One of the best travel days we’ve had thus far was a day of biking and wine tasting outside of Mendoza, Argentina (you might find this similar to the time we went to Austria and our best travel day was one of biking and wine tasting along the Danube). A bike tour of wineries is a common activity in the Mendoza area, since it’s the “Napa Valley of Argentina,” (we saw that phrase a lot – a LOT – when reading about Mendoza), and there are a huge variety of options how to do it. We obviously haven’t tried them all, but would definitely recommend the way we did it.
We took advantage of the tour method suggested by the owners of Hostel Lao, the absolutely excellent hostel where we stayed in Mendoza (in all honesty, it was probably the best hostel experience and best value we’ll see on this trip). They organized our bike rental with Baccus Bike Tours and helped us design the entire tour in the cheapest way possible – take a public bus out to the site instead of arranging for a pickup, and have the bike rental agency give us a map of places we could go based on our timing (many places close in the early afternoon during the siesta time, and others only give tours at specific times). Like most bike rental agencies, Baccus can organize an entire tour, including lunch and other amenities, but this was a much cheaper way of doing things and perfect for young travelers on a budget. We ended up going at the same time as a group of other travelers, some of whom were staying at our hostel as well, and hung out with them for the whole day.
Taking the bus out to the site ended up being a little more adventurous than we predicted – a bit of a complicated story involving a bus driver with an apparent tourist-aimed bone to pick – but we’d still definitely recommend the way we did it. A public bus from the center of Mendoza to the bike rental spot should take about 40 minutes (note I say “should,” but hopefully you’d get a better driver), and at Baccus Bikes the owner, Inez, will create a custom map of wineries and other places depending on your interests and timing. For our group, Inez marked on our map four stops, including a winery with a restaurant and a final stop at a liqueur/jams/olives/chocolate maker that specializes in absinthe.
We spent the rest of the day – about 1 p.m. to 6 or 7 p.m. – tasting wines, taking tours, eating an incredible lunch, and testing our stomachs (lots of wine + bumpy roads + hot sun + jams/olives/chocolate + absinthe). We only made it to two wineries before our final stop, but had more than our fill of amazing Argentinian wines.
Our first stop was family-run Pulmary Vineyards, a certified organic operation including an incredible garden restaurant. Most of our group ordered steaks and pork chops cooked over a fire out in the yard, but I couldn’t resist a plate of perfectly grilled vegetables and a fried egg (besides, I was a little beefed-out by this point of the trip, and I knew I’d have plenty more to go).
Our group shared two bottles of wine with lunch, plus about 6 or 8 tastings during the tour of the facility. We didn’t see the vineyards at this place, but got a full tour of the processing and cellars. Tastings included a variety of reds, most notably Argentina’s famous Malbec, both bottled and new (uncellared). Our favorites included the new Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2008 and 2010 Reserve Malbecs.
Our second stop was Alta Vista Winery, a much larger (and much more expensive) operation owned by a family that also runs wineries in France. While we waited for our tour and tasting to start we lounged around in their garden and vineyards, with spectacular views of the Andes. We only tasted three wines at this spot, but that included Torrontés, Argentina’s most prominent white wine.
Our third and final stop was A La Antigua, a family-run gourmet foods and liqueurs producer. We tasted about a dozen savory items – tapenades and pickled peppers and their unique sweet green olives – another dozen jams and dulce de leches, then could each pick two of their dozen or so liqueurs to taste. As a group we shared and were able to taste all of the liqueurs, including flavors like orange, rose, spiced wine, dulce de leche, chocolate hazelnut, and sweet and spicy green chile. The main event, though, was the absinthe. Four of our group chose absinthe as one of their tastings, and the owner of the shop served them for us in the authentic style, with a teaspoon of flaming sugar soaked in alcohol.
The biking itself was a little out of the ordinary – heavily rutted dirt streets and, as always, crazy Argentinian drivers. But we easily made it where we needed to go, even in the heat of the mid-day sun, and had no problem getting our way back to the bike rental and then back to our hostel in Mendoza.
Costs, per person: bus ticket ($5.40ARS – $1.10 USD) round trip, bike rental ($35ARS – $7USD), tastings ($15ARS – $3USD / $30USD – $6USD / $15ARS – $3USD), plus lunch (somewhere around $125-175ARS, including wine – $25-30USD).