Bareback mountains

Bareback mountains

Vineyard

Mendoza: mountains, gauchos and wine. The first three images that spring to mind. If you are looking to tick all three off in one day, possibly the best way to do so is with a wine tour by horseback.

But getting a horse, booking a winery, finding a gaucho and knowing where to go is a pretty tall order for anyone who just wants to enjoy themselves or relax in Mendoza. This is where an experienced tour company comes in.  I booked myself in for a wine tour on horseback with Trout & Wine Tours for that true outdoor Argentina experience, but when the air conditioned minivan and an English speaking guide turned up to where I was staying  I started to worry that maybe I wouldn’t get to meet my genuine gaucho or have a rustic outdoor experience. I was wrong. Our guide told us all about the history of Mendoza and its mountains and as we pulled up to Finca Las Lechuzas it was clear that this was going to be a proper country day out.

A small and charming stables set against the stunning snow-capped Cordon del Plata mountain range, a few horses with their leathers on and a handsome young gaucho tightening a saddle, this was starting to tick all those boxes.

Our guide led us into a cosy dining room where we were greeted by Mercedes who introduced us to the finca and served us some steaming fresh coffee and lots of sweet treats. As she talked us through where we would be going today, I goggled at all the old gaucho and horse equipment adorning the adobe plastered walls – this was certainly gaucho chic but you got a real feel for what life was like on a ranch.

A couple of alfajors (chocolate biscuits) and a café con leche later we moved outside by the duck pond to mount our furry friends,  the Criollo horses. Mercedes explained that this is the famous Argentine gaucho breed. Being a bit of an inexperienced and unbalanced ditz on a horse, it was perhaps fitting that my horse was called ‘rubia’ (blond). But fortunately this blond knew far better than it’s rider and all the horses were especially selected for their calm and steady temperaments. After our gaucho Omar helped us up on the horses, we all strode off heading for the vineyards.

As we passed the finca Omar pointed out lots of small owls, lechuzas, which is what the finca was named after, as this is a popular breeding spot for them. Working our way through vines, under trees and across aromatic garlic fields, it is a lovely ride but the best of all is the outstanding view of the Andes mountains and the fat, snowy rounded top of Tupungato volcano – it was difficult to tear your eyes away.

After half an hour or so we reached a clearing and Omar told me it was time for a bit of horseriding training to build confidence and a bit of speed.  Speed? I hesitated at the thought, pleasantly walking along at a slow pace is about all the balance I can muster on a horse and as someone who can hardly co-ordinate themselves not to trip over more ten times a day I was pretty sure ‘speed’ was a bad idea. But no-one likes to disappoint a handsome gaucho and so after duly watching his demonstration cantering around, blondie and I followed suit.

This was probably the first time I took my eyes off of the mountains and looked nervously at the bobbing horses head and dust cloud emerging around us. Blondie knew exactly what to do and trotting around in a circle gave you quite a country kick of feeling like you were in your own rodeo.

After catching our breath, and certainly with a renewed confidence, we carried on through the vineyards as our guide explained the different grape varieties that we were passing. Pulling up at large gates, we had arrived at Decero – the winery we were visiting for the day. Stretched out like a long Spanish villa, this Swiss owned winery has one of the prime positions in Mendoza with uninterrupted panoramic views of the mountains.

We toured through the winery learning about the owners’ fastidious approach to precision winemaking (no surprise from the Swiss huh?), their dedication to single vineyard wines expressing the true terroir and learnt about the winemaking process touring all the modern equipment. Moving through the tasting room there was, yet another, stunning view of the mountains, but this was the moment to tick box number three: Argentine wine.

Specialising in only red wines, we tried the Malbec 09 which even as their ‘entry level’ wine had spent 14 months in oak – a big, concentrated wine with good fruit expression. Up next was their Cabernet Sauvignon, a spicier wine and with typical cassis characteristics. Our third wine was a really unusual varietal to drink in Argentina – a 100% Petit Verdot. With really intense colour, the meaty nose was certainly complex with some floral and sour cherry notes but a structured mouth. After a couple of glasses of wine we were certainly all feeling quite relaxed and ready to climb back on those horses.

Another ramble through the vineyards and we were back at the ranch for the perfect finish to our country day out – a traditional Argentine asado with all the trimmings. On a blazing fire, Omar cooked us up a few different cuts of juicy meat as we enjoyed another local wine from this prime Lujan region in the hot sunshine. Moving back into the lovely air conditioned dining room, we cooled off and sat down to a big BBQ with proper silverware and comfortable chairs – this is the best way to do an outdoor Argentine experience: gaucho but chic. Boxes all comfortably ticked.

Trout & Wine Tours offer horseback wine tours every day. For more information contact Trout & Wine Tours, Espejo 266, Mendoza City. Tel (0261) 4255613. www.troutandwine.com

By Amanda Barnes

Published in the December 2011/January 2012 edition of Wine Republic