Red (Wine), White (Water Rafting), and Blue (Bungee Jumping)

“Red red wine you make me feel so fine, I’m thinking about you all of the time.”  I think Bob Marley’s sentiment is shared by the entire city of Mendoza.  If there’s one thing Mendoza is famous for it’s red wine.  If there’s two things Mendoza is famous for it’s red wine and…maybe white wine?  Nah, more red wine.  How much do Mendozians love their wine?  Enough that the major hostels offer an hour of free wine each night to share their love with their guests.

Plenty for a second glass.

Plenty for a second glass.

To better understand everything wine related I attended a free wine tasting seminar at the Mora Hostel, where I wound up staying for nearly a week.  Walking into the seminar I always considered people swirling and smelling their classes to appear a bit snobbish.  Just take a damn sip already and decide if you like it or not!  But after learning the technique and reasons for wine tasting I now realize that it isn’t just a waste of time.  You could just sip a new wine right away, but that’s kind of like skipping all forms of foreplay and just hopping straight to business (not that there’s anything wrong with that once in a while).  Here’s the steps that I learned, just in case you want to appear sophisticated and not draw looks of disdain like you are a barbarian at the winery, like I initially did.

  • Check the color of the wine, preferably against a monochrome background such as a napkin or your hand.  This tells you the intensity of the wine and you can get a vague sense of its age.  As red wine ages it begins to lose some of its color.  As you tilt the glass, you can observe the ‘tears’, the residue left slowly moving down the glass.  The more tears there are the higher the alcoholic content of the wine.
  • Take a preliminary smell of the wine.  By smelling the wine before swirling you can check for any impurities.  If the wine smells off for whatever reason, it is possible it was contaminated at some point and is no good.
  • Swirl the wine around the glass.  This oxegenates the wine, making the aromas much more powerful for you to discern.  By sticking your nose close to, or even inside of the glass, you can start to get a sense for the different aspects of a particular wine.
  • Take a sip but don’t swallow immediately.  Instead roll the wine around your mouth so that it can reach all areas of your tongue.  In this way you engage all of your taste buds, from the areas of your tongue that react to bitterness, to sweet, to savory.  Afterwards you can spit the wine out, or you can swallow.  (Personally, I think spitters are quitters.  You don’t ask for a sample of ice cream and then spit it out, might as well enjoy it.)
  • Take another sip of wine and hold it as you inhale through your mouth, then exhale slowly through your nose.  The enzymes in your mouth can alter the aromas slightly and this allows you to pick up any new traces.

You can do all of these steps when initially tasting a new wine, or you can go ahead and take a hearty sip right away.  I certainly won’t judge you, but the Mendozan natives might.

To test out our new wine testing skills, I joined a group of friends from the hostel on a bike tour through some vineyards in the Maipu region.  The first stop of the tour was my favorite and it didn’t have anything to do with wine.  Instead it was a small farm dedicated to creating oils, jams, chocolate, and specialty liquors.  For a mere $3 we got to try different types of organic oils and vinegars on top of breads.  The olives that they use are of an incredible quality, and the oil created a solid base to allow our stomachs to cope with drinking later on in the day.  The jams were rich and I even bought a jar of a malbec jam that will make the perfect glaze for a celebratory steak upon returning back to the states.  The chocolate…it’s chocolate.  Of course it was delicious.

She's pretty excited and she's just bartending.

She’s pretty excited and she’s just bartending.

But the kicker was the liquor.  Bottles of differing colors were lined in a row, with labels promising some interesting flavor combinations.  Every person got to choose two shots.  I opted for a shot of banana and dulce de leche liquor, muy rico, and a mixture of tea, pepper, vodka, and fruits that went down sweeter than any sangria I’ve ever tried.  I could have staid there all day, doling out 30 pesos to take the tour multiple times until I tried all they had to offer but I was in wine country, so off to the vineyards it was.

Over the course of the next 5 or 6 hours, we visited three different vineyards.  If I said I remembered much about the individual wines I’d be lying.  I do remember that we sampled and assortment of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Caremenere, Rose, Syrah, and…for some reason I can’t recall the last one.  They all got the thumbs up.

This bike gang is too happy to start any gang wars.

This bike gang is too happy to start any gang wars.

We chose a nice location for lunch as one of the vineyards has two decks overlooking the grape trees.  For $6 a person we each got a bottle of wine and our choice of pasta.  The star of the meal was the cheese platter.  Sharp cheese, olives, and salami just pair nicely with wine.  By the time we stood up to clear out of the restaurant, laughs were pouring more easily out of our mouths than it was for our feet to step one in front of the other.

WIne and cheese, never felt so classy.  Until standing up.

Wine and cheese, never felt so classy. Until standing up.

You would think that on a bike tour of vineyards there would be nice paths set apart from traffic where anyone could get hurt.  But no.  Actually there is just a small bike lane that often is bordered by a deep drainage run off.  We had no issues biking back to return our bikes, but I’m pretty sure every day at least one or two unfortunate bikers find themselves capsized.

Sunset over the vineyard.

Sunset over the vineyard.

Speaking of capsizing, I decided to get a taste of white water rafting in the river a few hours north of the city.  The rapids are class III/IV, making them exciting but not too life threatening.  Five of us hopped into the super inflated raft, lead by our awesome tour guide.  He navigated from the back of the raft, shouting out commands.  As the intensity rose so did the fun.  When he shouted “Get down”, we dove for the cover of the inside of the raft as freezing cold water splashed over us.  We lost one passenger overboard during one of the more challenging rapids and quickly retrieved him, a devilish gleam reflecting in our guide’s eye.  It was a very enjoyable hour long scamper down the river, dodging rocks, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.  In fact, it was more enjoyable when we hit the rocks head on and got spun around, not being able to see the upcoming challenges.

I decided to stick with the adventure sports theme when I headed up north to the city of Salta.  From here I stopped by Dique Cobra Corral, a beautiful river nestled between the mountains with a bridge that supports bungee jumping.  The bridge itself isn’t too high, and I only freefell for a second before my torso entered the water before springing back up into the air.  It was definitely fun but didn’t provide the adrenaline rush I was expecting.  Certainly nothing compared to the much higher bungee jumps, or even the white water rafting.

After a few days in Salta, and many empanadas later, it was time to say ‘caio’ to Argetina and head to Bolivia, which promised to have plenty of adventures of its own in store.