We had inadvertently booked 1st class tickets on our bus journey from Buenos Aires to Mendoza. The 180 degree tilt of the seat, champagne and delicious meal certainly made all the difference; it was nice to have our final over-night bus journey in style. At last we had discovered the awesomeness of Argentinean buses that everyone had been talking about! We arrived into Mendoza 14 hours later feeling refreshed after a reasonable nights’ sleep.
Mendoza is all about the wine, and luckily for us Malbec wine in particular. The Mendoza region is the largest wine producing area in all of South America. It has a widespread irrigation system which provides year-round water for the lush tree lined city and surrounding wineries. The natural environment of mountains, rivers, and wide open plains allows for many adventure activities in the area including gliding, horse riding, rafting, trekking and of course winery tours. Therefore creating a major tourist hub for those of all ages and budgets.
But we were here for one main reason and that was to investigate the wineries. Once settled into our lovely relaxed hostel we got down to selecting our wine tour. The main attraction for many backpackers like us is the self-tour of budget wineries done by bike. Although this did interest us initially we were quite easily sold into the more expensive, privately tailored day tour of three of the regions’ most exclusive wineries. The hostel puts together this day of decadence for four willing winos that can break the budget and experience the real Mendoza. So we did.
Wineries, like everything else in South America, are closed on Sunday so we spent the next two days relaxing in the backyard of our hostel and shopping in the city. We were also fortunate to meet with some friends, Susie and Berto, that we had meet at PSF in Peru. It was lovely to have a beer in the sun and compare travel stories from the past two months.
We also went out for our first ‘steak’ dinner at a reputable restaurant located in a near-by suburb. Argentina is famous for its’ good quality steak and other than cooking one ourselves (which was amazing) we wanted to experience one prepared by the experts. As per usual we were first in the whole restaurant, even though we stretched our arrival until 9pm. The service was excellent and as common for Argentinean restaurants, was provided by a middle aged man dressed formally in black and white. The steak was excellent and washed down with a bottle of Premium Malbec, we had ticked another quintessential Argentinean experience off the list. Life is tough.
Monday morning rocked around and as usual it was a stunning blue-sky sparkling hot day. We were picked up from our hostel by our driver for the day and proceeded to our first winery located about 30 minutes out of town - in the depths of the wine growing region. We had a quick tour of the Carinae winery which has been operating for 100 years and still uses its’ original concrete vats. This boutique vineyard produces 100,000 bottles of wine per year using its’ own grapes and a small amount imported from the north of Argentina for its’ chardonnay.
We then had tastings and a discussion of the range of wines from the blends through to the premium selections, produced by the winery. We purchased a bottle of a very reasonably priced Malbec and enjoyed strolling through the vines and admiring the wine-barrel furniture.
The next stop was an olive factory. Here we had a very informative tour and learnt about both the trees and the process involved in producing olive oil. We learnt that green and black olives are from the same tree, simply harvested at the beginning (green) and end (black) of the season and one tree produces 100 kgs of olive oil. Next we tasted (or rather I gorged myself on) both the oil and olives produced and restrained ourselves from buying up the entire store. With many tapenades, beauty products and oil sold by the gallon we shopped with self-control and are perhaps grateful that we have a weight restriction on our bags for travelling home.
Our next winery, Ruca Malen, was located in a stunning setting at the foothills of the Andes. This ten-year-old winery produces 500,000 bottles of wine per year and is therefore classed as medium sized. The winery itself grows only 22 hectares of grapes and thus needs to import grapes from all over Argentina to produce into wine.
We were taken through a very comprehensive tour of the estate, production area and cellar. We were fortunate to see the wine being bottled as a mobile unit had been brought in for the day. Here we also learnt about the difference in American and French oak barrels and the importance this has on the taste and structure of the wine. This tour contrasted nicely with the smaller boutique winery we had seen previously. At the conclusion of our tour we were treated to lunch, served in an outdoor dining room which had an unobstructed view of the vines with the backdrop of the snow capped Andes. Over a two hour period of decadence we were served five courses matched with six of the vineyard’s wines.
The entire experience was just divine; not only for the taste buds but we learnt a lot about tasting the subtle flavours in the wines brought about by the different blends and processes. It truly was magic and we were very satisfied by the time we left for our third and final winery of the day.
Kaiken produces 2.5 million bottles of wine per year and it is fast expanding. Here we had the most informative tour of the day where we learnt about the three different types of vines grown on the property, about the irrigation of the area and the specific wine that is produced by this winery. We visited the large underground cellar and then did a tasting of three wines; rose, malbec and cabernet.
The tasting was very comprehensive as we were coached through what to smell, look for and taste in each of the wines. They were good but at this point we had reached saturation and the wines were out of our price range. Still it was a nice way to end the day with yet another completely different winery.
The next stop after this was home - thank goodness as we were all fairly stuffed. It was a magic day, we learnt so much and was worth every penny we spent.
Mendoza had been good to us, the weather perfect, the hostel lovely and relaxed, and the culinary experience off the hook. Everything and more that we had expected of the place.
Tomorrow we board the bus to head through the Andes and back to Santiago de Chile as our ticket home begins from here.