Several weeks ago I stopped to talk to a couple of friendly British visitors to the tasting room here at The Vines of Mendoza. They were doing a tasting of our reserve malbecs, and we got to chatting about the wines and their experiences here. My brief conversation with Tim and Richard resulted in quite a few laughs, as well as my begging them for a written version of this story so that I could share it. Whether or not you are familiar with the specific parties involved, I'm sure you will find it amusing. It provides some real insight into the Mendoza wine scene - it's not for nothing that they're calling this "The New Napa Valley..."
By Tim Crocker-Buque and Richard Graham
One day, while I sat in the local pub with some friends, we were discussing what we might do with our four weeks annual leave, which was fast approaching. I aired the idea that Argentina might be an interesting adventure. Why, you ask? Was it the culture, the Tango, the nightlife? A little of all of these perhaps, but also the opportunity to sample wines from one of the worlds most innovative and exciting wine regions. After I arrived in Buenos Aires I booked the bus trip traversing the country to Mendoza â€“ synonymous with Argentinaâ€™s national grape: Malbec. The journey was not an easy one due to Argentinaâ€™s current economic unease, and the farmers had set up a number of roadblocks along the way. After a bus ride that should have lasted 13 hours swiftly turned into 22, I reached Mendoza. I disembarked the coach and made my way to the hostel. When greeted with a true Argentine Asado, a large social barbeque consisting of a large variety of steaks, sausages, racks of meat and generally any edible part of an animal, and a large supply of some delicious wine to wash it down with, all my aches, pains and troubles soon disappeared!
During the course of my first evening, while inquiring as to the best way to taste the local wine, I was introduced to Richard. A British expat who had been living in Mendoza for the past 18 months, he had recently started running tastings in local hostels, showcasing wines to travelers passing through the city.Â Infected with my enthusiasm he offered to accompany me on a journey through some of the local wineries. With somewhat fuzzy memories of the previous evening and almost impossible-to-remove purple stains on our lips we hopped into his car and headed out along the long signpost-less roads to the Valley de Uco, in the shadow of the magnificent snow-covered Andes rising imposingly from Mendozaâ€™s otherwise flat landscape. Our first stop was the Tapiz winery, where we sampled their wines straight out of their stainless steel tanks, guided by one of their very knowledgeable and passionate members of staff. Having shaken off our hangovers and now armed with a number of bottles of their reserve reds we headed towards our next appointment, at the Pulenta estate.
On the way we decided to stop for some lunch at La Barrica, a curious restaurant situated in an unassuming service station by the side of the road, but one with a reputation for good quality food for hungry wine travelers. As it was off-season the restaurant was virtually abandoned and the waiter seemed to have decided that we were both going to have the lunchtime special, refusing to allow us to order anything else. All for an easy life, we went along with him and ordered a bottle of Familia Gascon Reserva Cabernet 2004 to accompany our meal. When the wine arrived Richard tasted it, and a look of both confusion and disappointment came over his face. One of those awfully awkward restaurant moments ensued; something about the wine wasnâ€™t right. The waiter, eager to get on with his job, plonked the bottle down and left us to decide what. We both have some wine experience in the wine industry, but when we smelled this bottle we couldnâ€™t put our finger on what was wrong with it. It wasnâ€™t obviously corked or oxidized; there was some fruit there, but it wasnâ€™t as it should be.
Hearing American accents drift over from the table behind us, Richard concluded that two Americans in an empty restaurant in the middle of June, miles from everywhere except Argentine wine country, must be in the business. He walked up to their table, armed with our suspicious wine, apologized for disturbing them, and asked politely if they were in the wine trade. Unsurprisingly the answer was affirmative. Richard asked if they would mind just smelling our wine and seeing if they could determine what was wrong with it.
â€œYou havenâ€™t even introduced yourselves yetâ€, said one coolly. By this point I was standing next to Richard and we introduced ourselves, slightly sheepishly.
â€œHi, Iâ€™m Paul Hobbsâ€ he said as he shook our hands. There was a brief pause in our conversation as somewhere in the depths of both of our brains we felt something click into place. â€œI consult for various wineries, including this one.â€ Taking our dodgy wine he said, â€œItâ€™s just old, passed its best.â€ Armed with this knowledge, we thanked them and returned to our table. We looked at each other with identical, vaguely confused expressions.
â€œDid he say Paul Hobbs? Iâ€™ve heard of himâ€¦â€ mused Richard, and I agreed that I had too. We realized that our somewhat cool reception may have resulted from the fact that as a very recognizable member of the wine industry he probably gets asked quite regularly for his opinion on wines, although our encounter was purely accidental! As we were talking an almost full bottle of wine landed on our table. â€œHere, try thisâ€, he said, â€œItâ€™s one of mineâ€.Â Thanking him profusely, we enjoyed the rest of our meal accompanied by a 2005 La Garto Merlot, donated by Paul Hobbs himself.
We spent the rest of the afternoon at the spectacular Pulenta winery, enjoying some of their finest (the Gran Corte is absolutely sublime, and watch out for the Dolce Cabernet Franc, itâ€™s like nothing Iâ€™ve ever tasted before). That evening we headed to The Vines of Mendoza to sample some of their very excellent tasting selections and discuss our adventures with their very friendly staff, who were highly amused with our unexpected Paul Hobbs encounter.
Overall the Mendoza trip turned out to be a brilliant wine adventure, and if youâ€™re considering heading to this part of the world I couldnâ€™t recommend it highly enough!
Note: For those of you who are curious about LaGarto, as of the recent 2007 release it is called Felino andÂ is currently available in the United States with this new label.Â