Whether you are a snooty sniffing and sipping wine connoisseur or just someone who loves to wash down a good steak with something tasty, grapey and alcoholic, you will love the Argentinian wine paradise that is Mendoza. This city is world-renowned for being the centre of the wine industry in Argentina – accounting for nearly two thirds of the entire country’s production.
Wine is one of those things that some people really geek out about and there has been a lot of literature written about why Mendoza is such an idyllic wine producing area. In the Eastern foothills of the Andes, the high altitude vineyards here enjoy semi-arid desert conditions and a continental climate. The extensive system of irrigation channels throughout the city, some of which date back to the 16th century, help to keep the viticulture of this dry region going strong.
However, whether or not you give a damn about alluvial soil, grape varietals and growing seasons or not – I think we can all agree on one thing:
Riding around on a bike and drinking wine is fun.
Like a Pub Crawl, But Classier
Many of the most popular backpacker activities around the world involve drinking in some form or another. However, sipping on a complex and full bodied Syrah feels a lot more grown up and sophisticated than chugging another bottle of beer. Riding a bike around for an afternoon of wine tasting and perhaps even a cheese plate feels just like such a marvellously decadent and classy thing to do – as well as being a great way to learn about a very important local industry.
The wine experience was so much fun I did it twice! I went once with the lovely Faye from England and then again with about 7 other people from the hostel. If you have the time and you enjoy the experience, I would recommend going twice. There are so many wineries that you couldn’t possibly bike to them all in a day.
How to Get There From Mendoza
To get to the spot where you can start your winery biking tour, you will need to take a bus from Mendoza. The buses don’t take cash, they operate on a card system. Our hostel had cards to borrow at the front desk that could be topped up – look for a shop with a sign that says it offers Red Bus credit.
You will need to take the Line 10 Bus, which will say “Maipu” as the destination. The line has several routes, so look for the #170, #171 or #173. Once you get on the bus you can ask the driver if he goes to the bikes and wineries (In Spanish: “bicicletas y bodegas, por favor!”), they will all know what you are talking about because it is a popular activity. The driver will drop you off at the right spot where the bike companies are located.
Where to Rent Your Bikes From
When the bus drops you off you will see that there are two main bike rental companies, Mr. Hugo’s Bikes and Orange Bikes. As of July 2014 they were both the same price, 70 pesos for a bike rental. Both companies will require that you return the bike before 6pm when it starts to get dark.
Having used both companies, in my opinion they were very similar although the experience was slightly better at Mr. Hugo’s. The bike I got from Orange Bikes was poorly maintained and the kickstand was broken and stuck in the down position, so I had to ride with it clattering behind me the entire way. Mr. Hugo himself was also very friendly and fun to talk to.
Both companies gave us a complimentary bottle of wine at the end of the day, with Mr. Hugo presenting us with a homemade red and Orange bikes giving us some sparkling wine.
Cycling to the Wineries
When you rent your bike, you will be given a small map showing the locations of approximately a dozen wineries all within riding distance. It is important to note that this map is NOT to scale. Wineries that seem close to each other might be 30 minutes of biking apart, so leave yourself plenty of time!
Other than that, the choice is up to you which wineries you want to visit and at what pace. Most people fit in between 2-4 in an afternoon. You could squeeze in more if you got up very early and went all day, but there is only so much wine drinking and bike riding that one can do before getting drunk and tired!
I can tell you about the wineries that I have experienced, the others you will have to discover on your own.
Domiciano de Barrancas
Domiciano de Barrancas was one of my favourite wineries and the wines that we tasted there were absolutely fantastic. The logo depicts a man standing under the stars, which symbolises the fact that this winery harvests their grapes at night when the temperature is cool. The night harvest helps to preserve the flavour and sweetness of the grapes and avoids letting them start to ferment as they sit in trucks in the hot sun.
At this winery you can enjoy a wine tasting and then take a short and interesting tour of their production facilities. I wish we had purchased some wine during our visit, it was the first one we visited but ended up being the best.
Trapiche was founded in 1883 and it is the largest producer of wine in all of Argentina. It is an enormous winery, so big that it was challenging for us to find the building in which the tours and tastings are held. Hint: take a left off the main road once you ride past the Trapiche vineyards with the signs. The building is a short ride down the road.
At Trapiche we had good timing, we managed to show up right after a tour and we were asked if we wanted to join in just the tasting. The wines were delicious and the host did a great job of explaining the story and significance behind each wine.
This winery building is very beautiful and it has a rooftop patio with great views over the vineyard. When Faye and I went there we had dessert and we loved the sweet, juicy, sumptuous pears simmered in Malbec. Yum yum!
Unfortunately, when we went there with the group it was too late in the day and they had stopped serving so I didn’t get to taste those pears again.
My only issue with Tempus Alba is that the service seemed a little apathetic. Perhaps it was because we were visiting during off season, but both times we were greeted with a cold reception from the staff. It seemed almost like we were disturbing them by being there. When Faye and I were eating dessert, she got a dirty look from our hostess when she asked for tap water and then the same hostess dropped my cutlery on the floor and just nonchalantly placed it back on the table beside me!
Down a long stretch of tree-lined road you will find Mevi, a simple and beautiful small winery. If you are starting to get hungry at this point, I would recommend stopping for a bite to eat. Not only do they have tasty empanadas and an excellent meat, olives and cheese platter, they also have an outdoor terrace that is bathed in sunshine in the late afternoon. Rest your sore muscles on the comfortable couches as you sip wine and nibble on cheese.
When we were at Mevi, we tried the “3 Varieties” of wine for 39 pesos. You can take your pick of the three you want to try from a list of six. However, we realised that we could have paid only a little bit more to taste the Reserva collection, so if you want a higher quality wine experience you might want to do this.
Be warned – at Mevi they seem to be quite generous with the volume of wine. These are not stingy “tasting” portions but almost full glasses of wine. After sitting on the terrace and drinking the wine with Faye for quite some time, we stumbled to our bikes giggling over some nonsense.
It wasn’t until 10 minutes down the road when this exchange took place:
“Hey, where is my basket?” I shouted.
“My basket! It’s missing! Someone stole the basket from my bike!”
“That’s terrible!” shouted Faye. “Who would do that? How weird…”
It wasn’t until after the next winery that I said, “You know… my handlebars feel different too…” How very strange indeed.
Then it finally dawned on me. I had drunkenly taken someone else’s bike! I was now riding a bike of a completely different size and style as the one I originally had. Oops.
At least it was from the same bike rental company, but to whoever was riding the bike I swiped – I’m sorry!
Cycling Wine Tours are a Must in Mendoza
If you are travelling through this part of Argentina, I highly recommend that you take at least one day to cycle around to the wineries. Whether you do it as a couple or with a large group of hostel friends, there is no better way to spend a sunny afternoon than cycling, eating, laughing, chatting and appreciating the excellent wine produced in this famous region.