Malbec and Mountains – Part 2

 

 

 

Mouth-Watering Malbec

The following day we took a bus from the city to Maipú, in the heart of Malbec country Mendoza. Maipú is renowned amongst travellers for being a great destination to hire a bicycle and explore the region’s best wineries. Not being ones to shy away from a good wine, that is what we did.

 

We hired a bike for 15 pesos (about $3.80) for half a day from a friendly fellow called Mr. Hugo, whose bicycle rent business has been popular amongst travellers for 6 years. There they equip you with a map, some discounts for the region and you’re on your way.

Our first stop was a small boutique winery called Vina Maria founded by Italian immigrants, the Cavagnaro, in the 1800’s. A tasting of two of the winery’s second finest Malbecs cost us 11 pesos each. Considering the winery sells by cellar door only, and does not market its goods, this is by far a fair deal. The 2008 Cavagnaro Malbec was by far the best wine of the day – fruity with great length, Marta tells us “tiene lagrimas”…it’s got legs!

 

We stayed for over an hour chatting to the friendly hostess, Marta, who not only took the time to explain to us the origins of the family-run winery, but also gave us a very helpful Spanish lesson for some much-needed vine, grape and wine-making vocabulary.

Always on the lookout for local spots off the tourist track, Marta had recommended us a small eatery on the main street. Many people, I’m sure, pass by this eatery with no realisation of the treasures within. El Parador de los Sueños is run by a Buenos Aires bred woman called Elena, who, sick of her stressful bank job in the city, fled to set up a more peaceful life in the countryside of Mendoza. The result was this café, adorned by mystical objects and inspiring quotes.

 

Truth be told, we haven’t found Argentinean food all that fantastic. There is a lack of fresh ingredients in this country and many processed foods. Sceptical of empanadas after having eaten too many tasteless pastry creations, we hesitantly ordered the empañada menu at El Parador de los Sueños. Elena’s homemade empanadas are surely amongst the best in the country, and actually left us wanting more. She explained to us that all the food in her café comes from recipes passed down from her mother and grandmother. If that isn’t gourmet and artesanal, I don’t know what is.

We finished our wine tour with Mendoza’s oldest and most reputable winery, Familia di Tommaso. Also of Italian heritage, this winery and its massive stone fermentation vats are heritage listed and protected by the provincial government.

A bubbly woman called Cynthia took us on a private tour of the winery and explained to us that at the time the winery was built the stone for the vats had to be imported from Europe. Di Tommaso too, only sells its wines at the cellar door in Argentina, but they also have an export arrangement with a winery in Michigan, US, which is its exclusive seller outside of Argentina.

Di Tommaso only produces 30,000 litres of wine a year, 20,000 litres of which is red wine. It’s famous 2004 vintage Malbec is housed in non-labelled bottles in the climate-controlled cellar. Cynthia explained, “because we produced so few bottles of this premium wine, each bottle is hand-marked with the year and Mr di Tommaso’s signature.”

On our ride back, the sun was setting beyond the surrounding mountains, which made for a spectacular sight. Despite the fact that this city is driven by wine tourism, some roads are still undeveloped, and one can’t help but get the feeling that after dusk, they may not be the safest areas around. As we were riding back we were realised that we had our own police escort, a motorcycle cop following our every move. We later learnt that three British girls got robbed on their bicycles earlier that day.

Back at Mr Hugo’s we’re watered down with free homemade wine from one of Mr Hugo’s friend’s no-name winery. Once our glass is dry Mr Hugo comes around with a smile and a top-up. This no doubt adds to the reasons he is popular with travellers, but it’s his hospitality and willingness to chat away about anything related to Mendoza (in Spanish, of course) that makes this place thrive.

Our stay in Mendoza city is coming to an end, but our stay in Malbec and mountain country will continue as we soon get to work on an organic farm in Tunuyán.

Both working in sustainable careers (myself in sustainable development, and Antoine as a water treatment engineer), we’re keen to learn about sustainable farming practices in this corner of the world, to learn to live off the land by living with the land, to learn how agriculture sustains poorer communities here, while helping those that may need it.

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  • Natasha Malinda from Melbourne, Australia
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