We had one objective upon arriving in the southern Argentinian town of Mendoza and that objective was to get drunk.
Or rather, specifically, to drink a lot of wine.
The region, known for its compatibility for growing grapes and thus its plentiful vineyards, offered this group of twenty-something girls the potential to enjoy copious amounts of alcohol. Shamelessly, we did not expect to actually learn something or discover a sincere appreciation for wine and the process of making it.
There are many ways to do wine-tasting in Mendoza depending on your budget; you can bike around several vineyards that lie near to each other in one or two days or you can spend an entire week travelling to the region’s endless vineyards either by private car or taxi.
We decided to do a private tour, which consisted of a private car and a guide, Mauricio, who took us to four brilliant and extremely different vineyards in Mendoza over one gorgeous day. If you can round up four people to rent a private car and guide, it works out to be great value.
Mauricio of Mendoza Private Driver, a born and bred Mendozian with ancestral ties to the founders of Mendoza and relatives who were friendly with none other than San Martin, Argentina’s ubiquitous hero, he was the perfect person to guide us through our day of vino. Ever helpful and going above and beyond for us throughout the day, he orchestrated our day to suit us and our minimal budget, something we were so grateful for. He is clearly well known and respected in all the vineyards which turned out to be a wonderful benefit for us.
After a quick history lesson on Mendoza and Argentina, Mauricio dropped us at our first vineyard, Kaikan, a small independent brewery located on the outskirts of Mendoza. This was the ideal first stop as we were offered a thorough insight into the running of a brewery and the wine-making process, something we knew little about.
After an hour-long tour, we enjoyed our first wine-tasting of the day, a delectable mix of cabernet sauvignons, rosés and malbec. Our second stop, Achaval-Ferrer winery, gave us more insight into the growing conditions of grapes as well as the resting period of wine and how this affects the flavours of the finished product (there was then, of course, even more wine to try).
By 12.30 we were undoubtedly tipsy which meant lunch was a welcome reprieve. We stopped at the stunning Bodega Ruca Malen, which offered a 7-course wine and tasting menu, all designed around sustainable food practises with vegetables and wine all sourced from their own garden and vineyard.
I had, without a doubt, the best steak of my life after which I have decided there is no point having a steak ever again. We concluded our meal with chardonnay cocktails and a deconstructed cheesecake dessert (and of course a third bread basket for additional soakage).
And after all this, we had yet another vineyard to go, an upmarket, modern and relatively new vineyard on the outskirts of Mendoza. It had a completely different feel to the more traditional vineyards we had visited with it’s brand new stainless steel tanks, modern art pieces and eclectic branding.
With no one else there, we had a private tour with our helpful host/ sommelier before tasting our last rounds of wine. I have discovered that I am certainly a white wine drinker through and through but now finally, at the ripe old age of twenty-six, understand the draw to a red wine, especially alongside a steak.
Having seen the love and care that goes into the wine-making process, I lament the days spent drinking gone-off white wine mixed with sprite or the fact that I chose wine based on the price and alcohol percentage.
But, in these parts of the world, winemakers come to the vineyard three times a day and check every single fermentation tank. They labor over the grape and mixtures, the time given to ripen, the oak barrels and the temperature in every cellar as the wine develops. Grapes are handpicked from the vine that have been lovingly curated, quenched and protected from the elements.
The best grapes are picked from the bunch and separated, with all the excess seeds, juice and skins going back into the ground as fertilisers. Nothing is wasted. Sitting in large tanks, the grapes ferment.
Finally, added to oak barrels (the vineyards we visited used French oak exclusively), the wine is ‘nurtured’ and allowed to develop for specific periods of time depending on the type of wine before being bottled and sold.
And so I departed Mendoza with a newfound sense of admiration for wine, stained teeth and bleary-eye memories of a sun-drenched day of vino.
Special thanks to Mauricio for a wonderful tour. Definitely check him out if you are planning a winery tour in Mendoza.