We had a 11am reservation, so we got on the road by 9 am. The ride up the Valle de Uco presented us with stunning views of the mountains. Traffic was serene and quiet on the country roads lined with willows, poplars, and grapevines. This was beatiful country, and biking was the perfect way to indulge in it.
We climbed up to about 1000m in elevation, which is one of the reasons why Valle de Uco supposedly puts out the best quality Malbec wines. The temperature differences are more extreme here from daytime to nightime in the higher elevations, and the result is more flavor intensity in the grapes. We had three wineries to visit, all within about 10 km of eachother. Salentein, Azul, and Andeluna.
Salentein was again, another large scale winery, but this time we enjoyed the wine so much more than O.Fournier. We pulled up to the buliding, and already, we knew that it would be better. The architecture and artwork were really warm and inviting, and the tour was really well done. We ended up doing the tour with two couples from Chicago who knew their wines down to the meaning behind the initials inscripted on the oak barrels. One of them was sporting a Llao Llao hat, which is a very high-end lodge outside of Bariloche that we biked to a month prior along with many other tourists to just to view it from afar. Sure enough when we got into the tasting room and were preparing for our normal 3-glass flight, a staff member walked in and presented the group with an additional Primus blend, the highest quality bottle that Salentein offers, and then offered us a tasting. We were "lucky" to get to taste this, according to our tour guide, as this does not happen at every tasting. Ryan and I just happened to be on the tour in the right place with that Llao Llao hat. Sure enough, the Primus was the best one of the series. The great thing about the folks from Chicago was the fact that they were completely unpretentious, really fun and engaging, and shared with us a lot of their experiences in Napa and trying other wines.
The next winery, Azul, proved to be our favorite because it was small-scale, Argentine-owned, the wine was stellar, and our tour guide was one of the head wine makers. When talking with him, it was obvious he was passionate about making and drinking different wines. When we biked up to Azul, there didn't seem to be anybody there and the property consisted of one small concrete building. Shortly thereafter, the winemaker pulled up in a modest, old Volvo and introduced himself. There was no pretentiousness here. Right on! He gave us a tour of the one-room, wine-making operation and we got to ask him about more of the details in winemaking. For example, Azul adds egg whites to there wine as a flocculant to assist in settling the particles in the wine during fermentation. The winemaker said that many time, wineries add synthetic chemicals to the wine to do this same process, but Azul uses more natural means. Also, they handcraft all of there labels onsite for the bottles. This winery produces about 3,000 bottles a year, and the positive aspects of that were evident. The wine were great, and we so we bought a bottle for the evening, and made sure to let him know we would be buying more in the States. They have a distributor in Seattle.
Next stop was Andeluna, owned by the same owner as Frito Lay. It produces about a million bottles a year.The tour was alright, the wines were alright. But really, the most enjoyable part was tasting with two women from Canada and the U.S. that had the oportunity to work on a smaller scale winery in Uruguay and are in wine sales. They were really engaging and sweet, and gave us a biketour map of another Mendoza wine region called Maipu that we were planning on visiting the following day
After all the tasting, we ended the day with a smoothride downhill to Tupugato, followed by a not-so-pleasant rough ripio ride back uphill towards the municipal camping 4 km out of town. Being that I had indulged in wine all day, this ripio proved much more difficult that day. Once we got there, we were the only ones in this gigantic campground. We had to forgoe the idea of riding back into town to have a nice dinner as neither one of us wanted to ride that ripio again, so instead we had the Gran Reserve Azul wine coupled with our campout pasta and red sauce. A rather strange way to end our luxurious day.