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Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Review: Biking wine tour, Maipu region, Mendoza, Argentina

The morning after our evening at The Hyatt in Mendoza we were keen to taste and learn about more local wines so we took a bus (number 10) out to the Maipu region (about a 35 minute journey) and hired bikes from Mr Hugo's and visited a few of the wineries in the area.


Mr Hugo's is a great set up: easy to find, friendly and helpful staff and free wine and water for customers!  The bikes however, were not the best.  They were very heavy with not amazing gears.  This made what should have been a very easy ride a little more challenging but it did not affect our enjoyment. (see below for a little video on the bikes! Not amazing quality but just a bit of fun!)

video


We first visited 'La Rural' vineyard which is the only one in the area where you can taste for free!  As you can imagine it gets quite busy and is first stop for most people in the area.  La Rural also hosts the wine museum which is full of old machines used to make wine, plotting the history of how it has changed.  It also has interesting information about the different types of grape used to make wine and the different flavours put into wine.


The building is beautiful inside and has cool pictures!  There is a wide selection of homemade chutneys also, however no opportunity to try!  Despite the nice surroundings we were not too impressed by the service.  It is very shop orientated and in the end we had to ask for someone to serve us instead of them coming to us which didn't really entice us to stick around for long.  When we were served the staff member didn't tell us anything about the wine or the winery so we sampled and moved on.  The wine itself - 2009 Malbec, was actually pretty tasty so its a shame that they didn't invest more time speaking with us.  It was fairly light, with strong plum flavours and a little smokey.  This particular bottle is only available for purchase at the winery so I'm sure they would sell more if they invested a little more time with their customers!  

After this we decided to head to the furthest vineyard on the map and work our way backwards.  Carinae had a strong reputation so we wanted to ensure we didn't miss it.  Instantly it was world's apart from our experience at La Rural.  We were greeted by a friendly member of the team who offered us a seat in the beautiful shaded garden to eat our packed lunch whilst we waited for the next guide to be available.  This was also fortunate as we avoided a large group already there and so had our own private tour and tasting.


Our guide was very knowledgeable and clearly passionate about the winery and wines.  We paid 20 AP each (5 US dollars) and were given a tour and 3 tastings.  The winery has an interesting history as it is owned by a french couple who retired to Mendoza.  They knew nothing about wine or production except that they enjoyed it and so decided to chase their dream.  Initially they hired a consultant to produce the wines and teach them but now they manage the process themselves.  They have been producing wine since 2004.  The grape vines are 100 years old which is ideal as despite older vines producing less grapes, they are more concentrated and therefore better for producing wine from.  Interestingly they are one of the only vineyards in Mendoza where they use the traditional concrete vessels to age the wine instead of the more modern stainless steel variety.

 

The vineyard is 11 hectares - so only small, but produces a healthy 100,000 bottles each year, which they sell not only locally but also overseas in the UK.  They mainly produce Malbec, but they also had a delicious rose wine.  The french oak barrels are used 5 times and then sold as wood for furniture.  We were also shown the machine used to press wine and our guide explained that this is a process where they press the leftover grape skins from the wine.  This produces a very strong and not nice tasting pressed wine.  It is then used to correct and alter wines that have been aged.


The vineyard's creative and symbolic name: Carinae, comes from a constellation - Carina, which is only seen in the harvest season.  The packaging for the wine is really attractive and the logo is also used around the vineyard as stain glass windows.

The tasting!

So moving onto the important information - the wine we sampled!  We were surprised at the generous glasses of wine we were given to taste.

1. Malbec Rosado 2009, 13.5%

This was absolutely delicious.  Very crisp and dry and a perfect summer wine.

2. Malbec 2009, 13.5%

Our guide explained this as a very simple and drinkable wine.  It is a light red wine which has no strong aftertaste.  She explained that it can even be kept in the fridge and that it would not ruin the wine or taste.  It is not a wine for ageing.

Good for drinking with pasta, nuts, light cheese.

3. Cuvee Brigitte, 2009, 14.5%

A blend of Malbec (72%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (28%), this was much darker in colour (ruby) than the light Malbec.  It was a little sharp and slightly spicy.  This wine can be kept for a couple of years.

4. Octans, 2009, 14.5%

This wine is their house wine - their speciality.  It is a blend of Malbec and Syrah.  The wine was very dark in colour, almost purple.  The taste reflected this as it was much fuller and heavier.  This was explained as a perfect accompaniment to steak and blue cheese given its fullness.

After enjoying these wines and purchasing a bottle of the rose for later consumption (just 25 AR - £4) we moved over the road to Laur, an olive and oil factory.


Laur was founded in 1906, and today produces 1 million litres of oil per year, of which 80% is exported to Brazil and the USA and the other 20% sold in Mendoza.  During our tour we were shown two types of tree, one with dark leaves whose olives are used to produce oil, and a lighter leaved tree where the olives are for eating.  Both black and green olives come from the same tree.  When producing oil the acidity is the key element to the quality of the oil.  0 - 1 % acidity = Extra virgin oil, 1 - 2 % = Fine and 2 - 3 % = Normal.  Inside we were shown both the traditional machines used to produce oil and the modern ones.  Initially the olives are crushed to make a paste which is placed between discs and pressed.  This forces the skin to stay and the liquid to be channeled into pools of water.  The oil is stored for 2 months and then filtered.  There is no waste in the factory; the skin is used as fuel for the machines and the leftover water to feed the trees.


After the informative tour we were able to taste the extra virgin ' Yancanelo' blend, some olives, and an olive tapenade.  They were very generous with the samples they gave us - it was very filling!  The olives were incredibly juicy and full of flavour, the oil was smooth and the tapenade delicious.  The prices were very modest and some of the packaging really catchy.  I recommend a visit to Laur to break up a day of wine tasting in Mendoza as it is interesting and tasty!


Finally we biked to a larger vineyard called Tempus.  This was very different in style to the others.  The building was modern and it was in the middle of the vineyard so you had a beautiful view of all the vines as you tasted.  It is a self-guided tour so you walk past the large stainless steel vessels and can read about it.  This makes it much less personal but also quite nice if you have already done a tour as it means you can see the production rooms without having to listen to similar information again.  The tastings take place in a restaurant setting and there is a tasty looking menu available also.  You have a number of different tasting options here which is quite nice as you often don't get a huge amount of choice about the wines you get to try.  When the glasses came, again they were very generous with the amount given.


I tried:

1. Malbec Rose

This rose was not as good as the rose at Carinae.  It was very very dry and it wasn't served very chilled which didn't help.

2. Tempranillo

I had never tried a tempranillo so thought it would be good to taste something different.  It was quite a light wine and didn't leave much in your palette.  It was a little sharp, I didn't love this wine but it was ok.

3. Malbec

This was tasty, by this point I found it hard to remember if it was as good or better than the previous 2 malbec's of the day!


There were many vineyards that we did not have the time to visit in our day of biking so you could easily spend a few days exploring this wine region.  The weather is gorgeous, the food good and there is no shortage of wine!


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