Bike and Wine in Mendoza

As I came to the end of my stint as a publisher, I took some time out to travel and rode around a good chunk of Latin America on the long distance buses.  It was an experience I will never forget, and the tales I have from the carretera could (and did) fill an entire notebook.  Alongside the amazing people that I met, the food on the trip was also something quite special.  Mendoza in particular was astonishing: it was here that I had some of the best culinary experiences of my life, which have left me with a love for yerba mate (about which I will almost certainly post at length another time), huge steaks and malbec.

Malbec is an interesting variety of grape. Originally a French variety, it never achieved real popularity in the Old World (although you do find it in some French wines such as Cahors).  By contrast, it is immensely popular in Argentina: it's more or less the national grape and the high altitude vineyards near Mendoza produce some of the best wines in the whole of the Americas. Best drunk young within a few years of bottling, these light, ruby coloured reds make a great accompaniment to an English summer meal, or to a classic Argentine asado.

The Wine Cellars
The typical way for backpackers to experience Mendoza wine is to rent bikes and pedal around the local wineries, stopping for tours and tastings along the route.  Being a keen cyclist, I was interested to explore this particular option but as I am the last of the great drinkers, I barely made it beyond the first stop at the Bodega Di Tommaso. The winery is a splendid nineteenth century place which offers tasting sessions in English and Castilian.  Still run by members of the same family who set the place up in 1869, they produce a small number of excellent, and award winning, wines which rarely leave the country.  Beyond the domestic market, a few hundred bottles are shipped to Michigan every year and that's about it.

Though I am an unapologetic fan of malbec generally (as I am with some other rather unpopular grapes such as riesling), these wines really are a treat: fruity, light and silky smooth.  Even the cheap Di Tommaso wine is rather drinkable, and disappears down the hatch rather more rapidly than you expect.  The better bottles such as the higher end Crianza and Roble Premium are pretty complex offerings given how young you drink them.  You don't just have to take my word for it: I did the tour with a Frenchman and a German from the Rheinhessen wine region. In keeping with local tradition, neither really had been exposed to much New World wine, but they were rather impressed by what was on offer.  Whether this was to do with the fact that the wines pack some punch at 13-14% ABV I will never know...

A Frenchman discovers that it's not always about Old World Wines

If you ever see a bottle of Di Tommaso's stuff on sale, snap it up as it really is excellent. In the UK though, you are more likely to see bottles from the bigger wineries in the region such as Norton or Terrazas, which are well worth trying out if you've never sampled malbec before.

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