So our primary concern for visiting Mendoza was to drink.
No surprises there then....
The region is famous for its Malbec - the main grape of choice for Argentines who are obviously patriotic as it's the only place to use Malbec unblended (the grape originally came from France), not that this is a bad thing :)
The second grape of choice is Cabernet Sauvignon and this is also grown in Mendoza and is also very nice!
So we started out by checking into Mora hostel - only to find out that they only had one bed in an air conditioned room - it hit 41 degrees that afternoon - we weren't best pleased. Then they tried to sweeten the deal by saying their sister hostel had a pool - we were straight off there! The pool was tiny but perfectly cold....
Then happy hour started - free local wine out of a 5 litre bottle - well why not! After a glass or two we joined the wine tasting for Malbec and Chardonnay. Then we headed back to our hostel for a second wine tasting (having already signed up for it and bringing our new friends along). The lady doing the wine tasting was a little non plussed by seeing us a second time - but took it in her stride - we also tasted different wines - a Cabernet Sauvignon & a Chardonnay / Chenin blend - which was a bonus.
I particularly like her style of intruducing tasting - using all five senses. We started with hearing - hearing the cork pop - creating a pavolivan response in most of us! - or the sound of bubbles in champagne or just the wine talking to you 'drink me, drink me'!
It was very well done and I learnt a new thing, apparently you should smell the wine before swirling it in the glass as you will pick up on bad aromas - vinegar, mustiness - this way. When you swirl you release more of the good aromas which can mask a bad wine. Now you know!
The following day we were off on the bus with our new friend Ségo to Maìpu to try out the highly recommended Mr Hugo wine and bike tours. Again it turned out to be a hot day - 40 odd degrees at least, but ride around wine country was partially shaded and fairly easy with bike lanes provided for the majority of the way.
We started at an olive oil tasting at Entre Olivos - where we learnt how they make the oil and how the first press or cold press extra virgin olive oil was the best you can get, perfect for salads - not so great for cooking with though - our guide recommended virgin olive oil for that. Lowest of the low was plain old olive oil.
We also tasted tapenade and home made jams - including a spectacular Malbec one (yum!) before trying their flavoured liquors. I tried the banana dulce de leche and the rose, Cat tried the pepper (yuk!) and their cold equivalent of mulled wine - that one went down much better!
After purchasing some olives we went to our first winery at the other end of the road - a longish hot cycle, where we saw the local police keeping an eye on us cyclists - we weren't even drunk yet... We ended up at the Bodega Familia de Tommaso where the irrigation channels were flowing with luscious cold water (have I mentioned how dry Mendoza is yet? Well it was a very dry 40 degree heat!) we stood in the channel to cool our feet down before our tour of the old winery and the tasting.
The winery is one of the oldest in the area - it's not longer an operating winery (ie they don't make the wine there anymore), but they do store and age some of the wine here. The building is built from adobe bricks and has a preservation order on it - which meant that the interior had to remain like a museum. It's a fabulously atmospheric place to taste the wine!
We tried the Torrontes white wine and their Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec here. Torrontes is usually associated with the area around Salta, further north, however the bodega have similar conditions so grow the Torrontes in the valley floor in Mendoza. The wine is different to the typical Argentine Torrontes which is usually sweeter - this one was dryer and perfectly drinkable! Both the Cab Sav and Malbec were fruity and deeply coloured - the Malbec had notable tannins compared to the Cab Sav and this is what makes it so good with the steak and enables it to be kept for years.
Our next stop was at Mevi for some lunch, oh and just a few wines!
Between us Cat and I managed to taste all the Mevi wines and lunch had a special deal where we got to take away a bottle for 'homework'. Mevi had some different varieties including Chardonnay, Syrah and an Italian grape called Bonarda.
We enjoyed all the wine - with Cat preferring the Torrontes and me the Chardonnay. We avoided the Rose - we were here for the proper stuff! I don't have anything against Rose - just some of them aren't as good as the red wines made from the same grapes - so we focused on the reds.
The reserva's were obviously nicer than the varietals - however the varietals were young and fruity. The addition of oak barrel aging in the reserva's just added smoothness and body.
Look who we met at lunch - our starting group of 3 had grown to 7 for lunchtime:
From here we wanted to hit up another winery before the beer garden - unfortunately I had a flat tire so we had to wait for Mr Hugo to come and fix my bike.
Then we were straight to the beer garden to sample their artisanal beers - I preferred the rojo one, they also had a pale ale and a stout.
Here we found why the local police had been so interested in all cyclists during the day - they are well aware of drunken tourists having accidents and had just banned a large group of lads from getting back on their bikes. We were able to cycle back to Mr Hugo's - but they weren't best pleased with us racing the storm cycling with no hands (btw that wasn't me!)
And so completes day one of Mendoza tasting.
The following day we went on a tour organised by the hostel - our favourite wine tasting teacher was leading it and we headed to Don Arturo first, which is also an old established wine maker. They have a very lovely property surrounded by roses - the purpose of the rose bushes is to keep the bugs away from the vines.
Don Arturo don't really export their wines - some of their varietals are bought by restaurants in the US, but otherwise to buy their wine you need to come to Mendoza.
We tried their varietal Malbec and Cab Sav - both were very drinkable and we preferred the Cab Sav for an easy drinking wine - e.g pre steak... They also had reserva's that weren't part of the tasting - we asked nicely and got a sample of the Syrah to try - very nice again. Their ultimate wine is one that Don Arturo created for his daughter's wedding - the celebration brand - which apparently is so good you won't want to share it! (We didn't get a taste of that limited edition!).
We headed to Vistandes next up - this is a huge new modern winery that makes a lot of wine and uses grapes from other areas - e.g. their Torrontes is made from grapes from the North of Argentina.
Finally we headed to another olive oil factory Raipal - they also make dried fruits here and the name is a play on the English/Spanish for raisins. We saw the vastly more complicated old fashioned methods that were used before the $250k machines were available - very time consuming! And then we tasted the results. The flavoured oils weren't as robust as the ones we tried on the first day, however the raisins and sundried tomato paste were very tasty.
Back at the hostel that evening we partook in the empanada making class after happy hour (free wine!), so thanks to Sego for making notes for us! We made carne (meat) empanadas - with onion, beef mince and spices to season. We were also shown how to make the pasty - but here you can buy the empanada wraps in most supermarkets. We practised rolling the edges and then got eat the fruits of our labours - with two more bottles of red wine... For free :)
An impromptu dance party started after this - we had a few more bottles of wine - an early night was the idea and I think that 1am is early for Argentines!
The next morning we were up early to hike the hills around Mendoza before the heat of the day. A lot of restorative water was required! The view of Mendoza from the top was hazy as last nights rain evaporated, but worth the effort:
Parapunters also come up this way to jump off and fly above the hills - they freaked me out when directly above my head on the climb up!
After a siesta we met our friends at the sister hostel for steak and homework wine - a lovely way to end our trip to Mendoza.