Pass the Malbec, we are in Mendoza
The Mendoza province sits in the western-central region of Argentina. Located approximately 1,000km from the capital city of Buenos Aires, it is a city famed for its vineyards, high altitudes, and continental climate.
The Mendoza region is pleasant to visit all year around. With over 330 days of blue sky and sunshine a year, it is easy to walk around and take in the beautiful scenery that the province has to offer. If you are planning on visiting the city during their Autumn/Winter months (April to September) be sure to pack a warm winter jacket as temperatures vary on a daily basis from 2°C to 12°C with a bitter chill running through the air. Ciarán and I quickly learnt this the hard way. Leaving a wardrobe of winter jackets behind me, not having taken it into account in my budget and having little selection that suited my backpacking needs, in Ciarán’s words…… “it was a painful experience” picking out my new jacket.
Once the (very unstylish) jackets were purchased, we decided to explore the wine producing regions. There are three wine producing areas in in the Mendoza region which can be visited. Maipu Valley, Lujan de Cuyo, and Uco Valley. You would need a day to visit each, so with our limited time we opted for Uco Valley. This region is the furthest from Mendoza and takes approximately 1.5 hours by car/bus to reach. But don’t let this turn you off as it is the premier wine region that should not be missed. The drive to Uco Valley is an experience in its own, leaving behind the city life to pass through the more rural region of the province with the Andes Mountains as your backdrop, it was heavenly to see.
Numerous companies offer daily trips to Uco Valley and we opted to use 'Trout and Wine' (€120 p.p). Now, in booking a full-day wine tour, don’t let the price deter you from enjoying the experience. €120 may be out of your budgetary spend when backpacking but if you can tighten the purse strings through other means, then you won’t be sorry. Wine and Trout gave us the best experience and were 100% worth the spend. Our tour guide Gilda was enthusiastic, energetic and spoke fluent English. We were picked up at 08:30 in the morning from our accommodation and we were driven in a private, air conditioned bus to three vineyards throughout the course of the day. The cost included four glasses of wine at each vineyard as well as a four-course lunch. We returned to the city at 17:30, a little worse for wear. TOP TIP: Don’t skip on breakfast, you will be drinking a lot of wine pre-lunch and you will need the “soakage". I skipped breakfast and my lips went tingly very early in the day. For anyone who knows me, this is NOT a good sign!
Stop 1: Domaine Bousquet This large, modern winery prides itself on making full bodied, complex wine with a French twist. Upon entering the large chateau, Domaine Bousquet offers exquisite mountain views and vines as far as the eye can see. We were extremely fortunate to be at the vineyard during a snow storm. Our tour guide Gilda informed us, that in her seven years working with Trout and Wine, she had never seen snow in this location in Mendoza. Her giddiness was infectious, and contributed to the day starting in high spirts. During the tour of the facility we were shown state-of-the-art technology used in harmony with the traditional methods of wine production. The vineyard produces Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Malbec, as well as Torrontes, Argentina’s only indigenous grape variety wine. Following the tour, we were brought to the tasting room where we tried the wines from Domaine Bousquet's classic line, Reserve and their Grand Reserve. Ciarán and I enjoyed the Pinot Noir the most, with its violet hue and black-cherry aroma. It went down a little too easy. We were informed that this wine is sold in Ireland, so we will be on the hunt when we get home.
Stop 2: Bodega La Azul This was a boutique style vineyard, small and very unassuming, located at the foot of the Cordón del Plata mountains. We entered the vineyard and were directed immediately to our wine tasting table, located outside in their gravel patio. With its brightly coloured wooden furniture, sitting under a canvas cover, the word “rustic” would best describe the setting. Wrapped in a cosy blanket, surrounded by snow and tasting the wines from the 'La Azul' range was the most delightful event. During the experience, we were given the history of the vineyard and tasted their Fresh Malbec, vibrant Cabernet Sauvignon, and beautiful Sauvignon Blanc with its aromas of citrus, pink grapefruit, and lime. However, their pièce de résistance, wasn’t until we moved to their wine production facility. Here we were given a glass of their Gran Syrah, from their Gran Reserva line. Aged for 18 months in oak barrels (30% American oak and 70% French oak), this full bodied, buttery, opulent wine was like no other.
Stop 3: Monteviejo
Monteviejo is situated at the foot of the Andes Mountains and comprises of a 321-acre vineyard. With one of the most accomplished winemakers in Argentina, Marcello Pelleriti, as their head winemaker, this winery exuded class and elegance from the moment we entered into the property. Monteviejo is part of a joint venture, and with a variety of grapes extending beyond the horizon, it truly was a breath-taking experience. Instead of doing a wine tour, here we were treated to a four-course meal in the Espacio Monteviejo restaurant, located in the heart of the winery. We had the opportunity to taste wines from Monteviejo’s Petite Fleur range that were hand-picked to accentuate the flavours of the traditional cuisine prepared by chef Victoria Silva. The restaurant offered a warm setting to relax and enjoy the incomparable view of the vineyards and mountain range. During every course we were given a different variety of wine to try, and finished off the experience with an unlimited amount of their Petite Fleur Extra Brut. This wine was dry, fresh, and youthful, offering enough bubbles to ensure it went straight to my head. The perfect way to finish the experience.
Our group hopped back on the bus and slept the entire way back to the city. We were dropped off at our accommodation at 18:00, giving us enough time to sober up and let the hangover set in before having to go to bed. If you are ever given the opportunity to participate in a wine tasting experience, jump on it. Unlimited Wine, great food, and good company, what more could you ask for?
Keane on Travel XXX