When we planned a day of wine tasting in Lujan our goal was to taste a lot of wine. We achieved our goal and learned the meaning of the saying, “too much of a good thing.”
Lujan is only thirty minutes from Mendoza, or ninety minutes if you get lost, end up in a traffic jam, get lost again, then end up behind a horse.
Our appointment (all wineries require appointments) with Kaiken was at 9:30. We didn’t get there until 11:00 which is just as well. 9:30 am is a bit early for wine tasting, even for us. There was already a tour scheduled, but they were super nice to let us tag along.
The first taste was straight from the tank. If I knew how much wine was coming later in the day, I would have skipped this one.
The following tastes were really good and plentiful. Kaiken has some really great wines.
I must have already been tipsy at this point because I insisted we buy two Kaiken wine glasses. I’m sure two fragile wine glasses won’t be too hard to pack in our already stuffed suitcases.
By this point it was good we had already agreed that Jeff would be the designated driver all day. Jeff was completely sober before getting in the car, all day long. The same could not be said for me as a passenger.
Next stop was Ruca Malen for a luxurious five course meal. The lunch cost $100 US for both of us. In Argentina that is a lot of money and for us on this trip it’s a lot. We debated for days prior if we should do it or not.
You would think this was a government facility instead of a winery with the amount of security they had. A security guard had to radio someone to confirm our reservations before opening the gate.
Once we got there and saw the view, we didn’t have any doubts about lunch.
When I changed the name of my blog to Sounds Good on Paper, I didn’t expect the very next thing we did would fall into this category. But, wine tasting in San Juan became one of those things that sounded so good on paper. Sometimes things sound good on paper, turn out differently and are even better than planned.
And sometimes they just suck. Wine tasting in San Juan turned into one of the sucks days.
On Paper: rent car, drive through beautiful countryside to city of San Juan where we would wine taste lots of amazing wine.
Reality: Spent way too much money on a rental car. Spent 9 hours driving, 8 of which we were lost. Got to one winery, tasted one wine.
First thing that went wrong was the car rental. We had reserved a nice, cheap but safe car online. When we got to the office, all they had was a tiny, very unsafe no airbag cars. There are eight car companies in Mendoza, there was only one rental car in all of Mendoza with air bags, and it was twice the price.
But, we paid and were off. Second problem, we could not find our way out of Mendoza, even with our GPS. Jeff drove through dodgy intersections around and around, while that damn GPS lady kept “recalculating.”
But, then we were on the open road, ready to explore the province of San Juan. I will admit, this was pretty…for the first fifteen minutes. This one continuous mountain got a bit old 2 1/2 hours into the drive.
We finally got to San Juan and after spending another hour lost, we got to the first winery – Graffigna. The winery tour took an hour. Jeff got to stand in a room made out of a wine barrel.
Then it was finally time for a tasting. The one malbec we tried was good. If we knew it would be the only tasting of the day, we would have asked for a refill.
Then it was off to Callia. This was one of the main reasons we went to San Juan. We’ve been drinking and loving their wine since getting to Argentina. We called in advance, they had tours at 9, 10, 11, 12, 2, 3, 4. It was 2:00, more than enough time to get there.
We got a bit lost, and then drove in circles, then we found the correct road and it was closed off for repaving, then we drove around in more circles, and then we almost threw our GPS out the window. But, we finally made it there at 3:22. A guard at the winery gate greeted us and we had this exchange in Spanish:
Guard: Sorry last tour was at 3:00pm.
Jeff: But, we called the last tour is supposed to be at 4:00.
Guard: Yes, but not today.
Jeff: But…is today a special day?
Guard: No, every day the tour is at 4:00. But not today.
Jeff: Can we come in and buy a glass of wine.
Jeff: Can we come in and buy a bottle of wine?
Jeff: Can we come in and just see the winery?
Sheryl (yelling from the passenger seat): We just drove here from friggin Mendoza. Can you just let us in for a minute to try your damn wine?
Jeff: Can you tell us how to get to another winery?
Guard: No, it’s complicated.
Jeff: Can you tell us how to get back to town?
Guard: Go to your right, it’s faster but is complicated. Go to your left, it takes longer but is easy.
We took the long way. By the time we got into town all the rest of the wineries were closed. That was OK through. We found a wine bar. We sat down, a waitress came over, told us they didn’t have wine by the glass. In fact, they didn’t even have a bottle of the wine advertised on the tables.
