I love wine! It’s that simple. Reds in the Fall and Winter, white wines and Rosé in the Spring and Summer, Sangria for a Summer twist and Vin Chaud (hot, spiced wine, popular in France – think mulled wine) during the cold, Winter months to warm you up.
I didn’t always love wine like I do today, it was a step by step process I learned from a friend before my trip to Buenos Aires. Thank goodness I had a little “training” before taking a step into Argentina’s wine country, otherwise I might not have appreciated my wine tour and tastings as much as I did. During my “training” period of a few months, I started with sweet, sparkling dessert wines, then made my way on to sweet white wines, transitioning to dry whites and then ultimately to sweet reds and, my personal favorites, dry reds.
Mendoza can be considered the Napa Valley of Argentina, with its renowned wineries and vineyards scattered throughout the region, creating a selection of various vino, their most famous red being Malbec. Every time I see Malbec on the wine list at a restaurant I immediately ask for a glass – it’s irresistible! There’s no other wine like it. It has a very distinctive flavor that always brings me back to the very first time my taste buds had a sensory overload of joyfulness trying this wine! It is a deep red, full-bodied red wine perfect to pair with none other than a steak coming from the Argentine Pampas region. It is the perfect combination needed and much appreciated after a long afternoon of horseback riding – more on that in a bit.
My favorite part about drinking a glass a Malbec is the way it finishes at the end of a sip: you can taste a hint of smoky wood flavor, as if it was just poured out of a hundred year old barrel found in a cold, dimly lit wine cellar of a bodega, or winery in Spanish. Okay, so I think I’ve set the tone pretty well about my love affair with Malbec! Let’s move on to the actual trip to Mendoza!
Blake was studying at the same university as I was in Buenos Aires, and we instantly became friends while sharing two classes together. She was my first friend from the East Coast and it was fun to learn about the opposite side of the U.S. I don’t know very much. She also lived with a host family not too far from my host family’s apartment, so we had lots of opportunities to hang out between studying Spanish and explored around together. Before the end of our semester abroad, we decided to take a trip together and that Mendoza was the perfect city to visit, especially for the wine tasting we could take part in.
We booked the getaway for the last feriado, or bank holiday weekend, during our last few weeks in Argentina, booked our bus, similar to the one I took up to Iguazú Falls, and reserved a private double room with a shared bathroom (just with one other room) at a pretty nice hostel. We left from the big Retiro bus station in the evening with our hand luggage and a takeaway bag of empanadas, savory minced meat stuffed pastries, for dinner. Thankfully, we did buy empanadas because the “meal” served on this night bus consisted only of crackers and alfajores (a dulce de leche caramel stuffed cookie sandwich covered in chocolate) to hold us over during the 15 hour bus ride. I’m very happy we thought ahead otherwise we would have been two even hungrier girls upon arrival! Thanking my lucky stars as well, there weren’t any TV’s on the bus we took, so no chance of yet another psychopathic horror film playing while being driven in the middle of nowhere overnight.
We got to Mendoza safe and sound in the morning and made our way to the hostel, Hostel Lao, without problem, checked in, and after taking a look at the activities and excursions offered, we booked a “Bikes & Wines” tour for the following day. The bonus about our private room was that it was separate from the main building and we took a quick walk through the cute hippy-chic backyard, complete with swimming pool, hammocks, and Foosball table, to arrive. We arranged our things in the room, freshened up, and were ready to explore the city.
First things first, we had to find something to eat. We walked to the city center and found a table after along a row of café style restaurants with outdoor seating. We ordered delicious sandwiches with side salads, taking in our new surroundings and appreciating the first few differences Mendoza has to Buenos Aires. A couple of those differences include: a calmer vibe – you can take a stroll around without feeling like you should be in a rush, and also not feeling enclosed by skyscrapers like in big cities (aka big city problems). Another big difference is having a view of the beautiful and majestic snow-capped Andes mountains in the distance.
After lunch we moseyed our way to Parque San Martin, a big park with a grand entrance, complete with a lake, walking paths, and lots of green areas.The day was beautiful, full of blue skies, perfect temperatures, and just an overall good vibe. After our walk, we went back to the hostel to relax in the hammocks and plan the rest of our stay. With the “Bikes and Wines” tour booked for the following day, we chose to go horseback riding with gauchos near the Andes . Best decision ever! And I didn’t know at the time, but a glass of Malbec would be waiting for me, too.
The next day we had our wine tastings tour. We were given our bikes for the day and a map to help us find the three wineries we would be visiting. The first winery, Altas Cumbres, was pretty easy to navigate to and find. We had a good tour of the winery, grounds and vineyard with a group of other wine tasters. At this bodega, they use aluminum tanks to ferment their wine – I make this point because each winery we visited had their own little secret twist as to how they produce their vino. For the tasting we tried two or three different wines, two white and one red. My favorite was the red, of course.
The second winery was a little further away from the first, but what was strange is that I think we arrived late so we weren’t given an actual tour, just the wine to taste with a brief explanation of each in Spanish (this was a perk, the other two tours were given in English). I had the feeling we were being pushed to down each tasting glass and get a move on, not before getting a picture with the producer first, however! It was a little weird to say the least. I didn’t even get the name of the bodega.
