I am no great wine connoisseur, but I do know that the reds of Chile and Argentina are considered to be some of the best in the world. So when I was planning a trip to the massive country that is Argentina (the eighth largest in the world), it seemed only right to include a trip to the prolific and prodigious wine region of Mendoza, on the Chilean border. Here, in the shadow of the Andes, as much as 70 percent of Argentina's wine is produced.
My two friends and I stayed in the city of Mendoza, Argentina's fourth largest city and the capital of the eponymous province. It is a vibrant and attractive city, with lots of parks and squares and a relaxed atmosphere. We were staying at Hostel Ruca-Potu, on the busy main road Gobernador Videla, a ten-minute walk from the center of Mendoza. It is, like a growing number of hostels, a family home that expanded to take advantage of the popularity of backpacking. The vivacious owner, a loud, tubby character, baked fresh bread every morning and laid out various cereals and spreads and as much tea and coffee as we could stomach.
But let us not forget the reason we traveled to Mendoza: the wine. It's possible to book an organized tour of Maipú, the wine-growing region to the south-east of the city, but we had been told we could also rent bicycles and explore on our own. And so on our second day in Mendoza, we left the hostel around 11 a.m. to make our way to Maipú. The city bus is by far the cheapest way of getting there, and it's a pleasant 40-minute journey.
Our arrival in Maipú was something of an anti-climax. The bus left us at the side of an empty, dusty road. We thought we had got off at the wrong place until a group of boys rushed over to us, waving leaflets and shouting, "Bike Hire! Bike! Bike!"
There are three main cycle rental centers in the area: Mr. Hugo, Coco Bikes, and Bikes and Wine. Inside the nearest one, Mr. Hugo, we immediately shook our heads to the owner's mentioned price and solemnly halved the proposed exchange. The vineyards close at 5 p.m., and each tour takes around half an hour, so, factoring in several kilometers of cycling (at increasing levels of inebriation), there isn't that much time if you don't arrive until the afternoon.
The area is called Los Caminos del Vino, The Roads of Wine, and it's obvious why. Down nearly every road is a sprawling vineyard, some huge international operations, some family-run affairs. There is a cycle path for part of the route, but it peters out and you are left to cycle on the quiet road.
The first place we visited was Bogeda La Rural, a traditional winery attached to a comprehensive wine-related museum. After ten minutes of browsing the old barrels and peculiar tools of the trade, we sampled a small tasting glass of their wares. Considering entry was free, this was a nice touch. The opportunity to watch grapes being de-stemmed and crushed was also available, though we opted out.
And so to Tempus Alba, probably the swankiest vineyard in the area. Entry was something like 20 pesos ($1.55). We were free to walk around the vines, but spent most of our time on their handsome rooftop terrace enjoying the beverages. As we were a party of six, we were able to sample nearly all the different wines, including a Malbec, the signature wine of the region. It was early July, the height of winter in Argentina, but the air was still warm and the scenes were beautiful.
Last on our tour was Bogeda Trapiche, the most expensive and famous winery on tour, by a long shot. The company is the largest producer of wine in Argentina and this is the largest vineyard, covering more than 2,500 acres. They conduct a tour around the entire complex, both in Spanish and English, which finished with a tasting session and drinking guide in the upstairs bar. Guests are given the chance to buy some bottles at very reasonable prices, though our bikes made them difficult to carry them back home with us.
And so we mounted our bikes once more, wobblier than ever, and made our way back to Mr. Hugo's, where we were treated to yet more wine, on the house, and a few nibbles. Before we knew it, night had fallen and it was time to return to the city and our beds. Thanks to the combination of many hours cycling and many bottles of wine, we slept well that night.
Paul Joseph is a London-based journalist and author. He writes about airport hotels for airporthotels.com. Paul is currently penning a nostalgic book on his home city called Vanishing London.
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