So then we just went to another restaurant sat down ordered a big bottle of wine and drank it.
Then I saw these great mannequins.
After walking around town for awhile it was time for the 2 1/2 hour drive home. First we spent an hour getting lost on the way out of town. But then we drove the 2 1/2 hours without incident. Back in Mendoza we stopped for gas. The only station open had a 30 minute long wait.
We left our apartment at 8:30am. We arrived back at 11:30pm. While we didn’t do much wine tasting. We did get in some good wine drinking. Although it wasn’t the day we had hoped for, I’ve decided every day of travel is good, even when it sort of sucks.
Everyone in Mendoza loves Mr. Hugo. I’m sure Mr. Hugo is fabulous. But, we decided to wine taste without him. It was a hard decision, one with many concerns. Could it really be done?
Mr. Hugo rents bicycles in the town of Maipu, which is near the city of Mendoza. He rents bikes, gives out a wine map, bottle of water, and drink at the end of the day. So many people rave about him, I assumed it must be all hype, until several different friends that live here year round also recommended him.
We would have rented from Mr Hugo except for two things. I am terrible on a regular bike and Jeff is too smart to go wine tasting with me on a tandem. He knew that after my first sip of wine I would have refused to pedal and he would have had to drag me all around town. But, could we do it without Mr. Hugo? We didn’t know.
In Mendoza we called a taxi to take us to the first winery. Even he was dubious of doing this without Mr. Hugo. He pointed out Mr. Hugo’s storefront as we drove by just in case we changed our mind. For the equivalent of $15US we arrived at the first winery.
Our first stop was the winery Trapiche. We’ve seen this label in the US, so we were excited to try their wine.
Two of Mr. Hugo’s rental bikes were parked in front, taunting us.
There were four Mr. Hugo riders on our tour. They ignored us older taxi-riding wine tasters.
In the tasting room, Jeff was able to engage the youngsters in conversation while I became fixated with the world’s fanciest tasting room bathroom sink.
After the quick tour and tastings the Mr. Hugo riders rode away while we waited for a taxi. The winery called us the cab, but we had to amuse ourselves while we waited for it to arrive 30 minutes later.
When the taxi showed up I was dubious since it didn’t look like a taxi. But, for the equivalent of $6 US he took us to the next winery.
Tempus Alba had even more Mr. Hugo bike renters.
The winery was beautiful with a self guided tour, vineyards overlooking the Andes and a fabulous patio with a wine bar and restaurant.
We were the only non Mr. Hugo renters and also the only people over the age of 22. I haven’t seen this many college kids trading travel stories since 1989 when I was one of them. Although lacking the youthful exuberance and travel bravado of the youngsters, we did have something they may not have, money to spend on wine and good food. We went wine tasting crazy.
After a very long and lavish lunch, we decided to walk to the next winery. The walk itself was really nice along a shaded street with views of the vineyards and mountains.
Unfortunately, a city information guide had told us earlier we might get mugged in this town. So, although there were bikes, police cars, trucks and cars whizzing by, I was sure we were lost and about to be attacked. We weren’t.
This third winery was just OK. The wine was good, but there was a strange vibe inside (not to mention about 30 Mr. Hugo bike renters). Unfortunately, instead of doing the tasting outside it was in a weird smelling basement like room.
We skipped the tour and went back outside and waited for a bus home. The bus cost the equivalent of 30 US cents. And, best of all it dropped us off at a bakery.
Would I recommend Mr. Hugo? Sure, everyone looked like they were having fun, the bikes looked good and I’ve heard nothing but good things. Would I suggest still going by taxi, walking and bus if you don’t want to bike? Absolutely!
Everyone knows the saying wine before liquor never sicker. We set out to answer the question, does wine tasting before liquor tasting make you sick? I’m happy to report that the answer is no. It just makes you very sleepy on the bus home.
Our first question was actually how to even go wine tasting. The normal way of taking a tour was too expensive and the budget way of renting a bike was too dangerous for me. There is a reason the only cycling I do is from the back of a tandem.
Our new friends Jeff and Romi helped us by giving us exact instructions on how to take a bus to a winery and distillery. Jeff is an amazing photographer. Check out his photos. www.photojbartlett.com.
They told us to take bus 182 and exactly where to pick it up. It was lucky because without their help we never would have figured out which bus to take.