The best was saved for last: Lagarde winery. I don’t know if it was the wine from the previous tastings kicking in, the temperature rising outside, or a combo, but we had just a little bit more trouble finding the last bodega. It was the farthest of the three, and the route to get there was half on bike trails, half on busy main roads where I was literally inches away from getting hit by a bus – no joke! We had stopped and asked a couple for directions, given the Ojo! signal (when you put your finger below an eye and pull down to show more eye to mean “Be careful”) from the man, then no sooner we got on our way, we were stopped by a car asking for directions. We clearly couldn’t help them but in the end Blake and I found this whole situation pretty funny.
So, we finally found the bodega were in for a well-deserved treat. Our tour guide was awesome, super knowledgeable and you could tell he was passionate about wine and showing us a good time. The tour itself was pretty in-depth: we were shown all around the grounds, production area to see the concrete tanks they used for the fermentation process, and ending the with going down into the cellar to have a look at the rows of barrels, some a century old, and having our tasting down there. We tried about six or seven different wines, and surprisingly enough my favorite was a dry white wine, not red!
After our tour and tasting we went and had a look around the bodega’s shop and at all the different wines available for purchase. Then the tour group we were part of were led to another entrance of the building and into a big dining area for lunch. The menu was brick oven baked pizza. Amazing food and wine!
With every weekend getaway or side trip I’ve done, there are always certain parts you can never forget. For me it was the “Ojo!” warning, everything about the Lagarde bodega, and having to wait what seemed forever in a day for the bus to get back to the hostel after we dropped off our bikes. We were hot, tired, probably a little dehydrated and just wanted to relax after the over-stimulation from being lost on the bikes and multiple wine tours and tastings.
The bus eventually arrived and when we got back to the hostel, we bought a much needed refreshing drink and an alfajor, sat on the lounge chairs outside by the [empty] pool, and reflect on the day. Now, Blake and I can say that we’ve experienced a bike and wine tour is really like. Would we do it again? Why not? Just as long as we have a map and the routes are are located in bike zones – not busy main roads full of traffic.
We had an early night in preparation for our horse riding adventure the following day. A van picked us up in the morning, along a few others from the hostel, and we were soon on our way to the land of horses, mountains, and gauchos (aka Argentine cowboys). The duration of the drive was about an hour or an hour and a half in the van. We did stop once to get out and have a look at the amazing view we had before our eyes, even getting a glimpse of a group of condors flying high overhead not far from where we were standing, the tips of their wings looking very much like fingers spread out to help them fly. I’m sure at that very moment the entire group was thinking along the same lines as I was to have the feeling of being “away from it all”.
Just before stopping, the van had begun climbing elevation, making sometimes sharp turns and swerved around the curves on the road. When we got out to snap pictures I had just realized that we were driving along steep cliffs with no barriers. I wasn’t scared or nervous about that, but was praying the driver was experienced enough and had already previously taken this road a gazillion times before.
Back on the inclining, veering road, we arrived after another 30 minutes or so. I got the feeling of excitement with a hint of nervousness when I first got a look at our destination. It was a horse ranch ran by gauchos with an outdoor pen for the horses we would be riding. Of course, Blake and I took these first moments as an opportunity to take a few photos of the horses with the gorgeous view of the Andes in the distance, its rocky peaks covered in a layer of snow.
It was much cooler at the ranch’s location than in Mendoza and we were happy to have brought layers; Blake a fleece sweater and for me a light jacket and scarf. Despite the cooler temps, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the sun was strong. Our handsome gaucho guide for the day, Alejandro (cue Lady Gaga!), made it quite clear at the beginning to put sunscreen on our faces, especially on our nose and cheeks, otherwise the sun will really burn those areas. For some reason I remember this memory quite well, maybe because Alejandro wouldn’t let anyone get on their horse before doing so. Sir, Yes Sir!
When everyone was geared up with sunscreen and a horse, we had our initial horse training lesson before we ventured out away from the ranch and into the countryside. I forgot my horse’s name but Blake’s horse, Remi, was a little uncooperative from the moment she got on, so she had to change horses before we moved on.
The first basics we learned were to start and stop our horses, meaning to kick the horse in the sides with your heels to start, then pulling on the reins and say “¡Para!” or Stop! We walked single file, one after the other, to make our way down the trail, with Alejandro staying attentive to the group, making sure everyone was okay and maneuvering well with their horse. At one point we arrived at a ditch, and were taught how to go down and up the steep hill. I was happily surprised that I learned quickly and did well with my new trick. To go down you have to lean forward close to your horse, and then lean back to go up.
After conquering the ditch, we were taught how to trot and then turn it into a gallop. It was so much fun! With these last skills learned, our goal was to help Alejandro rein in several wild horses that were grazing around. We had to practice trotting, turning, and galloping with our horses to have a successful roundup – and we did it! After rounding up the horses, we made our way back to the ranch for a well-deserved lunch of steak and wine. It was the best day for me during the entire trip, even though overall the trip was a great treat!
To conclude, I really enjoy my trip to Mendoza with my friend Blake. We left Buenos Aires on the micro with an open mind, making plans as our weekend went on, and had a lot of fun times. In the end, it all turned out better than planned or expected, and I’d love to do it all over again!
Thanks for reading and getting inspired! Please leave your comments below, I’d love to hear from you! Stay tuned for a new blog soon, and until then:
Go Get Inspired by…Quotes:”Look up to the sky…You’ll never see rainbows if you’re looking down” ~Charlie Chaplin
Disclaimer: ALL pictures are taken by myself and are not to be reproduced without my knowledge and permission.