Mendoza is famous for it’s wine region. It produces 70% of Argentina’s rightly popular wines, and in March is home to a national festival celebrating the harvest.
A popular way of seeing the area is via bicycle – and being keen cyclists we arrange for a tour to do just that. We are collected from our hostel in the morning (after comedy running round to find a bank to pay for it) by a mini-bus that must have had a hard life and a driver that looks like he roadies for the Levellers. Unusually its just the two of us that are taken directly to the area – normally these things run round a few accommodation places and fill the bus up first and we arrive in Maipu by mid-morning, an area of Mendoza with plenty of vineyards.
Orange bikes is the company we rent our iron horses from for the day – they are indeed all orange and appear to have had a similar like to that our of mini-bus, but they are basically roadworthy with some of the more uncomfortable saddles I have encountered.
It is ‘a beautiful day’ (as our driver might say) and temperatures are north of 30 degrees, which requires plenty of water. When planing our route for the day we cater for the fact that today definitely polarises our tastes – Nik doesn’t drink alcohol, I do not like olives, we both like cycling.
So we visit two vineyards and two olive plantations covering about 30-40km on the bikes – Nik comments that I have engineered more cycling time than most people would on this trip, but we have both missed our bikes since traveling and it feels great to be out in the fresh air peddling our way through Argentina.
Our initial impressions of our scenery are that this has been very well marketed. The area is not the most salubrious and highlights that outside the major cities the differences between here and home are far greater than we have seen so far on the trip. Except the main roads, the rest are unfinished mud and gravel, and the quality of the general infrastructure is generally poor. We are warned that that there are clear signs (red and green) to indicate areas that are and are not safe to cycle in, and that tourist police keep the green areas safe.
That said we have our backpack in the basket on the front of Nik’s bike and two youths on a motorbike attempt to snatch it as they rode past! Thankfully they failed to get a good purchase and we heed the warning and strap the bag to our backs and take care, but we don’t like the feeling of mistrust it gives us for the rest of the day when seeing locals on motorbikes.
After abut 5km of cycling we leave the more urban areas and out into the amazingly beautiful countryside with fields of vineyards stretching out in front of you, with blue sky above and The Andes providing the backdrop in the distance.
We ride out as far as we are going before our first stop, an olive plantation called Laur. This is Nik’s highlight of the day where for a very small fee we are given a tasting selection consisting of tapenade, olives, sundered tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and olive oil (with plenty of bread). I appreciate tomatoes and the oil, that we are encouraged to taste ‘pure’ i.e. drink a small amount from a spoon, before using bread. The rest are not for me, but Nik ensures me that these are some of the best olives she has ever eaten. Laur are having a grand opening of their new balsamic factory that evening so the staff are busily making sure everything looks ‘tip top’ so we leave them to it and head back out on the bikes.
Philip from the Valparaiso tours had recommended a small family vineyard to us called Di Tomasso that dates back to the 1830s. We arrive to see a group of about 8 rented bikes already there and go in and catch the end of the tour and then have a tasting. The lady running the tour comments that there is a lot of English people there but ironically for an Argentinian didn’t know the word ‘invasion’ in English 😉
The sommelier was aghast that Nik doesn’t drink but still insisted that she is given a glass of each of the 4 wines we taste so that she can ‘appreciate’ them all the same. We are taught how to inspect the colour, the aroma and the taste (Nik has a very small sip. I don’t) and also the do’s and don’t of wine tasting and drinking e.g. cleansing the palet, food that matches etc. We both enjoyed it and stay for lunch where I am served a HUGE class of the local Malbec red to accompany my rabbit.
Another vineyard next, that is much plusher and more commercial, though I think we upset them by ordering a diet Coke as the heat has significantly dehydrated us, but they have a good short free tour and the terrace give a viewpoint for the area. We then visit our second olive place of the day where we get a tasting and tour and learn a lot about olive oil. Did you know that green and back olives are the same? The colour indicates when they are harvested – green are immature and black are ripe. And its green olives with lower acidity that are used to make virgin and extra virgin olive oils.
Finally we pop into a ‘tea room’ that offers lots of different type of tea (including Waitrose Earl Grey as the owners father visits England regularly) and manage to get a very well made cup of tea. Tea brewed in a pot, cold milk, the works. It is possible.
Back on the Levellers tour bus to our accommodation for a much needed shower and change before a lovely evening meal in the bustling evening where the city feels alive.