In case I haven’t mentioned so already, Mendoza’s slogan is “the land of sun and of good wine.” We’ve had so few days of rain or clouds that I can total them up on just one hand, and even though we’re already less than two weeks away from the shortest day of the year and are entering what are supposed to be Argentina’s coldest months (Southern hemisphere here), we’re still hanging out after class in café patios and walking around town wearing nothing more than fall jackets. Either winter isn’t coming, or we’re reaping the benefits of Mendoza’s abnormal microclimate. Whichever it might be, I’m thinking it’s just that Mendoza has perfect weather: moderate temperatures without the annoyance of humidity taking over my hair.
As for the good wine, Mendoza is South America’s biggest wine producer. The province’s most important holiday of the year (featuring fireworks, parades, and more) celebrates the annual grape harvest, and it’s usually less expensive to share a bottle of malbec than to order a glass of mineral water in the average restaurant or café. There are lots of opportunities for free and fancy wine tastings, gourmet dinners with wine pairings, and tours of nearby vineyards. Música y vino en las alturas (Music and wine in the heights), for example, is an open-air concert on the rooftop of a municipal building where a free glass of wine if offered to enjoy while admiring the amazing view of the city in front of the Andes cordillera. A few months ago, there was also the inaugural Semana del vino (Week of wine), which celebrated Mendoza’s recognition as the International wine capital with plein air wine tastings, concerts, and lectures. If you don’t already like wine before coming, you’re pretty much obligated to love it by the time you leave.
So last Friday, a couple of friends and I decided to go on a bodega bici tour (vineyard tour by bike) in nearby Maipú, a popular destination for wannabe samplers of Mendoza’s famous malbec. The bikes had semi-functional breaks (I’m pretty sure I developed a significant amount of hand-muscle by the end of the day after having had to exert so much force to avoid crashing into my friends), but aside from that, riding from bodega to bodega was an awesome way to visit the wineries, even for someone who’s not a huge fan of biking.
We stared the day at Laur Olivícula, a small olive oil production (I know I just said that we went on a wine tour, but olive oil production is a big thing here too). After a guided tour of the grove and of the production center, we were offered to taste the different olive oils and pastes, olives, sun-dried tomatoes and balsamic vinegar. Let’s just say that we did a little more than just a sampling of their products—by the time we left, the huge pile of bread that accompanied the tasting had completely disappeared. We ate so many samples that we never got hungry enough to stop for lunch.
Next up we visited two small boutique wineries, Familia Di Tommaso, and Tempus Alba. The guided tasting of four different wines (white, malbec, cabernet sauvignon, and a sweet desert wine) at Familia Di Tommaso was a perfect introduction to the proper method of wine degustation: first examine the color, then analyze the viscosity of the liquid and smell its aromas, and finally taste the wine, looking for the particular flavors that it might have. We then set out for Tempus Alba where we enjoyed an unaccompanied tasting of six different wines: rosé, merlot, tempranillo, syrah, malbec, and cabernet sauvignon. Having the six varieties available to taste at our leisure was incredibly helpful in learning to differentiate between each type, and our impromptu blind tasting proved that even as novice wine-connoisseurs we were beginning to get a feel for particularities between each variety. To accompany the tasting we ordered a delicious apple and chocolate tart with a malbec coulis and a beautiful, layered chocolate and candied orange peel cookie, jelly, and ganache cake—a perfect indulgence before saddling up for the last leg of the trip.
At Productores y Sabores, an artisanal liquor, jam, and olive-product producer, we tasted a few chocolate and spiced liquors, an olive and bell pepper spread, a hot pepper paste, and malbec jam. I was particularly intrigued by the malbec jam, because after many of my own failed attempts at making red wine jelly, I had the experience the successful version of what I’d been hoping to make. I bought a jar from Productores y Sabores and am now anxiously awaiting to enjoy it drizzled onto broiled goat cheese or Brie croustades as a sweet-and-savory appetizer. Delicious.
While the Maipú bike tour had to come to an end, there are still plenty of opportunities for wine tastings in Mendoza, including something I am incredibly excited about: a two-hour long wine tasting class where I’ll be sampling 5 different wines from within the Mendoza region and learning more precisely the proper way to taste and enjoy them. Looks like I’m going to have to find a way to keep up this wine rhythm when I get back to New York.