“Ok… Swirl it around. Notice its viscosity?
Breathe it in. Can you smell the rich oak-y smell that the barrel infused in it?
Now drink and hold the taste in your mouth.
Can you sense the complex structure of the wine and its rich tannins?”
Mauricio looked expectantly at me as I held the $35 glass of wine in my hand. Apparently the $500 bottle of wine would be thrown away if I decided not to buy it after that one sampling. I mustered all the vocabulary I’ve accumulated over my 31 years and replied thoughtfully, “Mmmm… Nice….”, all the while thinking, “What the hell is a tannin????”
Mendoza is the principal wine-producing region in Argentina, and with the numerous vineyards scattered across the province, one of the “must-do” things in Mendoza is to go for wine tasting tours.
The traditional way that backpackers do this is to go for a bike and wine tour – renting a bicycle on the outskirts of the city and with a map in hand, cycle down the dirt roads, stopping at whatever vineyard catches their fancy, pay a bit of sampling money and drink away.
We figured that bicycles + dirt roads + big trucks carrying wine on dirt roads + alcohol = not a very safe combination.
Add on to that our near non-existent knowledge about wine appreciation and the very real possibility that we might stumble into one of the absinthe factories in the region never to re-emerge, we decided to pay a bit more and hire ourselves a wine connoisseur + chauffeur. Enter Mauricio, AKA the Mendoza Wine Guy.
I have to say we more than got our money’s worth.
Mauricio corresponded with us via email prior to the trip, and taking into account our budget (non-existent), came up with a shortlist of four vineyards we could visit. The list included boutique vineyards that produce less than 2000 bottles a year to huge franchised ones that produce upwards of 2 million barrels a year.
Some of the vineyards charge a nominal fee for a tour of the grounds and to sample their usual ranges, with the option to top up the cost to have a taste of their premium ranges. Others just let us taste for free in the hope that we would buy a few bottles. (Spoiler alert: We didn’t)
Along the way, Mauricio told us about the wine production history of Mendoza. One of the more interesting trivia was that Mendoza produces such good grapes for wine making because it is situated in the middle of a desert. This forces the grape growers in the area to use alternative means of irrigation for their crops. The unique soil makeup and the methods of irrigation produces special grapes that in turn are used to make the Malbecs that the region is famous for. The different vineyards introduce their own tweaks to the formula, creating variations in the types of Malbec.
Over the course of the day, we vastly expanded our appreciation of wine, though truth be told, at an average of four glasses of wine per vineyard, a lot of the things that happened after the third winery was a bit of a blur… Jo was reduced to a giggling mess just before lunch (at an intimate restaurant, Casa de Campo that serves a brilliant cold cut rabbit appetizer).
Three things we do remember…
- The last vineyard we visited was owned by one of the superstars of wine production in Mendoza. Carmelo Patti – A surly old man who allegedly handles EVERY aspect of the wine production himself, from planting to the bottling to the packaging for delivery. He is notorious for being stubborn about the aging process of his grapes… and rightly so. His little winery had produced vintages that repeatedly kicked the bigger players’ asses in wine competitions.
- ALWAYS judge a wine by its cover. Most of the vineyards in Mendoza hire help to manually paste on the labels of their wine. Any winery that has its label plastered over the “fault” line of the bottle does not pay enough attention to details and is not worth sh*t. Yup, that’s the kind of wine snobs we have become.
- We did NOT buy the $500 bottle of wine… (partly) because of the one sagely advice that Mauricio gave us…. “The best wine in the world is the wine that tastes good to you. So for you, a $4 bottle of wine might taste better than a $2000 bottle”. Based on that logic, we went back to the supermarket to grab a few $4 bottles of Malbecs. Although, I have to admit, drinking the $500 wine did make my heart race just that little bit faster.
Insider tip (aka advertising time): If you are ever in Mendoza, do give Mauricio a ring/email. He’s not exactly “cheap”, but you would find that he is absolutely brilliant company and a great expert on wine. He would probably be able to tailor an itinerary that suits your budget as well…
His website: http://mendozaprivatedriver.com/