cycle to our next bodega - back along the death trap of a road which didn't feel quite so scary (either due to one glass of wine or there were less cars at siesta time).
We didn't have far to go before reaching our next vineyard Tempus Alba, an industrial sized winery. There was a self guided tour which we sped through to reach the sunny terrace upstairs with awesome views over the vines. We each selected 3 wines that were presented with tasting notes so we could taste without the watchful eye of an expert. Although we had enjoyed the tips from our first friend, sometimes you just want to enjoy a wine in peace. This washed down some excellent burgers before we cycled 600m further down the road to the next vineyard - Mevi. This small boutique vineyard also had a beautiful terrace overlooking vineyards, olive trees with the snowy Andes as a backdrop. We basked in the sun while enjoying 3 more wines and wondering if life could get any better.
Our final stop on the way back to town was an olive farm. We tried not only delicious olive oils and olives but also yummy home made marmalades and jams and then various liquors and chocolates. We dropped our bikes off at Mr Hugo's who had cold refreshing juice waiting for us and kissed us goodbye in friendly Argentinian style. The perfect end to a dream of a day!Read more