Although we certainly advise against drinking and driving in any case, taking a leisurely bike ride through beautiful vineyards while tasting some of the local wine is certainly a great bucket list item, as long as it’s done in moderation, of course. Guest contributor, Kirsten Gallagher, recently had a long adventure through Argentina, which included a two-wheeled, wine-tasting mission through some of Mendoza’s famed bodegas.
Here’s something I learned on a recent trip to Argentina: when ordering a glass of red wine in a Spanish speaking country, ask for a glass of “tinto” rather that a glass of “vino rojo” (if you don’t want to sound like a tourist, that is). “Vino rojo” is the literal translation of “red wine” while “tinto” is what locals ask for in bars and restaurants. To me, part of the fun of traveling is learning the lingo of the culture. While visiting various viñedos (vineyards) and bodegas (wineries) in the Mendoza region of Argentina, I gave myself an education in wine en español.
Not far from Mendoza city, which many tourists choose as their base, is Maipú, a town whose name is definitely amusing to say out loud. There are many wineries in Maipú located close together which makes it easy to see several in a short amount of time. I hired a bike from Mr. Hugo’s Bikes (Urquiza 2228) and, following the handy map they gave me, teetered along the main road, Urquiza, until taking a left onto Perito Moreno. I planned to visit a cluster of three wineries at the end of this road: Tempus Albus, Mevi and Viña el Cerno.
Before the trip, my experience with wine from Argentina went as far as occasionally choosing between the small and the large bottle of Fuzion. I was really looking forward to learning about wine and busting out my Spanish at the same time. I tried to get a grasp of the basics at Tempus Albus, my first winery. Sitting on a sunny rooftop patio overlooking the vineyards, I asked why Malbec is la cepa estrella (the star varietal) in Argentina. Why not Syrah? Or Cabernet Sauvignon, for that matter?
I was able to extract from the fast Spanish flung at me the following information: Argentina’s Malbecs have mucho cuerpo (a lot of body) and taninos suaves (soft tannins). This was good news to me since I don’t like my tongue feeling like sandpaper after a glass or two (or three). I ordered a degustación (tasting) of several reds, including a Malbec in which I could pick up hints of fruit, in particular ciruela (plum).
The view at my second winery, Mevi, was not too shabby. The vineyards are set against a background of an expansive mountain range, put into relief by an azure sky. At Mevi, I stepped things up with a tasting of three reservas (reserves). The owner advised me to swirl my glass and wait un ratito (a little while) for the aromas to emerge. I tried the Malbec. I could smell vanilla (in Argentine Spanish pronounced van-eee-sha) and again tasted fruit; in particular cereza (cherry). I shared my expert evaluation with the owner: the Malbecs from Argentina taste of fruit without being too fruity. How would he describe it? “Como un amigo,” (“Like a friend”) he said. Indeed, it was a slightly more esoteric take than I was looking for but I could see what he meant.
The last of the three wineries was Viña el Cerno, a smaller, family-run establishment. The interior seemed to me a perfect combination of farmhouse and old library. Having knocked back a few, I asked to sample two different Malbecs. Perhaps it was my newfound sophistication but I preferred the older Malbec, aged in roble francés (French oak). I was told that compared to French Malbec, Argentine Malbec has much less acidez (acidity) compared to French Malbec, but just as much presencia (presence) and intensidad (intensity). A fellow taster recounted her personal experience to me: “Intenso en la boca con un final audaz” (“Intense in the mouth with a bold finish”).
While I would never claim to be a wine expert, I certainly learned to appreciated some of the finer points of Malbecs from Argentina. I think that the trick was tasting many different Malbecs; I was able to perceive the subtleties imparted by the various harvests, and the aging process. I was proud of what I had learned about wine en español, as well making it safely back on bike!