Cycling some and sampling more. Mendoza, Argentina
The Tempus vineyard was a shock at first, so out of place was it among the flaking single storey buildings we had been passing all day. Standing at the end of a pristine gravel drive was a beautiful but unfinished piece of modern architecture cut out of thick glass plate windows and wonderfully textured sandstone. A signposted walkway invited us to follow the brand new decking around to the side of the building where a platform offered views over vast columns of brown and red vines wrapped around each other for protection against the cold winter’s breeze. The feeling of isolation was almost overwhelming and continued once we had passed the oversized oak doors and made our way inside. Peaking into offices and a room full of gleaming metal vats we were unable to locate a single soul but surely there must be someone here….
There definitely was someone there.
We had hardly reached the top of the stairs when a man dressed in a black poloneck jumper and jeans glided towards us, arms outstretched. With his invisible neck, comically downturned lips and bald head he looked a little like a fish. “In Argentina we kiss!” he gushed, pecking a very confused and awkward Paul on the cheeks before moving on to the rest of us, lingering on our new friend Mitch and slipping a bit of tongue to his girlfriend Sharon. Before we knew it we had all been swept outside and were sitting alone, wrapped up in thick blankets, on a balcony overlooking the barren vineyards.
Ten minutes went past and then 15 and with no sign of our new best friend (let’s call him Julio for the sake of ease) we started debating who should go inside to order the wines. Just as Mitch was getting up to go inside a thick hand appeared on his shoulder and started kneading away. Obediently, he melted back into his seat. Strangely enough another hand had somehow found its way onto my shoulder and was working its way knowingly along my muscles. Between all the wine I had drunk that day and the utter warmth of it all, I started to sink into a hypnotic sleep.
The hands were of course attatched to the flambouyant Julio who was not here to take our order so much as to inform us of his decisions. “You will have the Rosé first and then perhaps the Cabernet Sauvignon,” he said. After sipping on what we all agreed to be a ground-breaking Rosé, strangely dark in colour but really light and fruity on the palate (yeah I say things like that now), we were presented with a bottle of red wine. “I was thinking about it and I decided that you should try the Preludio Malbec, not the Cabernet Sauvignon because after that wonderful Rosé a Cabernet Sauvignon would be….. EUGH! Anyway, I should know, I have been drinking wine since I was 10.” As we marvelled over the wonders of his Preludio Malbec Julio pulled up a chair and led a conversation about his beach house in Florianopolis, Brazil where we absolutely MUST stay. “Do you surf then Julio, if you live in Florianopolis?” “No,” he said with a sparkle in his eye, “but I smoke spliffs.”
Mendoza is a lovely city – wide sweeping boulevards and plazas planted with trees and flowers, a great restaurant scene and some really lovely buildings but it’s the world famous vineyards that really draw the crowds. Eager to finally do something with our time in South America, we had rounded up the troops and headed for the wine region by public bus.
We rented bikes for the day from the charasmatic Mr Hugo. Sure we had no brakes, my wheels were dangerously wobbly and we had around five gears between the six of us, but they were red, they had baskets and Mr Hugo had promised us some free wine when we got back. Our first stop had been to Club del Olivo a la Antiqua where we were welcomed by the sight of a beautiful traditional whitewashed building and a sign bearing exactly the word our hungover stomachs wanted to see least – ABSINTHE.
Clutching our protesting bellies we parked our bikes and wandered into the tiny building to meet the staff. In a matter of seconds they had lined up a huge, all organic spread for us. To start we sampled some olive oil and the sweetest most fantastic balsamic vinegar. Next came the savouries – olive paste mixed with garlic, smoked chilli, red peppers or aubergine. Wine blended with mustard was our favourite and we grabbed a jar to coat our many many Argentinian steaks in. Then came the twenty interesting jams – zucchini with date, dolche leche with coconut and of course plenty of strawberry and blueberry blends. Chasers came in the form of flavoured liquors – Irish Cream, Tia Maria, Creme de Menthe – or for a suicidal Mitch, Absinthe.
Warmed in part by the hospitality of our hosts but mostly by the spirits in our bellies, we hopped back on our bikes and made our way towards Museo del Vino. Here we were allowed to wander about a bit, examining antique wine-producing implements and guessing what they were for (“This cow trough is used to test the wine. Everyone knows that Argentinian wine is tested by Argentinian cows who not only taste great but have great taste.”) The wine was more hit than miss but hey, it was free and we got to see the administration office they have built inside a used wine barrel!
The next winery was a bit of a let down in that we never found it. We did find a random field full of lush grass and llamas surrounded in the midst of all the barren vineyards, olive groves filled with golden leaves and one endless vineyard that we managed to cycle around for quite some time before we a) figured out we were lost and b) realised we were getting hostile looks from the workers. Thankfully we did manage to stumble over Tempus in our search so it was with slightly dizzy heads that we freewheeled the 12km back to town. Had we been cycling uphill all that time? I never would have known…
Good to his word Mr Hugo welcomed us with plastic beakers full of wine from a box. Granted it tasted a little like vinegar after the subtle tones of the Preludio Malbec but it was free and to reject free alcohol is against the backpacker code. After several refills we finally slurred at Mr Hugo that we really did have to go and with great regret we zigzagged our way towards the bus stop and Mendoza where a delightful overnight bus was waiting to take us to Cordoba, talking the whole while about how much we wished we were still sitting under the stars with Julio having our necks massaged and our palates tickled…
There are more pictures from Mendoza available in the gallery