Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Mendoza - Lujan de Cuyo

How idilic would it be to ride bikes around the beautiful country side of Argentina, stopping every few miles to taste some divine wine and revel in the majesty of the Andes? Well, that's precisely what we imagined for our second day of wine tasting in Mendoza. As we had read of terrible traffic accidents involving tourists on bikes in Maipu (and no wonder, it's busy and there was a lot of road construction) we decided to take our peddling feet to Lujan de Cuyo, another wonderful location for bodegas. Thanks to Lonely Planet forums and some intensive google searching, we found Travel in Bike in Lujan. We made reservations, and met the guide at a real estate office in downtown Lujan. We did wait about 45 minutes at the office and the guide came into the office and told us to get in his car (this seems shady to US folk, but it was completely legit).  He drove us back to his house where the bikes were. All of this was a little bizarre but, it all worked out just fine. The bikes were in sub-par condition and we incorrectly assumed the price paid for bike rental included the tastings (nice awkward moment when we left the first winery and were stopped by security), but experiences are what you make of them, and we had a great time peddling down the dirt roads.

When you have views like this, it's hard to complain. And, really, the views did not disappoint at anytime. Unfortunately cameras cannot do the eyes justice.

Travel in Bike set up 3 tastings for us - a large, moderate and small winery.  Our first stop was Norton. A mega-winery in Lujan, owned by the same guy who owns Swarovski, the sheer size of this winery clued us into what kind of a tasting this would be.  We were given a tour of the massive facilities and given samples of their Malbec at three different stages in the aging process.  The picture below is how they "poured" the samples for us.  The first taste was very early on in the fermentation, yielding a very sweet drink.  The second, was a tad better, tasting more like what you would get for a $3 bottle of wine.  The third and final sample was the finished product, which was a very fine Malbec.
After were were stopped by security on our bikes, we went back in to pay with red faces and disappointed wallets.  We hopped back on our bikes and rode toward the second bodega.  With the Andes to our right, and nothing but vines to be seen in the foreground, we picked an area right off the road to enjoy the picnic we packed.  (Food was a must with all the wine we planned on consuming...)

The perfect mid-day break - maté! 
Our second bodega stop of the day was Dante Robino. A mid-size winery, and the creator of our blind cheap wine tasting winner, Novecento, Dante Robino was a very gratifying stop. We loved all the wines we tasted, and even got to try some new combinations. Also, throughout the bodega, original pieces by a local artist were displayed.  Dante Robino quickly became our favorite bodega of the day.  As a completely personal and unprofessional note, it didn't hurt that the guide was incredibly dreamy and knowledgeable.  The wine was fantastic - a must-taste!
Our last bodega of the day was Cabrini.  The small, family owned & run winery sustains itself by making a wine specifically for communion.  It was great to see the history of the bodega and the people were very nice.  The wine..........well, don't go for the wine.  Go for the familial feel and antiquity of the facilities.  But don't buy the wine, no matter how good of a deal they give you.

Keep in mind when doing a bike tour, that most of these bodegas are very close to each other.  We decided to bike in Lujan vs Maipu simply because there is less traffic in the former.  When researching different tour options, there was an abundance of reports detailing tragic accidents in Maipu (pedestrians and cyclists alike were no match to the large vehicles and small roads).