Mendoza – Deep into Malbec
Now, we’re not really wine people. We drink a fair amount of the stuff, we’ve even done a tasting course, but we’re generally as content with a bottle of tasty cheap plonk as with some super spanky vintage. Try as we might we’re never gonna be connoisseurs. But the trying is mighty fun and Mendoza has a bucket-load of vineyards!
Mendoza sits in the west of Argentina on roughly the same latitude as Buenos Aires and just below the Andes. It’s a city of over 1 million people and smack in the middle of the largest wine-region in South America.
The city itself doesn’t scream out to us but there’s some nice plazas, a huge park that’s great for a few hours strolling and some cool places for lunch. In our wanderings, we found a very tasty vegetarian buffet run by a Chinese lady where you pay by weight. The food’s weight, not your own.
There’s also a Mirador on top of one of the city council buildings. You just saunter in and take the lift to the top. From up there you get a decent view of the whole area with the mountains and the road to Chile in the distance. Inexplicably, there is a wall of beauty queen photos just as you exit onto the rooftop verandas.
Alison’s Bacchic Frenzy, aka The Wine Tour
Spurred on by Chris and Gayle’s “Withnail and I” worthy description of their own Mendozan wine tour (complete with bicycles and a realisation of being too drunk to get on the damn things) we were looking forward to taking a wine tour.
Given the winter climate, bicycles were out so Alison found a hop-on, hop-off bus that takes you round a series of vineyards. The wine-pro can cover four vineyards but if you want lunch, three’s a good target. The tour goes through Lujan de Cuyo, home to a dozen or so vineyards.
So we set off at eight in the morn, not to return until the early evening. The bus has a strict rotation through the vineyards but it became clear early on that they didn’t stick to that. The bus tour guide figured out who wanted to be where, when … and somehow synthesised the whole route to work for everyone whilst simultaneously making sure the vineyards knew who was arriving, required lunch etc.
Tapiz is a fairly high class vineyard, focusing a good deal on quality at not extortionate but not cheap prices.
And so it begins: 10am, not really a respectable hour to start on the sauce. A well-spoken guide showed us the vineyards in front of the imposing winery buildings, espousing the varieties, primarily Malbec. She put particular emphasis on the climate, which is unique here. We were also apprised of the maturity and yield of the plants per hectare. Many details, which the libations of the rest of the day served to effectively remove from my cerebral cortex, leaving merely the impression that I had learnt something.
Then into the monolith and huge tanks, full of wine. Glasses were sourced from the barrel room. Then our guide opened a tap on one of the vast steel tanks and the tasting proper began.
I decided to take a photo of Alison with each glass throughout the day. She decided most were not to be published, but I can assure you that the smile became wider and the eyes a bit more glassy as the day wore on.
We sampled around five or six: sparkling, white, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec. As is generally the case, the deep reds were my favourite and now I know I love Malbec.
After 90 minutes it was all over except for the warm buzz left behind and the first bottle tucked safely into my bag.
Terrazas is an older, posher and very good looking winery. Old brick buildings round a courtyard and a family feel (despite it being owned by some huge corporation). Another tour, grape sorting machines, huge vats, lots of barrels. Then it’s lunchtime. We’ve opted for a three course lunch and as others head off to taste, we’re led away into a house on the complex. Seated in a stylish conservatory with just one other table we’re about to experience one of the best lunches of our lives.
For me: Smoked salmon with a fabulous corn puree and wine salt accompanied by one of their whites. Excellent.
A perfectly cooked, wrapped beef joint with steamed vegetables and a glass each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
An amazing creme-caramel dessert with sparking wine.
Alison’s version, of course, consisted of some vegetarian nonsense.
My memory of the exact configuration of the dishes is a bit hazy and it probably doesn’t sound incredible. But every detail was correct, every dish has little interesting flourishes and the wine and food matched perfectly. I would go again in a flash.
After the second course, the wealthy and respectable-looking family at the other table could be seen to lighten up a little. By dessert mother and daughter were collapsing in fits of laughter and looking a little pished. Happily, they left before us so we were left to soak up the atmosphere, coffee and chocolates before ambling off to find the bus.
Septima targets more of an economic palate. Not so purist in manufacture, adding sulphides in some cases and aiming to get lots out of the door. Steel gangways weave over the top of the huge tanks in their main production area, giving the impression of being in a ship’s boiler room.
A separate room is reserved for the premium wines where grapes are manually crushed and barrels line the walls.
Another four or five wines to try. A little more basic with less complex secondary flavours, but nice enough. It’s probably a good thing we’re here last, since our palates are exhausted. We just wouldn’t be appreciating great wines at this point in the day. Also, our hop on/off guide has appeared and is passively harassing the vineyard guide to hurry things up anyway.
There is a terrace on top with fantastic panoramic views over the surrounding area. We just have time to rush up and grab a few pictures before our guide herds us onto the waiting bus.
The mood on the bus is understandably a little more boisterous on the return to Mendoza. Everyone seems satisfied in their own way. After we wind our way from the drop-off point to our apartment, having totted up 16 (small!) glasses apiece, there’s only one more thing to do…prepare some dinner and crack open a bottle.