When I explained to my mum (who was celebrating a big birthday she wouldn’t like me to admit) that we’d be horse riding on her visit to Mendoza, I think it scared her off. 40 years without getting in a saddle tends to spark a bit of fear in the mind of a humble tourist in gaucho country. But within five minutes of mounting our trusty steeds at Nieto Senetiner, the smile had returned to her face, and once again we were on a pleasant jaunt in Malbec country.
With some of the oldest vineyards in Mendoza, Nieto’s horse trek begins through their 1916 DOC Malbec vines and moves through the 60-year-old Syrah and Cabernet fields as our wine guide pointed out the different varieties and leaf patterns. A gaucho was leading the band and we had two sprightly dobermans guiding us along the route and keeping us all in line. Not a bad idea as mum’s horse – whose name was ‘borracho’ or the drunk – had the wandering tendency.
The guide pointed out all the irrigation channels which are the most essential lifeline for Mendoza. Without them there would be no water and no vines. The Huarpe Indians actually digged the first water channels before the Spanards arrived in the 1500s, making it one of the oldest irrigation systems in the Americas and earmarking Mendoza for a possible UNESCO World Heritage Site listing.
Along the route we also saw some of the local inhabitants: owls, snow peas and cane plants which were traditionally used for the roofs of wineries, including Nieto’s historic building.
We passed the more humble homes of agricultural workers in the area as well as the modern and impressive harems of private neighborhoods in Vistalba. As we worked our way under the tree-lined roads we started an upward climb up Mount Melon which gave us a different terrain to manage on horseback as well as a few different flowers (like the surprisingly beautiful cactus flower). Reaching the top gave us a taste of adventure with some upward climbs (although all very manageable for any rider) and the reward was a rare vineyard view over Vistalba, Lujan and the back gardens of its illustrious residents.
The way back down we took a gentle stroll through more vineyards, passing tempting leaf fodder for the horses, and made our way back to the winery where a full asado lunch was waiting for us. A cool glass of bubbly was presented on arrival. We then we sat in the restaurant to enjoy their great playlist of music and a parade of typical argentine cuisine. Empanadas matched with a buttery Chardonnay or their lovely Bonarda; an array of BBQ cuts (and some salad for committed herbivores) matched with Don Nicanor Malbec, and of course more bubbly and dessert to finish off the meal.
Life ain’t bad as a wine schmoozing gaucho.
To book a day of horses and wine, contact Trout & Wine: Espejo 266, Mendoza. www.troutandwine.com