Wine and bike, bike and wine. It sounds like the ideal combination, zooming past green-topped vineyards hung with grapes, pedal, creak, cork, glug, and so on.
In practical application, I went at kind of the wrong time of year, so the vineyards were dry and cut back, poised for their springtime growth, and my bike didn’t creak, not even once. So instead it was pedal, fumble with map, pedal, meet another cheery winemaker, cork, glug and sadly, pour.
Since I was biking (and on my own) in Mendoza, Argentina’s district of Luján (where I’m told the best wineries in the region are), I couldn’t very well drink all of the wine I was served. And I was served a ton. And by a ton, I mean alot. Am I being clear? Also, not a very high tolerance. Ahem.
My day started with a very cheery welcome from Juampi, of Kahuak tourism on Rivadavia in Mendoza. Mendoza is smallish and adorable, and sleepy on Sundays, but in all other ways perfect, and I was there reviewing a hotel, so I thought while I was on my way, I should play with the big boys re: wine and bike. Why wine and bike? Because I like being independent, I like biking, and well, wine? When in Rome (or in this case, Argentina).
The guys at Kahuak (specifically the very smiley Juampi) had offered me a guide, someone to ride with me through shade and sun, to guide me to each of the wineries. And I declined because well, I’m independent. And also, they gave me the tour for free, and I didn’t want to abuse anyone’s generosity. Instead, I walked a few blocks, took a bus, met an older woman named something with an E who had 8 grandchildren and asked me why, exactly it is, that all these gringos take the bus and get off in the plaza of Chacras de Coria. Winetasting, by bike, I said! And she nodded, as if to say, doesn’t that seem a little imprudent?
From here, I went to Baccus, where I met Diego, who asked me what I wanted in a wine tour. Malbec, I said. Not because I love Malbec (I don’t), but because it’s something Mendoza has that the wine regions across the mountains in Chile don’t. And interesting architecture. And good stories. And stuff gringos would like.
And so he put together a tour, giving me a map with adorable Argentine details, like don’t miss the painted rock in the drainage canal (and don’t fall into the drainage canal!). It fell off a truck once, and being a funloving people, someone painted it silly colors. And now it’s on the map. I did not miss it. Nor did I ride into the drainage canal. All-around win.
The pedaling was easy, mostly flat, and I only rode out of the way on a crazy, bearshapedsphere-induced detour once, pointing to the map and asking a lugareño (local) where on the map I was and having him point way off the map and say, “estamos aquí,” (we are here).
There were supposed to be four wineries and a lunch stop. In the end, there were three and a lunch stop. I ran out of time and energy to some degree (sun + wine plus Eastern European burny skin not a good combination) and really, three wineries and a lunch stop is not bad, not bad at all.
I went to Carmelo Patti, an Italian winemaker who has a hand in every single bottle, and who believes in aging his wine far more than most before it hits the market. His winery looks like a plain white building with graffiti on the front, unlike the other three I visited, with oh, signs and such. He likes it that way though, and thus doesn’t have a website, though fans have created a facebook page.
From here I doubled back to Lagarde, where I spent the bulk of my wine-learning time, as a Brazilian restauranteur and I were on the tour together, and Juan Pablo, an oenophile like you read about, very friendly and knowlegeable about each of the various wines took his time with the tour.
And here are the five (and holy generous pours) wines we tasted at Lagarde, including a cabernet sauvingon I loved, and a sparkling wine that was sweet and refreshing.
And in case you were wondering, the light wasn’t this strange, so much as I screwed up the white balance, and I’m shortish of time at the moment.
From here I went to lunch at Clos de Chacras, where we discovered that the two usual options for the bike set were pasta bolognese (which I don’t eat: meat) and pasta with cream sauce, which I don’t care for. Instead they brought me this pumpkin flan, which was nice, but maybe a little light for a day of bikes and wine in Mendoza. (But I had bought some nibbles the night before at the supermarket, so it was fine). I could have ordered whatever I wanted (and had another tour), but I was on a mission, and so I nibbled and fled.
Onto Pulmary, which is a family-run vineyard that makes wine out of organic grapes. They make their wine in Clos de Chacra, but the grapes are grown a bit farther afield (though less than 100 km away). There’s a big outdoor yard with a place to enjoy a meal, which is just what the family was doing when I first arrived. Here I tasted another sparkling wine that I thought was fabulous, and took a tour of the cava, including this room where they sometimes do tastings (I was drinking and touring together). I was only half joking when I told the guide (a friend of the family’s) that they should have overnights there.
And then I wandered some more, and left my bike there as Juampi had instructed, and went to a chocolates and conserve shop, where I tried a couple of jams and olives and such, and bought two squares of chocolate and found the local bus to ride it back home. Kahuak provides transportation normally, but my tour was 11th hour and I do enjoy a challenge, so I was on the local buses. (1, int. 16, what a naming strategy).
And there you have it, a splendid day with many very delicious wines, some great tours, a whole lot of Mendoza personality and yeah, I tried the Malbec. Lots of it.
Disclaimer: the tour was provided to me free of charge by Kahuak. All opinions are true/real and uncompensated. Also, it’s not anyone’s fault I’m a slightly picky eater. The pumpkin flan was delicious.