The bus took a long time, I think we stopped at every person’s house between Mendoza and the winery.
But once we got there. We had a fabulous tour through the vineyards and olive groves.
It was a hot day, so by the time we got to the tasting room I was already light headed from dehydration. After a few tastings I was even more light headed and slightly giddy. I figured I better really test out our wine before liquor question by drinking enough wine. Our guide helped us out by refilling our glasses several times.
We stumbled out of the winery and headed directly across the street to the distillery. Our guide at the winery told us to ring the bell at the distillery “really really hard and loud.” I’m not sure if this is really a giant door bell, or a warning to the people in the distillery that drunk gringos are on their way over.
We probably should have asked for a tour first in order to sober up. But, we felt it was important to get straight to the tasting in order to put the wine before liquor saying to the test.
We got to taste quite a few different liquors. My favorite of course being the dulce de leche liqueur.
Urs, our Swiss distillery guide was very helpful in our testing of wine tasting before liquor tasting.
We caught the bus back. I couldn’t tell you how long it took on the way back because I feel alseep the second we got on the bus. It wasn’t the little head nod nap. It was the full on sprawled on the seat, drooling type of sleep. Not pretty, but at least we did not find “wine tasting before liquor tasting never sicker” to be true.
The big drink in Chile is pisco sours. They are offered everywhere and not just for tourists. Everyone seems to be drinking them. The first one we had was a freebie in a hotel in
Antofagasta. We drank it down, thought it was good, then ordered a glass of wine.
But, a few nights ago we tried them again, and were amazed. They tasted similar to a margarita without the salt or nacho chips.
I wasn’t even sure which part was the pisco, was it the alcohol or the juice? It turns out pisco is a type of brandy made out of muscat grapes.
And, as luck would have it, La Serena is near the Equi Valley which is a large producer of pisco. And even luckier, you can go pisco tasting in the valley.
We drove to the town of Vicuna which was worth the drive in itself. The valley was full of pisco vineyards
We started our pisco tasting at a distillery called Fuegos. We pulled up and the guy parking his truck had to run and find the woman that runs the tasting room. But, we were happy to see it was open for tasting, more than we can say about our last tasting experience.
The tastes were small, but this stuff is brandy, so a little went a long way for me.
Next up was Capel. They are the granddaddy of pisco in this area. Every sign in the nearby town of Vicuna had a Capel logo on it.
Capel had a huge facility with a paid tour in Spanish or English. The English one was in session when we got there. Turns out it was only 5 minutes into the tour, but not wanting to miss a second of it (since we had paid the equivalent of $3 each) I insisted we go on the Spanish speaking tour.
This meant I didn’t understand a single word for the hour long tour. From what I gather, they take grapes, ferment the juice, put it in big tanks, then put it in some oak barrels, then distill it…or something like that.
This little boy on the tour understood about as much as I did . One thing I don’t think was covered in the tour, although I don’t really know, Peru also claims pisco as their national drink. There is a big controversy between the two countries over pisco.
Then we got to the tastng room. You don’t need to understand Spanish to taste pisco. Well, actually it doesn’t hurt.
The group was ushered into a room where we sat in a circle. The guide prepared a tray with sample cups filled with different flavored pisco drinks. They passed around the tray.
I’ve been to enough wine tastings and coffee tastings to know, when presented with a tray like this, you should take one of each to compare. No, actually not with pisco, you only take one.
Then after the tray went around, the guide opened a bottle of a reserve pisco and started pouring samples behind a counter. She asked if anyone would like to try this pisco. Jeff and I ran to the counter. She handed out samples to Jeff and the other guys standing there. She looked at me and said in Spanish, “Are you sure YOU want one?” I guess women don’t normally drink this kind of pisco. Not knowing how to answer “Um, yeah, hand it over.” I just said, “claro.” which means of course.
When the tastings were over the rest of the group went into the sales room. Jeff, me and some others lingered and finished off the left-over samples on the tray, another trick I learned from coffee tastings.
Sadly, our suitcases are too full to bring any pisco home, so I’m hoping we can find it in the USA.
After a quick nap in the parking lot, we went back into the town of Vicuna where I took a lot of photos
The pisco tastings were great in that pisco is good, the tasting rooms were actually open, the valley was beautiful, and the town of Vicuna is a fun place to wander around in by itself.