Our time in Mendoza was amazing. Incredible. Fantastic. I use these words with their originally intended meanings, i.e. “magical” or “too strange to be believed”. There were several times during our six day stay when Lucie and I exchanged a glance communicating the question: “what the hell is going on?”
We rolled into the city exhausted after putting in several seemingly endless 100-plus kilometer days through the desert on route 40. As we coasted through town along wide streets shaded by huge leafy trees, past sidewalk patios packed with people enjoying an afternoon coffee or a beer, through the central park with its huge amphitheater-shaped fountain and past a thousand little bistros and bars, we had the sense that Mendoza must be a very nice place to live, and would definitely be a great place to take a couple of days off.
We met up with Leandro, our couchsurfing host, who welcomed us with a glass of one of the best wines either of us had ever tried. A personable agronomist who is passionate about wine and knows his stuff, he offered to drive us out to Lujan de Cuyo and the Uco Valley during the week, where some of the country’s best vineyards are found. We gratefully accepted. While we had the chance to talk and get to know each other during our visit, Leandro’s job and non-stop social life meant we also had time to do our own thing. This was ideal, because we had a lot of work to do.
As you may know, we sometimes write and produce photos for Canadian newspapers and magazines to help keep our bellies full and our bikes rolling. We recently landed a contract for an article on Argentine wine and cuisine. This meant doing a bit of research.
After visiting a half-dozen wineries over a few days (thanks Leandro!), we headed out to nearby Maipu and hit the mother lode: Familia Zuccardi. If you haven’t heard of Fuzion, you probably haven’t been to the liquor store in about 7 years. Canada’s top-selling red wine is their export-only, entry-level product. Here at home, they only sell the good stuff: Santa Julia and their namesake label, Zuccardi. The family-run winery also has a restaurant on site, Casa del Visitante, which features gourmet versions of traditional Argentine fare.
After our tour and interviews (and some sampling!), we got to meet Jose Zuccardi, the big cheese, and his son Sebastien while chatting with daughter Julia on a patio shaded by vine leaves. Everyone seemed enthusiastic about our trip. And as Canadian journalists, we were especially welcome. We were invited back for lunch at the restaurant the next day to put some meat on our bones and to give us something to write about.
I love my job.
Yes, the frugal and penniless Pedaling South team was treated to a gourmet meal whose theme was fine wine. Each course had been meticulously developed to bring out the notes in the wine with which it had been paired. That meant a different wine with each of the six dishes, not to mention the four wines that Pablo, the sommelier and service manager, insisted we try before, during and after the meal. We’d learned just enough about wine up to that point to understand that we were getting quality, not just quantity, and to appreciate the passion that goes into the winemaking process.
After the hundreds of bland oatmeal breakfasts, white rice and pasta dinners and roadside snacks of bread and jam, our accumulated culinary frustrations have officially been dispelled, possibly for all time, certainly till the end of our journey some 3000 kilometers distant.
On our last evening in town, Leandro, on his way out the door to meet someone, said “I forgot to tell you to drink the bottle of bubbly rosé in the fridge – it’s really good!” He also gave us a bottle for the road. The same great wine we’d tried together when we arrived. The good stuff.
We’re still not sure what’s going on. But then things have been incredible, fantastic and amazing from the beginning. Best not to question our luck and just keep on pedaling south.